Millennial Savers Have Big Opportunities

Two recent provider reports make for interesting and informative reading about the outlook of Millennial workers. 

According to John Hancock Retirement Plan Services’ latest Financial Stress Survey, more than half of Millennials in the workforce are on track for a financially secure retirement, meaning they would be able to replace 70% or more of their incomes after they stop working.

Another survey published this week by Allianz Life, reported on in a white paper dubbed “The Gift of Time,” draws from similar data to reach rather different conclusions, describing Millennials as “the least financially prepared generation” and “the most overwhelmed by the idea of long-term planning.”

Reading both reports together presents an informative picture of Millennial workers, as those who have the most to lose and the most to gain when it comes to the success and stability of the employer-sponsored defined contribution (DC) retirement plan system.

According to the John Hancock research, new solutions, such as employers’ willing adoption of auto-enrollment—and to a lesser extent, auto-escalation—have helped Millennials begin saving earlier, and that, in turn, has helped to put their retirement savings on a decent course. Still, John Hancock finds Millennials say their top financial worries are “repaying college loans, their overall current financial situation, and emergency savings.” No surprise, retirement is less immediate for Millennials, so it is lower on their list of concerns, the research concludes.

“With Millennials, our challenge is not getting them to join the plan—automatic solutions have done that—but it is to engage them in their broader financial lives,” suggests Patrick Murphy, president of John Hancock RPS. “Millennials tend to do more of their own research up front, but then they often want to clarify some information, and validate their thinking, so there is still a place for exceptional, one-on-one customer support and expert advice.”

As a plan provider, Murphy adds that John Hancock “understands people have different needs as they plan for retirement. Our passion is to help identify and implement solutions to help them achieve their goals and, as a result, reduce or eliminate their financial stress.” One of those solutions is Morningstar’s HelloWallet financial wellness program, which John Hancock RPS began offering on its Total Retirement Solution platform in late 2015.

The theory from John Hancock and other providers’ perspectives is that once Millennials sort out more immediate concerns, their interest will naturally turn to the medium and long-term financial picture—and data supports this point. 

NEXT: Millennials must commit to saving early 

According to the Allianz Life research, it is incumbent upon Millennials to create a new understanding of longevity and financial independence, “considering they may live 30 more years than people did 100 years ago.”

The study suggests that despite being the least financially prepared and most overwhelmed by long-term planning, Millennials showed the most interest in a “non-linear school-work-retirement life path.” They also worry about being judged for their life choices, Allianz Life finds.

Study highlights show nearly 70% of Millennials said they would prefer to “explore, experiment and travel prior to retirement and follow a different path in how they learn, work, partner and raise families.” Millennials expressed the most regret about “not taking more chances,” as 38% said they “wished they’d been gutsier and did things they really wanted to do.”

Having an average of $150,000 in estimated mortgage, student loan and credit card debt, Millennials hold 89% more debt than boomers, who hold an estimated debt of $79,000. “As a result, 63% of millennials cited worries about money as being a top barrier to taking a nontraditional life path,” the research shows.

“It’s encouraging to see so much optimism and non-traditional thinking from Millennials about the possibilities afforded by increased longevity,” says Allianz Life Vice President of Consumer Insights Katie Libbe. “Their generation has the best opportunity to make life changes and adjust the way we all think about the current path to retirement. However, in order to make these shifts, Millennials need much better discipline in both their spending habits today and savings behavior for tomorrow.” 

Since many are only now joining the workforce, Millennials naturally have the least savings for retirement and non-retirement, the weakest assets, the lowest home ownership and the highest debt among the three generations surveyed, Allianz Life explains

“As a result, money remains a major barrier for Millennials when it comes to planning for the future,” Libbe explains. ” Sixty-three percent of millennials cited worries about money as the top thing that gets in the way of a different approach for when/how we learn, work, couple and raise kids—compared to 56% of boomers and 59% of Gen Xers. In addition, a higher percentage of millennials, 81%, said money was the top factor that got in the way of making alternative choices in their lives, versus 70% of boomers and 78% of Gen Xers.” 

Libbe says it’s ironic that the generation that wants to distance itself from the perceived constraints and trappings of money is the generation most at odds with it. “For many Millennials, money is the single most important factor dictating the direction of their lives,” she concludes.