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The reality of financial wellbeing & older Australians

On the surface, older Australians are getting financially healthier. However a higher financial wellbeing score of elderly Australians overall may mask the hardship faced by a significant number of older people, a new report suggests.

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Back in April, ANZ’s Financial Wellbeing: a survey of adults in Australia/New Zealand study showed Australians aged 65 years and over generally enjoy higher financial wellbeing than younger Australians, with a ‘score’ of 71 versus the national average of 59.

"Unless we change [those] attitudes and beliefs they will feed ageism and aged-based discrimination.” - Pringle

But insights from ANZ’s new report Financial Wellbeing: Older Australians Report - co-authored by RMIT University Professor Roslyn Russell and due for release later in November - highlights the unique challenges for particular groups of older Australians.

While some senior Australians are concerned about investment portfolios and the shifts in franking-credit policy on dividends, others are struggling just to stay above the poverty line the report finds. 

“We have got to recognise it is not a simple picture of a whole lot of older Australians going around on cruise ships,” National Seniors Australia Chief Advocate Ian Henschke says. “We have a very disparate group of older Australians.” 

The report Financial Wellbeing: Older Australians and the 2018 MoneyMinded Impact Report will be launched on November 29 in Melbourne, Australia by ANZ CEO Shayne Elliott with Dr Kay Patterson, Australia’s Age Discrimination Commissioner.

The report, together with a companion report outlining the impact of ANZ’s MoneyMinded program, analyses in depth the financial wellbeing of older Australians through a series of surveys, interviews and focus groups.

The works bring together researchers from RMIT University, the University of South Australia, leading advocates for the elderly and ANZ’s partner organisations including AnglicareSA, Berry Street, Brotherhood of St Laurence, The Benevolent Society, The Smith Family and Uniting Vic/Tas.

Ageing population

The insights about older Australians in the two companion reports are timely and represent the first effort to focus on the financial wellbeing of an older cohort in Australia.

The data and analyses come as Australia continues to face a rapidly ageing population.

In 2017, one in seven Australians were aged 65 and older. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare forecasts by 2057 there will be 8.8 million older people in Australia - 22 per cent of the population or just over one in five. By 2097, 12.8 million people (25 per cent) will be aged 65 and over. This means the amount of Australians over the age of 65 will more than double.

Initiatives

MoneyMinded and other financial education programs are part of a growing number of initiatives to improve the financial wellbeing of older Australians.

In 2017-18, 84,284 people participated in ANZ’s MoneyMinded adult financial education program across Australia, New Zealand, Asia and the Pacific, with 5 per cent and 6 per cent respectively aged over 65 years.

Established in 2002, MoneyMinded programs are designed to boost financial wellbeing across 12 areas including meeting day-to-day expenses, reducing financial stress and building confidence in financial decision-making.

MoneyMinded proved to be a vital ‘safe space to talk about ‘money stuff’ for older Australians. “The women we talked to especially said they never had the opportunity to talk about money,” Professor Russell says.

The EveryAGE Counts initiative - backed by a network of individuals and organisations including the Centre for Social Innovation, the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Benevolent Society - is designed to combat ageism in employment, healthcare, aged care, housing, digital inclusion and economic security.

At the launch of the EveryAGE campaign in October co-chair Robert Tickner AO described ageism as an “entrenched social norm”.

The campaign tackles myths and assumptions about older workers – for example the view older professionals can’t adapt to new technology or don’t like working for a younger boss.

Benevolent Society advocacy campaigner Joel Pringle says these attitudes and beliefs tend to arise from peoples’ own fears and uncertainties around getting older.

“These drive our unconscious behaviour,” he says. “Unless we change [those] attitudes and beliefs they will feed ageism and aged-based discrimination.”

Capability

A cross-discipline team at University of South Australia is at work on a research project for over 65s funded by Financial Literacy Australia (FLA) and supported by ANZ. The research seeks to see if there is a gap between the actual financial capability of older people and the capability required to make important financial decisions.

One of the four research project leads, Dr Braam Lowies, has been involved in interviews and focus groups with older people, some of which are outlined in the MoneyMinded report.

For Lowies the gap itself is not around knowledge or how knowledgeable over 65s are. “It is behavioural”, he says.

There is knowledge and skills of different levels but “there is no motivation and no trust”, Lowies says.

He is frank about the need for banks to rebuild trust with customers amid current intense focus on the sector. Over 65 participants in the UniSA research expressed feelings the banking process has become depersonalised.

“The new environment is not an environment they are comfortable with,” Lowies says. “I don’t have a silver bullet but it comes down to communication and a better understanding of what the bank has to offer.”

Emily Ross is an author, journalist and editor

A more detailed report on this work will be released by UniSA with FLA in early 2019.

The report Financial Wellbeing: Older Australians and the 2018 MoneyMinded Impact Report will be launched on November 29.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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