Despite wealth, Singaporeans worry about retirement

Written by Katie Holliday and Nur Atiqah M. Hatta
Elderly people gather to play a checkers game next to their housing area in Singapore on January 2, 2013.
ROSLAN RAHMAN | AFP | Getty Images

For 45-year old Singaporean civil servant Muru Nagaraju, saving for retirement is a major concern.

"It's certainly one of my biggest worries. I'm lucky because at the end of the month I do have enough to save and I do have some alternative income in terms of shares etc," he said.

"But not many people can do that. The average Singaporean makes only so much money and there's not enough to even think about saving," he added.

Anxiety over retirement is not uncommon in Asia, where the absence of state welfare means most people are left to fend for themselves in their golden years.

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It's a concern that dominates even in the wealthy state of Singapore. A study by insurance group AIA published this week found that residents in the city are the most concerned about the issue compared to other Southeast Asia nations.

A total of 55 percent of the 500 Singaporeans surveyed by AIA said they were worried they would not be able to save enough, compared to a regional average of 44 percent. Furthermore, 35 percent of Singaporean respondents ranked saving for retirement as the most difficult goal to achieve in life.

Living in a city which ranks among the world's most expensive cities to live, Singaporean respondents in the survey said they need $898,330 to fund their retirement years, the highest sum amongst the five other countries profiled.

The cheapest place to retire was Indonesia at $181,610, followed by the Philippines at $207,610, Thailand at $233,960, $493,100 in Vietnam and $583,380 in Malaysia.

Nagaraju told CNBC he would like to live on a "comfortable" monthly income of around S$5,500 ($4335) when he retires at 65, which means he would need to save around S$990,000 beforehand. The father of two also said he expected his children to help him when he leaves the workforce.

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"I come from a family where filial piety [respect for parents] is very important and I do expect my children to look after me, not just financially but emotionally," added Nagaraju.

Family ties

The expectation for future generations to look after their parents in old age was echoed by the survey's findings.

Singaporeans felt particularly strongly on the issue, with 76 percent agreeing, while just over half of the Philippine respondents agreed. A total of 65 percent of the Singaporeans surveyed by AIA were already supporting their parents.

So it comes as no surprise that for Singaporeans with no dependents, like restaurant worker Ms. Teo who is in her late 40s, financing retirement is particularly worrisome.

"I'm not married so I will have to take care of myself. Both my parents have passed away so it's just me. I don't think I will stop working anytime soon," she said.

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But for 67-year old hawker stall worker Doris Lim, retirement does not concern her even though she has little savings.

"I don't think I will stop working anytime soon. I have been running this business for 31 years and I am still strong and healthy," she said.

"Whether my children will help me with my retirement… I don't know. It all depends. They have their own concerns and worries – their house, their children. So if they think they can help me with it, then okay. If not, it really does not matter to me," Lim added.

AIA spoke to 3,000 respondents across six ASEAN nations: Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam, and focused on the region's middle class.