Head of Canada Retirement
The Manufacturers Life Insurance Company
Recently, Manulife conducted its annual Financial Stress survey to gauge how Canadians are feeling about their finances. We wanted to know how they feel about the economy and their personal financial situation, and how employers can make a difference.
Conducted during the pandemic, the survey tells us that Canadians are under a great deal of stress compared to previous years. The survey offers clear insights into what’s causing Canadians financial concern, and gives us a chance to make a difference, and offer solutions that help people save for retirement.
It’s safe to say that the pandemic caused most Canadians a great deal of stress and, as our survey indicates, much of it financial. A gyrating stock market, all-time high unemployment, and retirement savings under siege all conspired to increasing worry about financial security
The Financial Pressure Points
We asked survey respondents to describe their overall stress levels in the six months before the survey. Since this period of time spanned the pandemic, it’s no wonder that 51% of respondents reported medium levels of stress and a startling 28% said they were under extreme stress. Only 21% said they were not feeling stressed.
It came as no surprise that people who reported lower household incomes also reported greater stress. But what did surprise me was how, regardless of income level, over half our survey respondents had to change their financial strategy to accommodate the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
These changes included dipping into emergency savings, increasing credit card balances, and pausing retirement savings contributions. The irony is that these short-term solutions to financial uncertainty only serve to increase stress, not reduce it.
Bringing this Stress to Work
Here’s a key survey insight for employers: Stress, isn’t something you can just flip off like a light switch. Nearly half of all respondents said they carried their financial stress to work, with 11% noting it was a daily occurrence.
And our survey respondents added that this does impact their ability to perform at work. People reported they were absent more often and less productive when they were worried about their finances at work. The connection is clear: when you’re stressed at work, your performance suffers. And that only leads to a vicious cycle of more worry and stress.
Luckily, there was some good news in our survey – news that Canadian employers can act on. Respondents generally agreed that there’s a lot employers can do to reduce financial stress. In fact, 75% of those asked said that an employer-sponsored financial wellness program would have a positive impact on their stress, and a full 90% agreed it was important that employers provide access to these programs. In short, people believe that help in the workplace will go a long way to feeling better about their finances, and that in turn will help elevate their performance at work. It’s a real win-win scenario.
How Manulife can Help with Digital Solutions and Professional Advice
I’ve written about it before, but it bears repeating -- professional financial advice can be a real game changer when it comes to financial security. And this is something our survey results supported as well. When asked, 89% of respondents agreed they need help estimating how much money they’ll need for retirement. And even though most people described themselves as at least ‘somewhat knowledgeable’ about managing their investments, 86% still responded that having a professional manage their retirement investments and savings would positively affect how prepared they feel for retirement.
Yet, with the pandemic still very much a factor, connecting in person isn’t always possible or reasonable. If we want to connect our members with professionals, we had to offer easy-to-use and access digital platforms, which is exactly what we’ve done.
These platforms empower members to manage their savings on their own if they choose that route (check their investments, see their balances, download receipts, and so on). These virtual solutions let our members connect with the advice they need. This includes remote guidance from professional advisors and a series of online webinars to educate and inform. We hope by connecting people with the advice they need and offering a simple digital experience, we can help reduce financial stress and improve the wellness of our members.
What Does the Future Hold for Financial Stress?
I wish I could produce a crystal ball that showed nothing but smooth sailing for everyone’s financial future. Unfortunately, even with our best guesses, we can’t predict what the future holds, especially with the pandemic still wreaking havoc in our country and throughout the world. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways you and your members can ease your stress, or get help from Manulife.
We’re here to help Canadians feel confident about their finances and be prepared for whatever the future may hold. There’s no overstating the power of professional financial advice to help you navigate rocky waters and allow you to continue saving for your retirement – even during tough times. I’m confident we’ll be able to get through this together.