Thoughts from Feurteventura: Health & Retirement

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My commentary is late this week because I was away for a short trip to Fuerteventura, Spain. The reason I bring it up is not to tell you about the amazing scenery there, but to share with you a lesson I took from the person I stayed with during my trip. I booked the trip short notice so I decided to go with Airbnb and on the basis of some strong reviews I selected a room in a house owned by a Spanish woman. As it turned out it was just herself and her three dogs in the house, and they were all very welcoming.Aside from useful advice on where to visit on the island, I found myself involved in more philosophical conversations with this lady about life and the world we live in, interesting stuff. The source of the clarity of her perspectives on life was a cancer diagnosis seven years earlier, at the age of 50. Clearly, such a diagnosis motivates the search for meaning, an answer to the why?

Six months following her diagnosis, she began to devour books on many aspects of health, nutrition, as well as learning about concepts like mindfulness, and even quantum physics. She changed her whole lifestyle but most importantly, she changed her perspective on life. In her own words, she ‘crawled out of the deep deep lows to eventually view it as an opportunity, to appreciate every single day’. Her two most used words when we talked were “amazing” and spectacular”.

Now you might be asking, what does this have to do with pensions? A couple of relevant observations hit me while talking to this woman. In the pensions world, the biggest challenge is not delivering a suitable range of investment options, it is driving member engagement, motivating people to invest in their future retirement, not to wait around for some call to action. Asking ‘how does the pension system work again?’ at 50 is too late. Realistically it is too late at 40.

The reality with everything in life is that a large percentage of the population will seek knowledge after the fact, when it is too late. The same people will make little use of the information even after it is presented to them, whether it is related to health or pensions. The statistics on obesity in Ireland, most shockingly child obesity, and the large percentage of the population without pension provision are testament to this fact. Individuals fail to take personal responsibility all the time.

In a retirement context, it is important to remember that pension schemes are simply a means for people to save for their retirement, in a tax advantaged way. Everyone should start saving as soon as possible, irrespective of their choice of investment. However, no matter how hard you have worked and how well you have saved will be off little value if you are either too unwell to enjoy your retirement, or if you don’t make it or it’s cut short.

Therefore, staying healthy – eating right, exercise, work/life balance etc. – is the best way of at least increasing your chances of a worthwhile retirement, but also most importantly is key to an eventful and more exciting journey along the way. Sounds like common sense, but too many people wait till it’s too late to realise that. I live a relatively healthy, but back issues and persistent stomach problems are a reminder that there is always room for changes and improvement.

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