x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Pondering the twilight zone

Westerners working in the UAE are more comfortable about their retirement plans say analysts.

Advisers say minimising mall time is key to meeting savings and retirement goals.
Advisers say minimising mall time is key to meeting savings and retirement goals.

The economic news is grim in the West, with high unemployment, vast government deficits and rising healthcare costs weighing on the minds of those approaching retirement.

The challenges for most western expatriates in the UAE are different.

"Most of our western clients are making more money here, so they are more comfortable about their future and retirement than those people at home," says Vince Truong, an adviser at Holborn Assets, based in Dubai. "We often say our biggest competitor is not another adviser but the Dubai shopping malls."

Most people of a certain age are focused on building a healthy retirement pot, but two recent reports from the US and UK paint a stark picture for western savers.

A survey by the US Employee Benefit Research Institute found more than a quarter of workers said they were "not at all confident" about their incomes after retirement. The institute described its results as some of the most pessimistic it had recorded.

The study found that just over half of the workers surveyed had less than US$25,000 (Dh91,850) in savings, excluding a pension plan and a property, while 27 per cent lacked confidence in their retirement savings.

Research from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on post-retirement incomes compared with pre-retirement earnings, found the UK falling far short of the survey average.

The OECD report found that of its 34 member countries, the average post-retirement income was 69 per cent of pre-retirement earnings. But for the UK, this level is just 42 per cent, with only Mexico, Japan and Ireland having lower rates. The UK government is shrinking the public sector dramatically, which will lead to job losses, pay freezes and lower spending on infrastructure and services.

Against this backdrop, many savers have had to rethink their retirement options.

Financial advisers say these concerns are not as prevalent in the UAE, where westerners are more comfortable about their retirement prospects. But expatriates often neglect retirement savings upon arriving in the Gulf.

"People go on something of a spending spree when they arrive here and sometimes they can afford it, sometimes they can't," Mr Truong says. "Most people come to their senses after a while and start saving for retirement."

And, overall, given competitive salaries and tax-free income, the UAE is still seen as a safe haven to build retirement pools.

The "vast majority" of clients realise they have an "opportunity" to make tax-free savings that can be put aside for twilight years, Mr Trunog says.

"Most of our clients are over 35, so 95 per cent think about their retirement," he says. "They are optimistic because they are making good income."

Those that do not give their golden years some thought often find themselves in a bind, as most of the region's employers do not usually offer an employment pension scheme. In the West, employees become used to seeing retirement savings enter an employment pension scheme before they receive their pay cheque.