A 'perfect storm' of demographic, individual and financial elements is poised to derail people's retirement plans unless they prepare properly now, a global survey from HSBC Insurance reveals.

The fifth annual Future of Retirement study, 'It's Time To Prepare', shows that people's short-term survival strategies in the midst of recession are creating a serious long-term pensions 'downturn deficit'; there is a continuing lack of pensions planning, even though people are aware that they are likely to live longer; this is being exacerbated by poor levels of financial understanding, education and access to advice; and people are more concerned with protecting their possessions in the short-term than ensuring they can look forward to a financially secure retirement.

The consequence of these combined factors is that many people will struggle to make ends meet when they come to retire, unless they urgently review their priorities and planning.

Stephen Green, Group chairman of HSBC, said: "A perfect storm is confronting pensions planning, created by an ageing population, falling pension funds values, a drop in state and employer contributions and an economic downturn which is forcing people to make tough financial choices."

'It's Time To Prepare' has identified a 'preparedness gap' in people's pensions planning across the world with nearly nine out of 10 people not feeling fully prepared for their retirement.

The Future of Retirement survey, which questioned 15,000 people in 15 countries, making it the largest study of its kind in the world, reveals that only 13 per cent of respondents feel fully prepared for their retirement;

Eighty-six per cent do not know what income they will receive in retirement; only a quarter (27 per cent) feel they fully understand their long-term finances; 43 per cent have undertaken some planning for later life, but still remain unclear about what their retirement income will look like; and 14 per cent have done no retirement planning at all.

Mr Green continued: "The 'preparedness gap' reveals that families need greater support and guidance to effectively handle their finances, not simply in schools and colleges but through 'trusted advisers' providing professional financial guidance.

"If people prepare adequately for the long-term an extended later life can present a golden opportunity for many - but now is the time for people to seriously consider boosting their pension contributions to improve their prospects of a comfortable retirement. The cost of procrastination is likely to be high."

'It's Time To Prepare' also reveals a parallel 'advice gap' linking a lack of preparedness to insufficient financial education and guidance. Forty-three per cent of respondents have never had any form of financial education; 29 per cent also feel 'fairly' unprepared for their retirement; and 47 per cent have never had any form of professional financial advice.

HSBC Insurance managing director Clive Bannister said: "This year's Future of Retirement report reveals a need for people to have access to more and better financial advice and guidance to help them survive the downturn while making the right financial decisions for the long-term."

General insurance solutions - motor, travel, home and even pet insurance - are seen as a greater priority than addressing longer-term needs around insuring health or income, even when job security is in question.

Despite global economic uncertainty, only six per cent intend to take out income protection insurance in the next 12 months compared to 16 per cent insuring their home.

The Future of Retirement survey shows that, as a result of the economic downturn 92 per cent of people have changed some element of their finances; only 19 per cent will now retire as planned; 17 per cent are reducing retirement savings or stopping saving for retirement altogether; 18 per cent have used savings to pay off debt; and nine per cent expect to delay their retirement.

HSBC Malta CEO Alan Richards said: "With an ageing population, increasing life expectancy and declining fertility rates, retirement planning is becoming a major issue in Malta as in the rest of the world."

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