COVID-19 has impacted almost every aspect of people’s lives globally. Whilst the short-term financial implications of the pandemic are front of mind for many individuals, we were interested to see whether these worries changed long-term savings behaviour. In this year’s Global Retirement Reality Report (GR3), we investigate the impact that COVID-19 has had on personal finances and behaviour around retirement planning. In this overview, we share the results of our survey of Dutch pension savers.
Savers in the Netherlands appear to be less affected by the COVID-19 crisis than other countries we surveyed, with fewer people reporting financial impacts. This may be in part because of the country’s “intelligent lockdown” approach and the support that companies have received from the government,1 such as the compensation offered to companies experiencing a loss in turnover of more than 20%. Some savers have adjusted their short-term spending and saving behaviour; however, this hasn’t yet affected long-term views around retirement confidence, with any impacts from the crisis expected to be short-lived.
Whilst not a direct result of COVID-19, retirement confidence remains low, with almost half of Dutch survey members reporting that they were not optimistic about their retirement. A key reason for this low confidence was a lack of trust in the long-term sustainability of the pension system. This should improve once the country’s planned pension reforms are implemented and people can see that a more sustainable basis is being put in place.
We were pleased to see a good sense of awareness from members about the risks of overreacting to market events and “selling at the bottom,” with almost half of the sample believing now is a good time to invest for the long term. Members also showed an appreciation for lower volatility strategies. These findings provide useful insight into the kinds of funds members would like to see their savings invested in.
Key Finding #1: Dutch savers reported less financial impact from COVID-19 compared with other countries
We began by taking a pulse check on the current financial situations of individuals, compared with the period before the COVID-19 outbreak. We found that 54% of the Dutch sample had been impacted in some form, such as having reduced pay or reduced hours, a lower proportion than in some other countries.
We also found that fewer Dutch respondents felt that they were worse off as a result of COVID-19 compared with other countries.
Perhaps not surprisingly then, among the five countries surveyed, Dutch respondents had made the fewest changes to their short-term spending and saving behaviour.
Key Finding #2: Retirement confidence remains low
What impact do the current changes in employment circumstances have on retirement confidence? Are people thinking that far ahead? We asked our savers how optimistic they are that they will be financially prepared for retirement by the time they plan to stop working.
Almost half of members were not optimistic about their retirement.2
However, when we asked members the same question in 2018, we gathered similar results, suggesting that this lack in confidence may not be solely attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Key Finding #3: COVID-19 is not the main factor affecting retirement confidence levels
Whilst 31% of the Dutch sample said that the COVID-19 situation was having a high impact on their retirement confidence levels, the majority said that COVID-19 was having a low or no impact.
More pertinent than COVID-19 in the impact on retirement confidence was:
Lack of trust in retirement savings plans
Uncertainty about retirement savings plans
Complexity of retirement savings plans
“I am most concerned about the uncertain and the unknown: the unreliability of the government, agreements made years ago which are subsequently withdrawn, policy on taxes and other charges.”
Key Finding #4: Many think that the impact of COVID-19 will be short-lived
It was clear from our survey that the impact of COVID-19 had limited implications for long-term retirement confidence, suggesting an expectation that the negative financial impacts will be short-lived. This view was shared by the members in our survey globally.
The majority of Dutch savers felt that the impact that COVID-19 would have on their finances would most likely last a year or less.
Key Finding #5: Whilst some can afford to save more in the short term, the majority of DC plan members have not made changes to their retirement savings plan
Our survey results show that there continue to be low levels of engagement from members when it comes to saving for retirement. Whilst 29% of savers have recently adjusted their short-term saving rates, the majority have not thought about their retirement savings plan.
We asked members if they had taken any other actions with regard to their retirement savings plans such as checking balances more regularly or seeking financial advice.
Only one-third of pension scheme members have taken action with regard to their retirement savings plan.
Key Finding #6: Savers would not be happy for their employer to pause contributions into their retirement savings plan
Given the difficulties that many businesses in the Netherlands have faced during the pandemic, we asked savers whether they would be comfortable with their employer stopping pension contributions temporarily if the employer were struggling to survive in the current climate, and it was permitted legally.
52% of members would not want their employer to pause pension contributions.
Key Finding #7: Equities are seen as a good long-term investment, but members prefer lower volatility
March saw 20%+ falls in stock prices and record-high levels of volatility. Whilst some investors flocked to safe assets, others took the opportunity to buy at potentially low valuations. The members in our survey indicated a sense of awareness about crystalising losses, with fewer than 20% thinking now is a good time to sell their equity investments.
However, when it came to risk preferences, the majority said they would prefer an investment that had a lower expected return but with less chance of loss.
53% would prefer lower expected returns if it means less chance of loss.
We continue to see a lack of retirement confidence in the Netherlands because of long-standing issues such as lack of trust and uncertainty when it comes to planning for retirement. This reinforces the need for Dutch pension reforms that aim to simplify and improve the sustainability of the system.
Members expect the impact of COVID-19 to be short-lived, aren’t changing their retirement savings behaviour and don’t believe their employers should either. Whilst company priorities are understandably going to be focused on staying in business in the short to medium term, it is critical that both employers and employees continue saving into retirement plans.
A preference for investments with lower volatility came through, even if this means lower returns. Big drops in value have the potential to knock members’ confidence, and it is therefore important that investment strategies incorporate mechanisms to limit severe drawdowns and that these benefits are communicated to members.
What can you do?
Use targeted communications to help build member confidence and trust in their pension scheme and retirement prospects amid turbulent economic conditions.
Incorporate volatility protection mechanisms into your investment strategy, aiming to provide a smoother, more comfortable experience for members through crisis periods such as COVID-19.
Begin developing a road map for implementing the pension reforms and explaining the journey to members and putting your scheme on a path to a sustainable basis.
As the COVID-19 pandemic was peaking in many countries this spring, and many had adjusted to the new normal enforced by nationwide lockdowns, State Street Global Advisors commissioned YouGov to conduct an online survey across five countries. YouGov surveyed 3,479 individual savers with access to pension plans:
The Australia, Ireland, UK and US samples included people saving into defined contribution (DC) retirement savings plans. Because the pensions market in the Netherlands 3 is predominantly defined benefit (DB) (DC accounts for only around 10% of retirement assets in the Netherlands ), we also surveyed those with DB/CDC retirement savings plans. In the Dutch sample, 63% had defined benefit retirement savings plans and 37% had defined contribution retirement savings plans.
2 62 members said they were “not at all optimistic” and 174 members said they were “slightly optimistic.”
3 Source: Willis Towers Watson — Global Pension Assets Study 2019.
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