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Latest figures show Australian men can expect to retire with over a third more super than women. So why does this happen and what can be done about it? Alison Fischer CFP® Private Client Adviser for Crosbie Wealth Management and mum-to-be, shares her thoughts on what Australian women can do to change their financial future in retirement.
Figures from the March 2020 Women’s Index report from Financy show that, on average, Australian women have 25% less super than men as they approach retirement. Although the super gap has been trending downward in recent years, it still shows how much less money women have to last them throughout retirement. Women can also expect to live longer than men, so there’s an even higher likelihood that Australian women are having to do more with less in their senior years. However, these improved growth rates could decline further due to the impact of the COVID-19 crisis and the uptake of the Government’s early release of superannuation scheme.
In their recent report, The Future Face of Poverty is Female, Monash University together with Australian Super highlight concerns about the financial position of women in retirement and share the stories of women in later life, reflecting on their experiences as women, mothers and employees. The report also includes statistical data about women’s workforce participation, earnings, and the impact of having children on both of these. Based on the data and stories collected, the report concludes that:
“Women who take parental leave and work part time will be subject to a superannuation ‘double penalty’ effect: (i) lower or no superannuation contributions are made as a direct result of reduced paid work; (ii) the detrimental effect of part-time work and career breaks on opportunities for promotion and moving jobs (and associated salary increases).”
Given this persistent gap in retirement savings, it’s not surprising that women approaching retirement are more likely to worry about their financial future. In their January 2020 report Retirement income worry: who worries and why?, National Seniors Australia found that worry about retirement income is 47% higher in women. Data from their survey of more than 3,500 National Seniors Australia members suggests that women’s longer life expectancy and gender inequality in lifetime earnings and savings are two major reasons for their concerns.
A little goes a long way
When Alison Fischer CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional was about to have her first child, she made an allowance in her household budget for super. “With so many competing priorities at a time like this, it was hard to make sure retirement savings stay on the list,” says Alison. “But allocating something is important. I looked at insurance premiums I’ll be paying through my super to make sure I keep contributing at least enough to keep my account balance from going backwards.”
As someone who advises people of all ages on saving for retirement, Alison is very aware of how important it is to keep your super balance growing, no matter how slowly. “Even the smallest contributions can have a very significant impact, particularly when you’re still decades away from retirement,” says Alison. “If you’re 30 now, putting away $50 per week for 35 years will give you an additional $246,000 for retirement (assuming a 5% Return on Revenue). Think of the difference a sum like that can make to your lifestyle in retirement.”
When two incomes become one, it can be challenging for a family to find that extra $50 for super savings. “This is where keeping on top of your cash flow is key,” says Alison. If you’re earning a lower income after returning to work part-time – or no income at all while you’re not working – you may benefit from a helping hand with super savings from the government. There are tax offsets and co-contributions available to make sure these small contributions boost your balance even more. And your spouse or partner may also benefit from tax offsets for making contributions into your super fund.
If you can return to paid work sooner rather than later after becoming a parent, you can continue to get the benefit of Super Guarantee (SG) payments. Not only can this make a difference to your super savings now, it can also be important for your future earning potential. “The super gap primarily comes about because women aren’t earning as much,” says Alison. “So don’t presume you’ll be the one taking a long career break. It’s definitely worth discussing with your partner or other support people how you can share the opportunity to be a parent and have a career. My returning to work is something my partner and I have talked about because I need to keep building my career capital, which is important in many professions, including financial planning. If you don’t keep up your skills and training, you can limit your chances of career progression and higher earnings.”
Another ‘sharing’ conversation that can be critical for women is a discussion about super assets in a divorce settlement. “If you’re splitting up, it’s very important to seek legal advice and representation on what you’re entitled to from the shared assets of the marriage,” says Alison. “In my experience, many women want to keep their settlement arrangements out of court but this can mean they miss out on a fair share of super, leaving them with limited retirement savings.”
Never too late to save
Alison has often advised female clients who find themselves with low super savings in the lead up to retirement, for all sorts of reasons. She has recommended that these clients make extra contributions, however modest. “Contributing extra into super for just five or 10 years before retirement can still make a big difference. And if you’re already retired, there’s real benefit in getting a handle on your cash flow to make your savings last longer.”
Whether you’re getting to grips with your household budget in retirement, negotiating your divorce settlement or your return to work, Alison recommends finding out as much as you can about the financial impact of different options. “Make the time to get informed and educated. Figure out your budget, explore some different scenarios and use all of this to decide what will provide you with the best financial outcome while balancing the family and emotional factors. There are plenty of tools and calculators available on the MoneySmart website to help you run the numbers and a CFP® professional can also talk you through potential choices and how they’ll affect your personal financial goals.”
Looking to make personal contributions into super? Find out more about doing this through a salary sacrifice arrangement that could help you save more for retirement and pay less tax
 Financy Women’s Index, March 2020, “the average gender gap in superannuation fell to a record low of 25%”
 Women’s Economic Security Statement, 20 November 2018, “According to Australian Bureau of Statistics data, the gap between the median superannuation balance of men and women nearing retirement age has narrowed, from 47% in 2013-2014 to 42% in 2015-16.” https://www.pmc.gov.au/office-women/economic-security/wess