TORONTO – The retirement game has changed, says high-profile economist Sherry Cooper, right.
“Fifty years ago, many people didn’t live long enough to retire, and those that did didn’t live much beyond retirement,” she explained in an interview.
in the face of longer life spans and looming labour shortages, the
retirement age has increased as employers ask employees to stay on to
preserve continuity, experience and customer relationships.
In her third book, The New Retirement: How It Will Change Our Future (Viking), she focuses on the baby boomer generation – born between 1946 and 1966 – and contends that boomers will redefine retirement with great energy and creativity, working well beyond the traditional retirement age of 65.
She dedicates it to her father, Irwin Sussman, an attorney who died 16 years ago at 62 of heart disease and diabetes. “It broke my heart that he never lived long enough to retire. He was such a large force in my life.”
Cooper, the 57-year-old chief economist of BMO Capital Markets in Toronto, typifies the new ethos of retirement.
“I’m a boomer and going strong,” said Cooper. “I do not intend to retire soon or any particular time in the future. I love my job, feel fulfilled and would be bored and depressed without a major sense of purpose or achievement.”
She added: “Right now, I’m healthy, happy and at the top of my game. I will know when I’ve had enough, and then it won’t be hard to leave.”
But until such time, Cooper – an American by birth who has an MA and PhD in economics from the University of Pittsburgh – says she has no intention of slowing down or fading away.
And Cooper is as busy as ever. “The job of chief economist of a large bank and investment dealer is varied and demanding,” she said.
Working as a global economic strategist with a team of 15 associates, she draws up projections of worldwide economic and financial developments.
She also counsels risk management teams, advises the chief executive officer, delivers more than 100 speeches annually and writes commentaries for clients.
Although she has been advising clients on retirement savings for years now, Cooper started researching and writing her latest book 18 months ago.
“I realized that most retirement advice is about money, while so much more is also important. BMO’s surveys of Canadians uncovered boomer fears and concerns. The majority of Canadians want to continue working well beyond retirement age.”
In her book, Copper sets out the parameters of a successful retirement: “In the new retirement, we will not settle for personal diminishment, social isolation, dependency and inertia. We will remain active in mind and body, and most of us will continue to be productive well into our eighth decade.”
Judging by the body of research she examined, mid-lifers will likely age better if they don’t have a record of substance abuse; have a good, stable marriage; engage in mental activity; exercise; maintain normal body weight; and project a positive attitude, sociability, a sense of humour, altruism and outside interests.
Uncontrollable factors that affect successful aging include parents’ social class, family cohesion, longevity of ancestors and childhood temperament.
According to Cooper, most households will need about 60 per cent to 70 per cent of pre-retirement income to maintain their standard of living.
But there are ways of stretching your retirement nest egg. “Working a few extra years markedly improves your financial outlook,” she said.
Apart from that, you should cut overhead costs and spend less after the first decade of retirement.
As a retiree, you will need more money than you think. “For every dollar of pre-tax income you desire from your portfolio, to be sure your money will last at least 30 years, you need $20 in savings – less if you are willing to die broke, use annuities or reverse mortgages.”
The Canada Pension Plan, she noted, is well funded and considered a model of its kind. But boomers with average median incomes cannot maintain living standards on CPP alone, she warned.
Despite her intention to soldier on indefinitely, Cooper is prepared to work more flexibly and travel a bit less one of these days down the road.
When retirement beckons, she plans to consult her 58-year-old husband, Peter, the chief executive officer of Scienta Health. Like her, he wants to continue working for years to come.
Once she retires, Cooper hopes to be an active volunteer. “I’m particularly passionate about health care, mentoring young and old, and Jewish causes in support of the community and Israel. And I look forward to having grandchildren.”