Sunday, 19 June 2022 13:11

South Africans 'more financially savvy and conservative |Sanlam Survey.

By Lehlohonolo Lehana.

The 2022 Sanlam Benchmark Survey research into the state of retirement funds and retirees in South Africa, found that 55% of retirement fund members had experienced reduced household income as a result of Covid-19, 58% had started living frugally and cut out all luxury items, and 18.5% had accessed some sort of long-term investment. However, a positive outcome of the financial shock-effect that the pandemic had is that 30% reduced their debt levels.  

As many as three million jobs, both blue- and white-collar, were lost in South Africa due to the Covid-19 pandemic and resultant lockdowns. The financial strain placed on the newly unemployed and the fear of job loss has taken a toll on South Africans' mental health, said Sanlam.

It is then no surprise that respondents in the 2022 Sanlam Benchmark Survey increasingly see employment and earning an income as an asset." In response, employers have also evolved, becoming more empathetic to an employee’s holistic wellbeing, the Benchmark Survey found.

Kanyisa Mkhize, chief executive officer of Sanlam Corporate, said the objective of the 2022 survey is to look ahead and establish how the retirement industry can adapt to the vastly changed world. "The retirement industry is in a uniquely strong position to impact the lives of South Africans as it is the largest source of invested assets in the country."

Among the key take-outs from the consumer poll were:

- 51% of those polled wanted their employer to offer free doctor or nurse consultations, and 39% wanted free medical consultations, such as nutrition and psychology

- 66% said they were kept awake at night worrying about being able to weather an emergency and 66% also worried about retirement.

Key findings from the industry side were:

- 49% of employer funds and 53% of umbrella funds believe an integrated health and wellness programme delivers higher productivity and staff happiness

- 13 of the 15 healthcare brokers interviewed report that client priorities have changed in the past two years, in terms of what they are looking for by way of healthcare solutions for their employees

- Key changes have included the increased importance of gap cover, more price sensitivity amongst members leading to a reduction in benefits, and more emphasis on hospital cover rather than day-to-day benefits

- Nine of the 15 healthcare brokers interviewed have introduced additional medical scheme options in the last two years to provide a wider choice for members

- 11 healthcare brokers report that clients ‘often’ ask about solutions available for their employees’ mental health; a further four say they ask 'sometimes'

"A lot of the responses in the consumer study suggest a more conservative and financially conscious South African has emerged from the pandemic," says Mkhize. 

The retirement funds industry also suffered during the pandemic. As many as 27% of funds indicated that they had suspended retirement fund contributions during 2020 due to the financial impact of the virus. On average this was for 4.5 months, although two funds indicated that they had suspended contributions for a year or more.

Sanlam’s 2020 Benchmark Survey showed that 16% of retirement funds have members who requested access to funds during lockdown in South Africa.

"The full impact of the Covid-19 fallout has become pervasive through our sector and has affected our members profoundly. And not just financially," said Mkhize. "Covid was not only a painful reminder of how fragile all our lives are, but also how we cannot take our jobs and mental health for granted. Overnight many more of us realised what holistic health really meant, and why it matters."

Recent studies like those conducted by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) confirmed that the pandemic has permanently reshaped "how we work". The research found that employees expect more frequent, contextualised, and personalised experiences, and greater flexibility, which includes the choice to work remotely. These factors directly impact people’s decision to stay or leave an organisation.

Mkhize concludes that, on balance, the findings definitely suggest a change in behaviour from South African retirement fund members.

"People seem to be placing more value on the role their employee benefits play in their lives. We hope the focus on benefit counselling and financial education will remain a key focus to help South Africans make the right decisions for their current and future selves.