Are you Ready for Retirement?

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dianeWe talk to Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell about her forward-looking approach to the role and passion for helping people prepare for life after work

Working as New Zealand’s Retirement Commissioner is something Diane Maxwell would never have anticipated 20 years ago, but, since accepting the role three years ago, she describes it as “a job I genuinely love.”

“I got the offer while I was at the Financial Markets Authority (the agency responsible for regulating capital markets and financial services in New Zealand),” says Diane. “I was only supposed to fill in for three months, but in that time I realised I actually loved the job and put my hand up for it full time!”

A major focus of Diane’s first term was rebranding the organisation, which included changing its name from the Commission for Financial Literacy and Retirement Income to the Commission for Financial Capability (CFC). “Literacy is about theoretical knowledge: ‘what do I know?’, whereas capability is ‘what can I do?’. It’s an important distinction that fits in with our wider focus, which is helping people have a relationship with their money that allows them to live the life they want while preparing for retirement.”

Another aspect of the rebrand was updating the CFC website – and its budgeting site, sorted.org.nz – to make them more interactive and engaging. To create lasting behavioural change, however, Diane understood she needed to go further than a new name and some good-looking websites.

HANDS-ON APPROACH

To help Kiwis start saving for their retirements, the CFC began running financial workshops in partnership with a number of large employers across the country, such as New Zealand Police, New Zealand Defence Force and the Warehouse. “While a website with some good advice is enough to get some people on track, other people need more,” says Diane. “We have facilitators across the country, who go into a workplace and, with groups of 20-30 employees at a time, run six-to-nine weeklong courses teaching them about everything from debt and savings to contracts and their consumer rights.

“We do pre-and-post workshop research. Some commonalities we’ve found after people complete the course are that they quit smoking, buy fewer takeaways, join KiwiSaver, write wills, renegotiate contracts, pay down debt and start saving plans – the effects range from people just tidying up their finances to some quite phenomenal lifestyle changes.”

More than 1,000 people have been through the programme nationwide and Diane is looking forward to watching those numbers increase throughout her current term.

The fun in funds

For those already in retirement, Dianne has done a lot of work around “decumulation” – making your money last as long as your body does. “People might live a lot longer than they thought they wood, and they still need to have fund. I strong advise retirees to do the things that make life good for them. If that’s getting on a plane to visit your grandkids on the other side of the world, do it!”.

When it comes to funding that type of lifestyle, Diane says there is there are a number of options available.

“People can downsize and buy a smaller home, or move into a retirement village. The important thing to be aware of with retirement villages is understanding what you are buying – most of the time, you’re only buying the right to live there and not the land.

“Home Equity releases are becoming an increasingly popular option in the UK and I see the same happening here. The products available today are a lot better than they were in the past; particularly now that people are able to put spending limits in place, so that they don’t burn through their equity.

“They’re a good option for people who are asset rich but cash poor.”

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