We all remember the famous catchphrase in the late 1980s popular culture: “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” An older woman yelps it from the floor of her kitchen in a television commercial for LifeCall, a med alert device company. It equips senior citizens with a pendant that, when activated, allows the user to speak directly with a dispatch service, through an audio device without the need for a phone. The service was designed to appeal particularly to seniors who lived alone and who might experience a medical emergency, such as a fall, which would leave them alert but immobile and unable to reach the telephone.
At the time, I don’t think the millions of Americans watching this commercial thought it was degrading or demoralizing to seniors but it added to a perception of fearing growing older – feared then and still feared today. In fact, one study by Pfizer finds that nearly 9 in 10 Americans are afraid of getting older. Ads like LifeCall’s contribute to the narrative and consequent perception that aging is scary and in the aging process, you will become weak, frail and helpless.
Yet today’s silver population is different from the ‘old folks’ of the prior generation. Today, 76M baby boomers are living 10+ years longer than their parents. They’re more tech savvy, using new kinds of technology invented by their peers: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos. Boomers go online just as much as 18- to 39-year-olds. They conduct meetings over Zoom, connect with friends and family on Facebook, shop online, write their own blogs and take selfies. They’re vibrant and entrepreneurial. Today, over 50% of small business owners are over the age of 50. Through leveraging their own networks, experience and financial assets, the majority of these entrepreneurs launched their businesses to pursue their passions in retirement
And yet, when surveyed, more than half of these next-gen retirees, despite their ease with tech, are more afraid of running out of money than death. Why is this, in this age of tech and boomers’ tech adoption? Because current resources, de facto organizations like the AARP, aren’t doing their job. They are a tremendous resource on many levels and provide valuable advocacy efforts in Washington, D.C. to protect and provide for the baby boomers and the silent generation. But they aren’t equipping especially today’s 50+ population with the information and tools they truly need.
AARP, The Villages and Silver Sneakers re-imagined retirement in the 80s and 90s. These entities were built to serve the Silent Generation — one that is now in their 70s, 80s and beyond. Today, it’s time to re-imagine retirement once again in order to empower the next generation of retirees.
And there will be a lot of them. Between now and 2030, it is estimated that 10,000 people are retiring daily — a massive population shift. Add to this the first generation that largely won’t be able to lean on pensions to carry them through their retirement. Today’s people nearing retirement are experiencing a dramatically different retirement than previous generations. In the 1980s, it was typical to retire at 65 and live securely on a pension until the end of life — typically around the age of 72. Today, these folks are living in a post-pension world, self-financing their retirement.
Navigating core life issues after 55 is daunting. Between downshifting from decades of full-time work to chosen (or forced) retirement, navigating unfamiliar health care and prescription drugs costs, social security and relocating to a new city or state, retirement is full of the unknown. If you think student loans are complicated, you haven’t even scratched the surface of retirement math. The Social Security Administration has no fewer than ten calculators to ‘help’ you calculate your benefits. So much for the government making things easy for you. And, as a former Wall Street financial advisor, even I struggled to make heads or tails of the tome of Social Security guidelines when assisting my parents with retirement planning.
Just as companies like Netflix and Amazon have harnessed technology to make life easier and more enjoyable, new technologies need to be deployed to help navigate a pre-retiree’s critical new journey, filled with first-time decisions. America is overdue for a reboot of resources that speak to modern retirement, which focus on living, not decline; strength not fragility, embracing technology, not avoiding it; and those working to empower their consumers, not scare them.
I am proud to be part of a new movement that sees the vibrancy and savviness of today’s retirees and to be working on a solution to help people move forward, fearlessly, into their life’s next chapter. And so I say to baby boomers: there are folks out there, myself and other innovators who recognize that you’re a different kind of retiree than AARP or The Villages stereotype, facing a different kind of retirement – which we’re facing too! And we’re working to pave the way for this next generation to proudly and fearlessly transition to the second act in your life.