Planning for a 100-year life

A recent webinar organised by Mercer and the World Economic Forum focused on what society, employers and individuals can do to prepare for people living longer lives.

Portrait of a mature African American businessman on his way to work.


Read about National Older Workers Week

Chip Conley sold his boutique hotel company after the 2008 recession and was not sure what to do next. He was hired by Air B&B as an in-house mentor, but felt being around twice the age of many of the tech-savvy employees he was working with. “I felt like a dinosaur,” he said. But he soon realised that he did have something to offer – his experience –  and that, but being curious about technology, he could reduce his fear of being obsolete. His colleagues dubbed him “the modern elder”.

Giving the keynote speech at a recent webinar on Planning for your 100-year life, Conley cited figures showing most people in the US will have a boss who is younger than them by 2025 and said leaders who are being promoted at an early stage in their career than before need support when it comes to emotional intelligence.  He favours a mutual mentorship model where the young and old learn from each other. That led to him exploring the idea of creating midlife wisdom schools where older workers can repurpose themselves. His Modern Elder Academy, which offers scholarships to those who can’t afford to pay to ensure diversity, has had over 1,000 people come to it from 24 countries in the last few years. Ten per cent are millennials.

Conley finished by extolling the benefits of intergenerational teams and “a new generational compact” based on greater equality between old and young.

Rethinking later life

The webinar focused on the need to rethink later life. Mercer and the World Economic Forum have been collaborating on the 100-year life since a meeting at Davos a couple of years ago and that work has spawned a number of working groups which address different elements of the issue, from policy to individuals, with an emphasis on expanding people’s choices as they approach retirement.

As people live longer, the webinar heard, they may need or want to keep working for longer. Yvonne Sonsino, Global Co-Leader Next Stage at Mercer who was co-hosting the event, spoke about flexible retirement programmes where people can reduce their hours, but still keep their hand in as they approach or after retirement. Most employers don’t yet offer this and those who do only tend to offer flexible retirement on an ad hoc basis.

The webinar heard first from Sophie Guerin from Johnson & Johnson and Fiona Dunsire from Mercer about the broader social changes that need to be made to plan better for a 100-year life. Their working group’s findings centred on financial wellbeing and the need to invest in health. They said that society needs ‘to recognise that ageing is everyone’s responsibility’, adding that preventive care is vital, that companies need to invest in innovating to promote long-term health and in midlife check-ups and that, ultimately, doing so is cost effective.

Explaining that change must be systemic and that there is no one single solution to our ageing society,  the working group outlined a 10-point action list to improve planning for longer lives. That includes changing the narrative about people living longer so that it was more focused on the positive, financial education, promotion of multigenerational workforces and  using data to promote transformational change.

The webinar heard that doing nothing in the face of widespread demographic changes would lead to greater problems in the future and there is already deep concern in senior leadership teams both about losing their high performers to early retirement and about lack of movement at the top of organisations.

Incentivising retention

Thomas Birwe from Swiss Re said more and more people would like to work beyond their retirement, but they need to be incentivised to stay in their organisations. He estimated that over 50% of Swiss workers coming up to retirement could work longer if they had access to phased retirement programmes. Since February, Swiss Re has offered to allow people aged between 58 and 65 the opportunity to reduce their hours while still basing the company’s pension contributions on their full-time salary so there is no negative impact when they retire.

The webinar heard about the need for different models for older workers which could open up possibilities for them, including ‘operational wizard’, portfolio worker and becoming an ‘olderpreneur’.

Mark Glover from HSBC and JoAnne Moore from AIG described the findings of their working group, which focused on personalised life planning and how individuals can take greater control over their lives in older age.  They said planning is usually only available to those with money and access. They scoped a way of creating a digital journey around wealth, health, education and networking in older age – including the need for human connection – using gamification.

Their app is based on human motivation and basic data. The app does a basic health, wealth and skills audit which shows individuals how long their savings will last, what transferable skills they have and so forth. There are rewards for completing specific levels and goals, as in a game, and the app can be tailored to specific individuals. It may suggest partial retirement as an option, for instance. It  may suggest that individuals become ‘angels’ or mentors so they can have a human connection with others and it will propose a personal lifetime plan.

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