Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Scone: What about my money?

No matter your opinion on who’s to blame for the current financial crisis, the pending bailout legislation and which of the two presidential candidates can best lead us out of this economic turmoil, there is one issue I believe we all can agree on: We need to protect our retirement savings.

Your employees may have started asking you about the safety of their 401(k) assets, and if they haven’t, they likely soon will. I know that was my first consideration after the rollercoaster that has been the last week. No matter who got what in the bailout deal for Wall St., I wanted to know: What about my money?

I don’t even have a great deal of retirement savings accumulated in my 401(k), and I’m more than 30 years away from retirement. But knowing how important those assets will be to my financial future, my interest in the current stock market crisis was protecting my nest egg.

Your employees are no different, and they need to hear from you – right now – on how to take the appropriate steps to secure their retirement in terms of the new financial reality we’re faced with.

Now, I know the last thing employers want to do is tell someone how to manage their money -- for legal reasons, of course, as well as the fact that benefit managers may have the exact same questions as the people looking to them for guidance.

So, I encourage you to seek the counsel of your company’s 401(k) provider. Tell them it is paramount that they distribute new communications that address plan participants’ concerns, and make financial advisors available – ideally in person – to listen and answer questions.

If you can’t do that, at the very least view and distribute to employees this article and video from ABC News, anchored by the network’s personal finance expert Mellody Hobson. In addition to being contagiously upbeat and calming, Hobson lays out in plain English five key tips 401(k) participants “must know” about their accounts and how to manage them through this crisis. She also wrote a related piece on how people should handle their investments in general. They are both outstanding.

This is a delicate moment in our nation’s financial history. We all know that nationally, about 80% of eligible workers contribute to a 401(k), and those that do generally don’t contribute enough. Less than a majority of small businesses, although they employ a majority of the nation’s workforce, offer a retirement plan at all. And now, workers that do contribute are facing significant losses. Although these are difficult, and somewhat scary, economic times we find ourselves in, we cannot slide further behind in terms of retirement readiness. I urge you to do your part.

While history likely won’t note whether or not executives at the currently troubled firms received enormous golden parachutes, it will judge whether ordinary Americans were allowed to crash to the ground, armed without even the basic parachute of sound advice and guidance.

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