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New report shows UK women lag behind in pension wealth

Emma-Lou Montgomery

Emma-Lou Montgomery - Fidelity International

Important information: The value of investments and the income from them, can go down as well as up, so you may get back less than you invest.

I have a question for all the women out there. How much have you got in your retirement savings pot right now? 

If you are anything like 42% of women in the UK, you probably can’t say with any certainty.  If I were to ask that same question to women in Hong Kong or China though I would be likely to get a much more confident response.

Just 13% of women surveyed in China said they were unsure about how much they have in pension savings and only 9% said the same in Hong Kong. That’s a big difference. And it shows in the financial outcomes for these women too.

For the very first time Fidelity International’s Women and Money campaign has looked at the similarities and the all-too-familiar challenges that women face across the world when it comes to their financial health. 

And there are some similarities between women in all these countries in there too. The report shows that women in the UK, Germany, Taiwan, China and Hong Kong are routinely contributing less each month to their pension than men. But, yet again, this is particularly evident in the UK where, on average, women contribute 4% of their salary into their pension each month, in comparison to men’s 5% contribution. It is worth noting that this covers contributions to all pensions, both workplace and private, from women working across different employment types, including being self-employed.

And this is where those differences between the women in the different companies start to become evident. Because while only 43% of UK women say they are actively involved in making decisions about their investments, a far larger proportion - 73% - of women in China say they are. 

And this hands-on approach is paying off. While the percentage by which men’s pension pots are higher than women’s is a staggering 51% on average in the UK, China’s pension gap is -5%. It’s here that some of the men need to up their pension savings game instead.

Across all six countries, it’s clear that a large proportion of women are still pessimistic about achieving their desired income, with 39% believing they won’t have enough money in their pension pots to have the lifestyle they would like. But here, in the UK, these are red flags that we literally cannot afford to ignore.

Women typically have longer retirements, which means they will have more outgoings to pay for. Global life expectancy figures estimate women will live, on average, to 75, whereas men will live to 70.

And single women in particular need to take action. Some 37% of single women surveyed, so two in five of them, said they either don’t save anything at all, or don’t save more into their pensions because of the lack of available income, while 22% have other saving priorities. This means that half of single women don’t think they will have enough money to fund retirement, even with lower retirement income aspirations of £25,419 a year.

It’s time for action, so here is what you need to do:

1. Max-out your workplace pension contributions

Auto-enrolment means that if you are part of a workplace pension scheme you not only make contributions towards your pension, your employer does too. Qualifying employers have to contribute a minimum of 3%, but some will contribute more; especially if you do - check to see if these additional ‘matched’ contributions are available and if they are, don’t think twice about taking advantage of them. 

2. Understand where your pension is invested

When you joined your company’s pension plan, your contributions were most probably invested into a ‘default investment’ or ‘lifestyle strategy’. While this option is broadly suitable for most people, you may want to adopt a different approach to investing. Explore what other investment options you have available and compare the costs of these - there may be investment solutions better suited to your retirement goals.

3. Give your retirement age a sense-check

Workplace pension plans offer a default retirement age - it’s worth checking what yours is and thinking about whether you might want to extend it. If you are planning to work for longer, make sure you change your retirement age on your pension to reflect this so that your default fund doesn’t begin de-risking sooner than you need it to. If you are approaching retirement you may also want to research Investm Investment pathways - a recent initiative created to ensure that anyone entering pension drawdown without taking financial advice has access to investment strategies that meet a range of different retirement objectives.

4. Save into a SIPP

Self-Invested Personal Pensions, also known as SIPPs for short, are a great pension product for those who don’t have a workplace pension or are not eligible for auto-enrolment. Even if you’re not working, or are taking a career break, you or someone else can still contribute into a SIPP (up to £2,880 a year). 

5. Track down lost ‘forgotten’ pensions

The job for life is a thing of the past, but make sure you don’t leave valuable pension pots behind when you change jobs. Over time, it can be difficult to track these down, but this is where the Pension Tracing Service can help. It has the details of over 200,000 pension schemes and can help people track down previous pensions - with the added bonus that it’s completely free of charge. Remember though that there’s no tracing service for private pensions as these aren’t on the Pension Tracing Service database. You must contact your scheme provider to find out what your pension is worth. If you don’t know where to start, a good option will be the Unclaimed Asset Register.

6. Read up and get wise

You can download a copy of the full Women and Money report here.

Important information: Investors should note that the views expressed may no longer be current and may have already been acted upon. Tax treatment depends on individual circumstances and all tax rules may change in the future. The minimum age you can normally access your pension savings is currently 55, and is due to rise to 57 on 6 April 2028, unless you have a lower protected pension age. This information is not a personal recommendation for any particular investment. If you are unsure about the suitability of an investment you should speak to a Fidelity adviser or an authorised financial adviser of your choice.