Two Surest Ways to Boost Millennials’ Retirement Savings

Millennials understand that they need to save. Two simple policy shifts will give them the means.

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As children, we boomers were warned about cigarettes. Never mind that our parents smoked; they got hooked before anyone new the harm. We would not have that excuse. By and large we got the message and didn’t take up the habit.

The retirement saving narrative for Millennials is strikingly similar. Never mind that we boomer parents failed to save; older boomers, especially, never really understood the collapse of the pension system and social safety net, and the dire need for personal savings. But Millennials have been duly warned; they will not have that excuse, and by and large they are taking action.

Not enough action, for sure. This is a tall mountain to climb and relatively few folks of any generation save as much as they should. But evidence suggests that Millennials are measuring up better than most, and when corporate and government policy finally catch up to the way this generation thinks, works and saves these young people will end up doing a better job preparing for retirement than most might believe.

(MORE: The Real Reason New College Grads Can’t Get Hired)

Two in three young employees are committed to or have the ambition to save for retirement, according to new report from Aegon and the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. One in four are habitual savers who ‘always make sure’ they are putting something away. Two in five intend to begin saving soon and three in five understand that retirement saving is important—they just don’t have the means yet.

These are impressive numbers. Saving for retirement generally was not on the radar of twentysomethings in any previous generation. Yet to capture the full benefit of their understanding two big changes must occur:

  • Portable pension plans Millennials are a mobile lot. According to the survey, 39% expect to look for a new job within a year and 31% are thinking about quitting their job right now. This is part of their unique career reality. They are being held back while under-saved boomers hang on to their jobs. So Millennials are inclined to keep moving, and they often favor a job experience with intrinsic rewards over one that might be a tough slog but bring advancement. Still, 87% say a generous retirement savings plan will be important in choosing their next job. Policy needs to reflect this mobility and desire to save. Employer-sponsored retirement plans today generally do not travel well with an employee.
  • Financial education Private and public sector leaders in dozens of countries are fixated on how to teach young people while still in school more about personal finance and retirement savings issues. But there is an equal need for financial education in the workplace, and Millennials are practically begging for it. They understand the safety net is threadbare. They just aren’t sure how to plan around it. About half say they don’t know if they are doing enough. One in four say they’d save more if exposed to “better and more frequent” information. A similar number say they want financial education at work “so I am more aware of what I need to do for myself.” In the absence of information from a qualified trusted source, many mistakenly turn to friends for advice.

Companies need to offer more financial guidance at work. They need to auto enroll new employees in savings plans and offer one-on-one financial counseling in order to stand out and make a difference for this generation. Millennials will have no excuses when they retire. They will have known for 50 years that they needed to save. What they need now are policy adjustments that make savings easier to bring from one employer to the next—and make safe investing easier to understand. They can do the rest.