Retirement Readiness Varies By Industry: Study

By Emily Lambert | November 22, 2009 AAA



Pity those poor Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) employees. Despite the popular notion that riches are lavished on them, workers at Wall Street's leading investment bank have only 86% of the assets they will need to maintain their lifestyles in retirement. At Citigroup (NYSE:C), things are even worse, with workers there having only 63% of what they'll need. United Airlines' pilots, by contrast, have more than double what they'll require to make their golden years truly golden.

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Those are some of the findings of a retirement readiness index being released Monday by Fiduciary Benchmarks, a firm that benchmarks retirement plans, such as 401(k)s, and compares them with plans offered elsewhere.

For its study, the Kansas City, Mo., firm looked at 21,000 corporate retirement plans in 100 industries, each with a minimum of $10 million in assets.

Among the surprising findings: In terms of maintaining lifestyles in retirement, workers in the food industry may be in better shape than investment bankers. Employees at Kraft Foods (NYSE:KFT) on average have 118% of what they'll need to maintain their pre-retirement lifestyles after quitting work, and those at ConAgra Foods (NYSE:CAG) have 134%.

"If you don't know what your readiness is, here's a good starting point," says Tom Kmak, chief executive officer of Fiduciary Benchmarks.

To determine whether a person is ready to retire, the company constructed a Replacement Ratio Study based on work by benefits consultant Aon Consulting (NYSE:AOC) and Georgia State University. The amount needed in retirement varies from 94% of income for someone earning $20,000 a year just prior to retiring to 77% of income for someone earning $80,000. Someone with annual pre-retirement income of $250,000 will need 88% of that amount annually after quitting work to maintain his living standard, under a methodology developed by Aon. The ratios were calculated by factoring in gross pre-retirement income and for pre-retirement taxes, savings, estimated changes in expenditures at retirement and post-retirement taxes.

Because the study's objective was to gauge readiness to maintain pre-retirement standards of living, the absolute amounts that workers in various industries have saved, and will have available in retirement, vary widely.

One of the key factors in determining whether an industry's employees will be prepared to maintain standards of living in retirement are its profit margins, Kmak says. The reason is that businesses with higher profit margins tend to make higher contributions to employer retirement plans.

Kmak cautions that the study's findings should be viewed as a starting point. People working in transportation equipment management companies, such as Rolls Royce North America (OTC:RYCEY), are on average 98% ready for retirement, while employees at hospital companies are only 73% ready, according to Fiduciary Benchmarks.

This doesn't mean a longtime nurse should quit and move into the transportation business. Rather, it means the nurses should evaluate their retirement readiness and make changes as needed, Kmak said. Among the ways to improve retirement readiness are to delay retirement and contribute more to retirement plans, such as company-sponsored 401(k)s and Individual Retirement Accounts.

What's more, workers in the same industry sometimes show wide gaps in retirement readiness. Pilots at UAL Corp.'s United Airlines, for example, have an average of 219% of what they'll need to retire comfortably, while their flight attendant colleagues have only 79%, the study found.

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