More Evidence Of Households In Financial Stress

A new report released today by the Centre for Social Impact, in partnership with NAB explores the complex reasons why many Australians are facing increasing financial stress. Financial Resilience in Australia 2016 builds on the 2015 report to show that while people are more financially aware, savings are shrinking and economic vulnerability is on the rise.

The overall level of financial resilience in Australia decreased between 2015 to 2016. In 2016, 2.4 million adults were financially vulnerable and there was a significant decrease in the proportion who were financially secure (35.7% to 31.2%).

Looking at the components of financial resilience, between 2015 and 2016: the mean level of economic resources did not significantly change and, in good news, people’s levels of financial knowledge and behaviour significantly increased.

However, people’s levels of access to external resources – financial products and services and social capital – significantly decreased and while savings behaviours were up, the amount of savings people have to rely upon has gone down.

Economic resources: stayed the same overall but there are concerns about savings markers.

  • On average, adults in Australia were better able to access funds in an emergency in 2016 (77.6% in 2015 to 81.4% in 2016). But almost 1 in 5 still could not, or did not know if they could raise $2,000 in a week and this rate was worse than findings by the ABS in 2014 (when approximately 1 in 8 were not able to find money in an emergency).
  • Of those who reported they could raise $2,000 in an emergency, 70.7% would do so through family or friends demonstrating the importance of social capital.
  • While more people were saving in 2016 compared to 2015, less money was being saved relative to people’s income. Almost one in three (31.6%) adults had no savings or were just two pay packets (<1 month of savings) away from serious financial stress if they were to lose their jobs. Like in 2015, almost 1 in 2 reported having less than three months of income saved (46.6 and 45.5% respectively).

Financial products and services: access has gotten worse

  • People were more likely to report having no access to any form of credit in 2016 (25.6%) compared to 2015 (20.2%) and no form of insurance (11.8% in 2016 compared to 8.7% in 2015).
  • A higher proportion of people reported having access to credit through fringe providers in 2016 (5.4%) compared to 2015 (1.7%).
  • There were no differences in the reported level of unmet need for credit overall, between 2015 (3.8%) and 2016 (3.7%). However, 1 in 10 reported having an unmet need for more insurance (10.0% compared to 9.7% in 2015) and an additional 11.6% (compared to 6.4% in 2015) did not know if they needed more insurance.

Financial knowledge and behaviour: has improved

  • Adults in Australia reported having a higher level of both understanding of and confidence using financial products and services in 2016 than in 2015. In 2016, 5.5% reported having no confidence using financial products and services and 4.5% reported no understanding at all, compared to 8.2% and 9.2% respectively in 2015.
  • There was a positive change in the population’s reported approach to seeking financial advice, with more people reported seeking advice at the time of the survey (7.8% in 2016 compared to 4.8% in 2015).
  • More people reported saving regularly in 2016 (60.2%) compared to 2015 (56.4%).

Social capital: has decreased

  • Although social capital overall decreased between 2015 and 2016, more people reported having regular contact with their social connections (68% compared to 36.6%).
  • A lower proportion of the population reported needing community or government support in 2016.
  • However, the proportion of people reporting a need for support but no access to it grew from 3.2% in 2015 to 5.3% in 2016.

Who is doing better? Who is faring worse?

  • Income, educational attainment and employment were all positively associated with financial security
  • Established home owners were also more likely to be financially secure, while people living in very short-term rentals were more likely to be in severe financial stress.
  • Younger people under 35 years of age were less likely than other age groups to experience financial security.
  • A higher proportion of people born in a non-English speaking country were in the severe and high financial stress categories, than people born in an English-speaking country, including Australia.
  • Mental illness was also negatively correlated to financial security, with a higher proportion of people with a mental illness experiencing severe or high financial stress (44.7% compared to 9.3% of people with no mental illness).

The Centre for Social Impact (CSI) is a national research and education centre dedicated to catalysing social change for a better world. CSI is built on the foundation of three of Australia’s leading universities: UNSW Sydney, The University of Western Australia, and Swinburne University of Technology.

Households Spending More On Basics

The ABS has released their 2015-16 Household Expenditure Survey (HES).

More than half the money Australian households spend on goods and services per week goes on basics – on average, $846 out of $1,425 spent.

Australian household spending on goods and services increased by 15% between 2009-10 and 2015-16, going from an average of $1,236 per week to $1,425.

Housing costs have accelerated significantly.

The data shows that more households now have a mortgage, while less are mortgage free. Rental rates remain reasonably stable, despite a rise in private landlords.

The goods and services that Australian households were spending the most on in 2015-16 were current housing costs ($279 per week), food and non-alcoholic beverages ($237 per week) and transport ($207 per week).

