Be the Catalyst!

July 29, 2014 ( - Indulge me. Let me take you back to July 6, 1957, when a teenager named Paul got on his bike to go see a band play a few songs at the local fair.

And, December 1, 1955, when a young woman named Rosa decided to stay seated instead of giving up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.  Both, seemingly innocuous events, profoundly changed the world as we know it.

Our “Paul” is, of course, Paul McCartney, who was on his way to see John Lennon’s band. And “Rosa,” Rosa Parks, who decided to take a stand on that particular day. And while there is benefit to recounting their incredible contributions to history, let’s instead step back and briefly imagine how different the world might be if McCartney decided to stay home, or if Parks decided to simply relinquish her seat. What might the social fabric of our country then look like?

Of course, it’s all speculation now. But what isn’t speculation is that these seemingly insignificant actions—from two vastly different social arenas—created profound social change. McCartney’s encounter with Lennon brought The Beatles together and changed the direction of music forever. Parks’ defiance helped launch a movement that ended legal segregation in America. Wow!

Now it’s important to acknowledge that neither Rosa, nor Paul was entirely responsible for the social change that ensued. Social movements just don’t start, come alive, and flourish in a vacuum, they require a pretty specific set of ingredients to really take root; among which are an environment receptive to change, a catalyst to spark a movement, and a community that’s willing to support the heavy lifting that’s required to keep a movement alive through its tipping point.

In both examples, the environment was clearly ripe for change; rebellion was in the air in the late 1950’s, for both equal rights and personal expression. Rosa and Paul, of course, were among the powerful catalysts that ignited the dry underbrush and set change ablaze. But, in neither case did the movement flourish from day one. In both cases, communities slowly embraced these movements; at first just a few brave followers were willing to take on the risk, but the numbers grew until ultimately there was more risk to not following, than following.

Make no mistake; what we (collectively) are doing is trying to start a social movement (see “How Do We Think Differently?”). But our social movement isn’t focused on equal rights or music; it’s focused on how people become financially secure in a challenging world. That’s different, for sure, but no less important or difficult. And like any movement, the environment needs to be right and we need catalysts to build communities that will ensure our movement reaches that oh so elusive “Tipping Point.” The environment is indeed right, with all statistics pointing to heightened anxiety and concern around all matters financial and, yes, I’m asking you to Be That Catalyst. But how? 

We all know what does and does not promote savings, so how about if we simply prioritize those things that do.

Starting with auto plan features at reasonable default rates that incorporate auto escalation…how about 6% auto-enrollment and 2% auto-escalation up to a max of 10%? (See “The Power of ‘10’”) Median tenure, which has remained pretty constant over the last 60 years, is about five years. So, for that employee who stays five years, “6 and 2” gets them to an average of 10…not bad!

What if our schools actually required students to take a course in personal finance? According to a 2014 study from The Council for Economic Education, only 19 states have such a requirement. And, what if the retirement services industry empowered all of our financial professionals with a simple and effective curriculum that could be taught throughout our communities?  Would you teach someone?

And, how might our movement advance if we embraced the idea of a national public service campaign that articulated a strong, non-branded message to change societal beliefs about the need to save and to encourage others to do the same?

McCartney, Parks, and countless others from the Wright Brothers to Nelson Mandela, have shown us that life evolves around a spark. You likely know better than I what will advance this important cause of ours, so why don’t you be that spark. I promise… I will follow you.

By Stig Nybo, president of U.S. retirement strategy for Transamerica RetirementSolutions


NOTE: This feature is to provide general information only, does not constitute legal advice, and cannot be used or substituted for legal or tax advice.   

Any opinions of the author(s) do not necessarily reflect the stance of Asset International or its affiliates.