— By David Boyle of the Commission for Financial Capability
When I told my team at the Commission for Financial Capability that I’d been asked to speak about plain English at Clarity2016, there were more than a few sniggers around the office.
I love words and I’m passionate about helping New Zealanders get ahead financially. But after 32 years in the jargon-filled financial services industry, I’ve been known to lapse into a little shop-talk occasionally.
Jargon’s okay as long as there’s someone around to tell you how things work. But plain English is hugely important in financial services, because we aren’t just talking about buying something, we’re talking about New Zealanders’ quality of life in retirement. A wrong decision could materially impact your overall financial wellbeing.
Not so long ago, information about investment products was complicated and primarily written by lawyers, for lawyers. In many cases, this was to protect the financial service organisation they represented, not the customers they served. Sounds a little cynical, I know, but not too far from the truth.
At my previous organisation, the leadership team agreed we would be different: we would put our information in simple language that the customers could get their heads around. We’d help people make better, more informed decisions.
This stuff is really important, and while there’s much still to do, we’re now heading in the right direction.
There are two important points about retirement that you need to consider: what longevity really means and how you’re going to pay for it.
There are various ways you can fund your non-working years: find the money, steal it, inherit it, marry it, maybe even win it. But I think it’s fair to say some of those options are either unlikely, or not recommended, to develop a robust retirement plan.
For most of us, the money will have to come from our salary or wages.
I turned 50 last year, which wasn’t a surprise (it always happens after 49), but for some reason I didn’t seem quite ready for it. The crazy thing was I’d planned my 40th to the nth degree and it turned out perfectly. The party was so good the city council took my stereo away. But I hadn’t planned for it this time, and frankly I was like an ostrich putting my head in the sand. Much like many of us when it comes to thinking about our retirement savings.
Luckily, my son James kindly marked this landmark occasion by giving me an enticing-looking parcel, which he called a 50+ survival kit.
As someone who loves getting presents and is a huge music fan, I could hardly contain my excitement. I was sure it would have concert tickets, albums, books about my favourite musicians, and who knows what else.
Well, it certainly had the ‘what else’. Inside was a book titled Where from Here (essential information for older people), a book about long-term residential care for older people, a 50-font word finder, an A4 magnifying sheet to help me read the paper, a bag of marbles in case I lost mine, some prune juice to keep me regular, Polyfilla to fill the gaps, a two-handled mug so I didn’t spill my coffee, and — to top it all — a pack of adult pull-ups!
I still haven’t quite forgiven James, but it did inspire me to come up with a slightly more useful 50+ survival kit for New Zealanders, containing a range of ideas and tools to help you prepare for retirement. We’ve used plain English in the kit, combined with a bit of humour. It contains very practical ways to connect our most complicated themes, including a guide to how many pay days you have left until retirement. At 50, I had exactly 390 paydays before I reached 65. Depressing, I know, but what a great way to realise how important each payday is.
Plain English is an important part of everything we do at the Commission, whether it’s the language we use on cffc.org.nz or the financial tools we offer on sorted.org.nz. Using our websites puts you at the centre of things. The goals are yours and everything is tailored to you.
As with all of our work, we like to think we’re speaking your language.
David Boyle is Group Manager, Education and Retirement Villages, at New Zealand’s Commission for Financial Capability. He’s still in possession of his marbles and reckons he hasn’t had to break into the pack of pull-ups yet, but they could come in handy the next time he’s trapped in the mosh pit at a long concert.