Our attitudes to money are firmly shaped by the time we hit our 50s and 60s. Ian Yates has had more insight than most in his role as chief executive of COTA Australia, an organisation that promotes the concerns of older people to government.
“Money is a means, not an end,” he says.
“You should be using the money for the things that you want. The first thing to think about is what do you want to do in retirement? What money are you going to need for that rather than arbitrarily thinking, ‘I should have a big pot of money’.
“Sometimes that helps you realise that I need to save a bit more and sometimes it makes you realise: let’s focus on what I want to get out of life rather than just accumulate a big pot of money.”
You should be using the money for the things that you want. The first thing to think about is what do you want to do in retirement?
About 15 per cent of the population is now aged over 65 – a proportion that will rise to more than a quarter over the next 25 years, according to COTA.
Yates says that his role has made him more aware of the issues associated with an ageing population, such as expectations that we will work longer as part of a transition to retirement, as well as the challenges of housing and aged care.
However, money has never been the driving factor in his life.
“Having worked in the community sector almost all of my life, I’ve never been a big earner compared to going into business,” he says.
“But I’ve built up non-profit organisations rather than running a business, which might have been personally more profitable but I get a lot of satisfaction out of achieving change that benefits a wide range of people.”
He was appointed COTA chief executive in June, 2009, and previously led the South Australian arm of the organisation for two decades.
“Obviously, I think that one should be fairly remunerated and that one should think about savings and investment, but I think about those things secondary to what I’m achieving.”
Some of those achievements include COTA’s work to help the government’s Living Longer, Living Better reforms implemented last year, which will improve the lives of many older Australians and make the aged care system more sustainable.
“That wouldn’t have happened without us doing it, so that gives me a lot of satisfaction.”
Nonetheless, the financial issues facing older Australians are many and COTA is continuing to lobby for more changes.
Among the issues facing older Australians are the adequacy of superannuation and the aged pension and related payments, as basic costs such as electricity and gas continue to rise.
“That has a significant impact not only on their quality of life but in some cases on their health and well-being.”
Even going forward the vast majority of people will be on a part pension – what that tells you is that even if they’re comfortable, they’re vulnerable
The challenge of finding good financial advice is also a difficult one and Yates says the government’s decision to wind back some of the consumer protections in the future of financial advice (FoFA) reforms are disappointing.
“Older people find it really hard to find an adviser who puts their interests first rather than the adviser’s interests … we find very few advisers who have a solid understanding of health and aged care needs.”
Yates, who says he has received financial advice in the past but does not currently have an adviser, is keen to work with the financial advice sector to develop their ability in this area.
“Even going forward the vast majority of people will be on a part pension – what that tells you is that even if they’re comfortable, they’re vulnerable. They’re vulnerable to poor advice, they’re vulnerable to things going wrong in the financial world.”
Yates’ advice for older Australians
• Start planning for retirement, even if it’s 5-10 years in advance.“If you’re still in income-producing work then you need to think carefully about what lifestyle you want and what income will be required to support that.”
• Be wary of investment schemes promising big returns. “If it looks too good to be true, it almost certainly is. A lot of people get caught in schemes that promise returns so far above the market that if that was really true why would the guy be trying to sell it to you when he could make all this money by putting it in there himself?”
• Find good financial advice to help avoid the traps. For example, many older people consider property investments safe but some schemes are highly-leveraged – something which most advisers will warn investors about. “If you don’t fully understand, make sure you get advice and the advice is worth paying for.
For more information about COTA Australia go to http://www.cota.org.au/.
Brendan Swift is a business journalist based in Sydney.