Baby Boomers will enjoy a happier retirement if they learn to let go of unfounded fears, uncertainties and doubts, a leading consultant has said.

Speaking at Professional Planner’s Post Retirement Conference in Sydney, Dr Catherine Rickwood, founder and chief executive of Three Sisters Group, urged advisers to put a more positive spin on retirement. The first step, she explained, was to abandon the term ‘retirement’.

“The word retirement was historically used in war, back in the 1500s, and it meant to withdraw from battle,” Rickwood said. “But why would I want to withdraw?”

“Individually, culturally and collectively, we’re not doing enough to consider that ageing is actually fantastic. And invariably, it’s because of ‘FUD’ – fears, uncertainties and doubt.”

Rickwood explained that while many Baby Boomers feared death, there are five things they are more commonly afraid of in her experience: physical decline, cognitive decline, nursing homes, retirement villages, and loneliness or being like their parents.

Many of these fears are exaggerated, Rickwood said, and in some cases unfounded. For example, 425,416 Australians in 2018 suffered from dementia, but as a proportion of the total number of older Australians, that is still relatively low, she said. And while many older people harbour fears of being left in a nursing home, she quoted a 2015 Productivity Report stating that only “1 per cent of Australians live in non-private dwellings such as residential aged care”.

Regarding the fear of loneliness and being like their parents, Rickwood pointed out that Boomers are “fitter, healthier, wealthier and more technology literate than any previous generation”.

“As far as being like your parents,” she said, “that’s frankly up to us; if you don’t want to be like your parents, then don’t be.”

Financial planners, Rickwood says, “have a substantial responsibility to change client views on ageing and their futures”. She urged advisers to know the fears and doubts their clients have, and what they want to be doing in their old age. Advisers also need to challenge the concept of retirement and start having new conversations.

“The first thing is to ask different questions,” she said. “Ask what your clients genuinely want. Broaden the conversation beyond retirement and talk about what’s going to stimulate them as they age.”

Rickwood acknowledged that “we’re all bound in our old age” to varying degrees. It’s what we do within those boundaries, she says, that matters.

“A few years ago, I learnt to ride a motorbike,” she said. “And I learnt something incredibly important; Look where you’re going, or you’ll go where you’re looking.”

Tahn Sharpe is a Sydney-based financial services journalist with a background in financial planning. He writes on advice, superannuation, investment, banking and insurance issues, is a certified SMSF Adviser and holds an Advanced Diploma of Financial Planning.
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