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Besides what TV program is on at noon, the big question for soon-to-be retirees is how much money they will need to survive in their golden years.

For the 2013 retirement index, go here.

In 2008, Sun Life Financial attempted to find out what Canadians think they need for retirement, and the results were surprising. About 9% of the 1,530 Canadians surveyed thought that they’d need to save just $25,000 for retirement, while an equal amount thought $1 million to $5 million would be sufficient to get them through their post-work years. Forty percent responded that they have no idea what they’ll need for retirement.

Cynthia Kett of Stewart & Kett Financial Advisors was shocked that anyone would think that he or she could subsist on just $25,000. “To think people will need that amount is way out of the ballpark,” she says.

She reveals that many of her clients, who tend to be high-net-worth, think they have to save at least $1 million, while others come to her unsure of what they’ll need. That’s why Kett was surprised to see that Sun Life reported that four in 10 Canadians don’t know how much they should save.

“I would have said seven out of 10,” she admits. “The majority don’t know. It’s really hard to know how much you’re going to need to retire unless you sit down and do a detailed projection. The majority of people don’t do those projections.”

Conventional wisdom used to be that saving $1 million would be enough to provide for a happy retirement, but Sun Life says this isn’t the case anymore. “There’s no one number,” they explain. “It’s specific to what your client does in retirement. Increasingly, people want to travel; maybe they want a new cottage. And people are living longer. There’s no particular amount for any one person.”

Without advisors and clients coming up with a plan, Canadians will continue to be in the dark about their retirement needs. Just look at some other statistics from the Sun Life survey: 52% of respondents said they expect to be retired for at least 20 years, while the rest have no idea how long their savings should last. Without sorting out what’s needed, a lot of people will be left without any money in their later retirement years.

Another statistic reveals that many Canadians want to retire somewhere between 55 and 60 but most expect to stop working by the time they’re 70.

Sun Life says closing the gap between needs and wants is simply a matter of clients talking in detail to their advisors. “If people can talk to their advisors about what their current position is and what needs are in retirement, they can better synch up their expected needs in retirement.”

Convincing clients to plan ahead is easier said than done. Kett thinks the lack of retirement planning in Canada is due to procrastination more than anything.

“By and large, people are procrastinators. They realize that it’s important to do, but they just don’t make it happen,” she says.

While advisors can help push their clients, they can only do so much. Retirement planning often means clients have to go home and sort out their finances, which could be a daunting task for some.

“Most advisors will raise the issue,” Kett explains. “But it does require follow-through from the client. They need to figure out how much they can expect to spend on an annual basis and how soon they want to retire. It takes a lot of time to pull that info together.”

While Kett says she pushes her baby boomers harder than most, advisors can’t be expected to chase after all of their clients. “Advisors are busy, and they can only push so hard,” she says. “Especially for advisors whose primary focus is estate planning or some other area. They’ll probably raise the issue, but if it’s not the focus of what they do, they may not stay on top of it.”

Sun Life says its advisors are starting to take a more holistic approach to retirement planning, which should get more clients thinking about their financial futures earlier. “You want advisors to think about estate planning or health insurance needs,” they say.

The survey also showed that 75% of respondents are contributing to their RRSPs, though many aren’t hitting their maximum contribution amounts. Sun Life says they’d like to see everyone saving the max amount, but even so, retirees can’t just rely on their savings plans.

They point out that there are a number of new products that can help clients transition into retirement. “People are living longer, so that creates a risk that they’ll outlive their assets,” they explain. “Advisors have to talk to them about their specific needs and link them to a product that could provide protection.”

Originally published on Advisor.ca

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