David Kennedy isn’t retired but he’s no stranger to the world of retirement. As a retirement planning consultant and Starts at 60 Money Club expert, David has helped thousands of older Australians prepare for what should be an exciting new stage of life, while as the author of 2017 book End of the Retirement Age, he researched and wrote about the ways the concept of retirement itself was changing.
Both experiences gave David great insight into the hopes and fears most people have when they near retirement, which prompted him to write his new book, Finding Joy in Retirement. The book aims to help near-retirees successfully bridge the gap between work and retirement, with confidence that they’re ‘retiring to’ a happy, new destination.
David talked to Starts at 60 exclusively about what people who’re nearing retirement could learn from the experiences of other retirees.
Q: You have multiple qualifications in finance and a master’s degree in business, yet your 2017 book End of the Retirement Age went so much further than money matters to look at a big societal change. What prompted your interest in the broader issues around retirement?
A: End of the Retirement Age begins with a quote I just love from Louis Armstrong, who said: “Musicians don’t retire; they stop when there’s no more music in them”. I think this neatly captures the way the definition of retirement is evolving from an event at a point in time, to a more colourful transition that may unfold over many years.
Most importantly, the historical idea that you are expected to retire at a specific age of say 65, is less relevant in an era of longer lifespans and technological advances that allow some workers to continue for as long as they are willing and able. While there will always be physical limitations on those in labour-intensive jobs (an issue that deserves its own article), there is no doubt we are witnessing a generation completely reinvent this phase of life.
I run a retirement planning consultancy, Hillross Pacific Advisory, and spend my days chatting with retirees and soon-to-be retirees about their plans, hopes, fears and dreams for this next phase of their lives. I have lost count of the number of clients who reach the traditional retirement age of 65, and (health-permitting) find they are still willing and able continue to work and contribute in some capacity, provided there are opportunities to do so.
The premise of End of the Retirement Age is that there are four realities unfolding that affect the way you prepare for retirement. The combination of longer life expectancies, declining government capacity to support us as generously as we age, a reduction in job security, and the daunting task of funding a multi-decade retirement income, mean we need to completely rethink our approach to this phase of life.
In other words, we’re living for many more years and having to fund a longer retirement, yet the main income sources we rely on in the workforce and beyond have never been more uncertain. But it is an optimistic book, in that, the better you understand this ever-changing environment, the higher the probability you will make a successful transition to life after work.
Q: What did you discover when writing End of the Retirement Age that would surprise retirees themselves? Are there common themes you see in both research and in the experiences of your own clients?
A: No two retirement experiences are the same, and everyone has a story we can learn from. Through the interviews conducted for the book, I found myself inspired by the personal experiences shared by retirees, and the challenges and triumphs they encountered as they progressed from one phase of life to the next.
I asked a large number of recent retirees for the advice they would give to younger family members about what it means to retire well, and the responses are a really useful collection of ideas and reflections from a diverse group of retirees who have ‘been there and done that.’
I also spoke with a prominent psychologist, Dr Tim Sharp, and Olympic gold-medallist and world champion rower, James Tomkins, for their insights into what makes for a satisfying retirement:
Q: How well is society more generally adapting to Baby Boomers as retirees or indeed Baby Boomers who don’t wish to retire at the age that was commonly accepted as time to leave the workforce?
A: The initial research for the book was motivated by my frustration at the frequent negative portrayal of the ageing population as a ‘burden on the economy’ and a ‘problem to be solved’. This narrative overlooks the reality that older Australians are generally healthier, working longer, and redefining this phase of life.
They should therefore be perceived as an asset rather than a liability. Studies by Deloitte Access Economics and the Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research confirm this generation has the potential to be a significant part of the solution to the fiscal challenges of an ageing population, but unfortunately that is not a message we often hear.
One of the obstacles to realising these benefits is the issue of ageism. I spoke with HR professionals, academics and Judy Higgins, the owner of www.olderworkers.com.au, about this very topic and one of the recurring themes that came out was the prevalence of age discrimination in the recruitment process and in the workplace. Numerous studies have found it takes older Australians much longer to find work than younger generations where they find themselves unemployed for any reason over the age of 55.
Anecdotally I have encountered many retirement planning clients who have been made redundant in their 50s and 60s and invariably they find it tremendously hard to find a new role – despite being well and truly qualified. Involuntary retirement for this reason is such a shame. Health permitting, and with enough workplace flexibility, many are willing to continue working beyond the traditional retirement age – provided such opportunities exist.
Of course, increasing workforce participation by this magnitude is no easy task. But the trend is underway and win-win outcomes abound where older Australians, who are willing and able to work, are given the opportunity to do so. Individuals enjoy the financial benefits, social connections, and sense of purpose that working flexibly into their 50s, 60s and 70s provides; employers retain the experience, mentoring capacity, and reliability of older employees; while the economy benefits through ongoing tax receipts, a deeper pool of national savings, and the prospect of reduced pressure on the social security system.
Q: What about Baby Boomers themselves – are they making their own retired lives harder in any way?
A: I feel for people planning their retirement in this environment of constant uncertainty. On the one hand, you face the challenge of keeping up with changes in super, tax, financial markets and Centrelink rules; and on the other there is the need to establish a new routine and rhythm in life that provides you with a real sense of purpose – none of this necessarily happens without forward planning.
At the appropriate time, getting help via an external perspective to make good financial decisions makes sense, while those struggling to make the transition to life after work, may think about engaging the services of a counsellor, retirement coach or psychologist to help them navigate the emotional adjustment that accompanies retirement.
Q: What led you to follow up with Finding Joy in Retirement?
A: Finding Joy in Retirement is a collaboration with a good friend and retirement coach, Dr Jon Glass. Jon is a semi-retired investment professional and asset consultant, who now runs a retirement coaching consultancy, 64PLUS. We felt there was already so much written about preparing for the financial aspects of retirement, and we wanted to write a book offering new ideas, advice and stories to help the reader make a more successful emotional and lifestyle transition to life after work.
As the book’s cover suggests, we liken the retirement process to walking over a bridge – connecting one chapter of your life story with another. By thinking ahead and preparing consciously, your increase your chances of a successful crossing. This is easier said than done!
The very language of retirement brings to the fore negative ideas of leaving something behind, without a sense of a clear destination. As many have observed before, we tend to hear far more of the negative phrase ‘retire from’ than of the more positive ‘retire to’. Most of us know someone who struggled mentally and emotionally soon after clocking off for the last time. Where your purpose, routine and social network are heavily dependent on your career, the transition from employee to retiree can be fraught with danger.
We hope the book encourages readers to thinking differently about the possibilities of their own retirement, by drawing on Jon’s unique retirement coaching methods and my stories and interviews with a wide range of retirees. They all have some priceless advice to share!
Q: Tell us about the book – does it contain experiences and learnings that surprised you, even after many years spent advising older Australians on their retirement finances?
A: For many of us, there will be elements of our careers we will be glad to leave behind. But the message that became clear to Jon and I in writing the book was that there are things our job (or business) provides that we need to consciously replace in retirement to assist our mental and emotional wellbeing:
We believe that by acknowledging these realities, and consciously planning for how you will incorporate each in your life when you retire; rather than spending those precious early years going around in circles, you are more likely to enjoy an easier path to retirement.
Q: How about your own retirement? Are you already making plans for how you may prepare for it and how you may spend your years after work?
A: I don’t plan to retire in the traditional sense, but I do hope to stay involved in several activities I am passionate about (some paid and some unpaid) for as long as I am physically and mentally able! Spending time with family will always be at the top of that list.
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