COVID-19 has created a rising tide of financial stress

Survey shows increased stress whetting North American appetite for financial-wellness programs and advice

COVID-19 has created a rising tide of financial stress

The uncertainty brought about COVID-19 pandemic has unsurprisingly caused higher levels of financial stress among Canadians this year, fuelling even greater interest to seek professional guidance on financial planning, according to a new survey from Manulife Investment Management.

In its Financial Stress Survey, which encapsulates results from both the U.S. and Canada, Manulife found that the number of individuals self-reporting high levels of financial stress surged from 11% before COVID to 27% since the crisis began; that was particularly pronounced in the U.S., where stress levels more than tripled from 8% to 26%.

Widening the net a little, the survey found 44% of respondents reported feeling financially stressed prior to the outbreak, which increased to 67% after it hit. Faced with harsh pandemic-driven realities, including a need to dip into emergency savings or take on more credit-card debt shared by roughly 51% of Canadians, just one third of survey respondents said they felt their situations will improve in the coming year.

“The silver lining in this year’s data is that people are more open to financial advice than in years past,” said Sue Reibel, global head of Retirement, Manulife Investment Management. “In this environment, when faced with managing multiple pressures, stress is high and responsibilities are piling up, and retirement investors are looking for a trusted source of advice when it comes to navigating their finances.”

Nearly three quarters of U.S. respondents professed an interest in receiving professional retirement-planning advice, compared to two thirds in 2019; appetite for investment advice, meanwhile, swelled from 50% to 63%. Among Canadian participants, 58% and 51% said they were interested in getting advice on retirement and investing, respectively.

Many survey respondents also agreed that employers can play a supporting role. Three fourths (75%) of respondents said an employer-sponsored financial wellness program would help alleviate their financial stress. Another 80% of respondents said that even simple steps such as financial goal-setting would be helpful.

An overwhelming 90% majority of respondents felt it important for employers to offer financial-wellness programs, including around four in 10 who said they are highly important. When asked about the support their employers said, 30% of Canadian respondents said they benefit from a fairly or very extensive financial wellness program, compared to just 12% of U.S. respondents who said the same. Canadian workers also appear better informed, with just 18% saying they’re not sure whether their employer offers a program at all compared to 39% of U.S. workers.

“This year has challenged employers and employees alike to do business and work in novel ways,” said Brett Marchand, head of Canada Retirement, Manulife Investment Management. “Employers are in a unique position to support their employees, including alleviating financial stress and offering advice and guidance, which employers can provide through a holistic financial wellness offering.”

Some other findings from the survey include:

  • 35% of U.S. respondents said they are greatly worried about their overall financial situation, as did three in 10 Canadian respondents;
  • Workers ranked the state of the economy as the top financial concern, followed by being short on retirement savings;
  •  One in four respondents said they worry a great deal about facing job loss;
  • Two thirds of respondents said they visit their retirement plans at least once a quarter, including roughly four in 10 who said they do those checks monthly;
  • The vast majority of respondents (95% in the U.S. and 89% in Canada) said they would be motivated to prepare for retirement if they had projections of their estimated income and expenses, including those related to healthcare, as retirees.


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