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Trixie Rowein, portfolio manager and founder with the PAX Portfolio Advisory at Raymond James Ltd. in Edmonton, recently contacted a 70-year-old client for his annual review. She had one pressing question for him: Why was he still working?

It turned out that although the client had enough savings to step down from his career, he just wasn’t interested – at least not while the pandemic was still putting a damper on exotic travel plans.

“At his age and stage [of his career], he gets 12 weeks worth of holidays anyway,” she says, adding that he had spent the past summer whale-watching near Vancouver Island and in Churchill, Man., to get a glimpse of the area’s polar bears. But bigger dream vacations weren’t happening.

“Some clients have decided to postpone [retirement] because they’re saying, ‘Why am I going to stop working now when I can’t do anything? I might as well keep working,’” she says.

While every Canadian’s retirement plan is different, the COVID-19 pandemic is having a large impact on when exactly those golden years start.

A growing number of pre-retirees are deciding to push retirement past age 65. The pandemic has led one in five (21 per cent) to delay retirement further than planned, according to the 2021 Fidelity Retirement Report.

What’s holding them back from taking the leap? More than half (56 per cent) are concerned about the rising cost of living, while 53 per cent are worried they still don’t have enough savings. Almost a third (30 per cent) of survey participants say they’re afraid they’ll simply be bored.

Ms. Rowein says these figures don’t surprise her. Every year, she asks clients how they feel about their finances on a scale from one to 10, and why. While some are worried about having enough money, many more are feeling overwhelmed by what’s happening in the world – from the Omicron variant to whether Russia is going to invade Ukraine.

They’re also worried about inflation, the future of Old Age Security (OAS) and the Canada Pension Plan (CPP).

“People are thinking very, very big picture,” she says. “It has an impact.”

Kathy McMillan, associate portfolio manager and investment advisor with the McMillan Wealth Solutions team at Richardson Wealth Ltd. in Calgary, also says the pandemic has given some of her clients a window to an unsettling future as retirees.

“Boredom is terrible,” she says.

Furthermore, many of her high-net-worth clients suddenly at home during lockdowns in the past two years have faltered. Forget managing teams of engineers and calling all the shots. Those days were over – at least temporarily.

“All these powerful guys come home and they’re told to take out the garbage. It’s about identity,” she says.

Lockdowns are ‘a gift’ to pre-retirees

Nevertheless, Daryl Diamond, certified financial planner with Diamond Retirement Planning Ltd. in Winnipeg, is taking an optimistic view of the recent trend in retirement foot-dragging.

For starters, working a few more years is rarely a problem from a financial perspective. It often means clients have more opportunities and flexibility when they do finally decide to pull the plug after accumulating more savings, particularly when it comes to taking CPP and OAS.

He even calls pandemic lockdowns “a gift.” At some point in every retiree’s life, their health either fails them, or travel and activities start to feel like a chore. They want to settle down.

With the pandemic, pre-retirees have gotten a sense of what it’s like to be unable to travel or even just go into gyms and bars, and grocery shopping with ease. By being restricted in their choices, some clients are waking up to what’s actually important to them and what the later stages of retirement are really like.

“We’ve been given a glimpse into our own future,” he says.

Besides, deferring retirement is easier when there’s already a financial plan in place. It’s harder to rejig the plan when people want to retire earlier and advisors are left scrambling under a time restraint.

“They’re always malleable anyway,” he says of formal retirement plans. “I mean, the plan is outdated and incorrect the second you take it off the printer because things change.”

How to get to the root cause

So, what if your clients can easily retire on their current savings, but seem too nervous to even consider it. Start asking questions, Ms. McMillan says.

She wants to get to the heart of their deep, underlying fear. Why don’t they want to retire? What are they afraid of?

“It’s never the first answer,” she says, noting that it’s rarely about the money. “You have to keep at them, and all of a sudden – they’ll open up.”

Her biggest tip when doing this kind of work is to write down their answers so they can see them in black and white. Sometimes, that’s enough to help people let go of their worries.

Perhaps that’s why people who have a written financial plan seem to be more optimistic about retirement than those who don’t, according to the Fidelity report.

Of the pre-retirees surveyed, more than four in five of those with a financial plan in place say they feel financially (85 per cent) and emotionally (85 per cent) prepared for retirement versus 46 per cent and 64 per cent, respectively, of those who don’t a financial plan in place.

“People with plans know what the heck to expect,” Ms. McMillan says. “It’s not like throwing money into an abyss and then feeling scared.”