Average weekly spending on goods and services was highest in the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory ($1,700 and $1,670) and lowest in Tasmania and South Australia ($1,141 and $1,192).

“We can broadly think about household spending as either being for ‘basics’ or for ‘discretionary’ purchases – with basics covering essentials such as housing, food, energy, health care and transport,” ABS Chief Economist, Bruce Hockman said.

Today’s release shows that a growing portion of weekly outlays is spent on basics. Spending on basics accounted for 56 per cent of weekly household spending in 1984, growing to 59 per cent in 2015-16.

“The survey also shows that since 1984, the pattern of household spending has changed considerably,” explained Mr Hockman.

“In 1984, the largest contributors to household spending were food (20 per cent), then transport (16 per cent) and housing (13 per cent).”

“Jump forward to 2015-16, and housing is now the largest contributor (20 per cent), followed by food (17 per cent), and transport costs (15 per cent).”

More recently, since the last survey in 2009-10, the biggest increases in spending on goods and services by households have been in education (44 per cent), household services and operations, such as cleaning products and pest control services (30 per cent), energy (26 per cent), health care (26 per cent) and housing (25 per cent).

On the other hand, spending on alcohol, tobacco, clothing and footwear and household furnishings have not changed significantly from six years ago.

Mr Hockman added that, in 2015-16, 1.3 million Australian households (15 per cent) reported 4 or more markers of financial stress, down from 16 per cent in 2009-10. In addition, the proportion of Australian households who did not report experiencing any markers of financial stress has steadily increased, from 54 per cent in 2009-10, to 59 per cent in 2015-16.


  • ‘Housing’ includes expenditure on rent, interest payments on mortgages, rates, home and content insurance and repairs and maintenance. Principle repayments on mortgages are reported separately.
  • ‘Food’ also includes expenditure on non-alcoholic beverages and meals out. Expenditure on alcoholic beverages are reported separately.
  • ‘Energy’ includes domestic fuel and power costs such as gas and electricity.
  • ‘Health care’ includes expenditure on health practitioner’s fees, accident and health insurance, and medicines, pharmaceutical produces and therapeutic appliances.
  • ‘Transport’ includes vehicle purchases and their ongoing running costs, public transport, taxi and ride sharing fares.
  • Proportions of spending are based on total goods and services expenditure. This excludes items which increase household wealth (such as the principal component of mortgage repayments).
  • Financial stress indicators include a range of items, such as not being able to raise emergency funds.
  • Estimates are for people who reside in private dwellings in Australia, excluding Very Remote areas.

Household Finance Confidence Weakens Again

Digital Finance Analytics has released the August 2017 edition of our Household Finance Confidence index, which uses data from our 52,000 household surveys and Core Market Model to examine trends over time. Overall, households scored 98.6, compared with 99.3 last month, and this continues the drift below the neutral measure of 100.  This is an average score, and there are significant variations within our various segments.

Watch the video to learn more, or read the transcript below:

Younger households are overall less confident about their financial status, whilst those in the 50-60 years age bands are most confident. This is directly linked to the financial assets held, including property and other investments, and relative incomes. Households over 60 years track quite closely to the national averages.

For the first time in more than a year, households in Victoria are more confident than those in NSW, while there was little relative change across the other states. One of the main reasons for the change in NSW can be traced directly to the state of the Investment Property sector, where we see a significant fall in the number of households intending to purchase in NSW, and more intending to sell. One significant observation is the rising number of investors selling in Sydney to lock in capital growth, and seeking to buy in regional areas or interstate. Adelaide is a particular area of interest.

Consistent with our earlier analysis, a household’s property owing status has a significant impact on their relative financial confidence, with owner occupied households the most confident, ahead of  property investors and those renting. That said, low rental growth rates mean more investors are underwater on a cash flow basis, especially in Victoria, where more than half are not covering the borrowing costs of their investment mortgage from rental receipts (but are still hopeful of capital gains, and they can offset the losses thanks to tax breaks). Actually returns are much stronger in QLD and TAS.

Looking at the scorecard, job security remained about the same this month, but there was a 1.7% fall in those more comfortable with their savings and a rise of 2.5% of those less comfortable – thanks to lower interest rates on deposits as banks seek to build margin.  The debt burden remained a concern, with a small rise in those worried about meeting repayments on outstanding loans.  Incomes are still under pressure, with more saying their incomes in real terms have been devalued, down 1%, to 52% of households.  Costs of living continue to rise for 63% of households, and only 7% saw a fall. 65% of households said their overall  net worth rose again, thanks mainly, to home prices rising. Some in WA, QLD and WA reported a fall, directly due to house values continuing to slip.

Given the fact that the dynamics of the economy seem to be locked in place with lower income growth, rising costs of living, and the property market adjusting to the new regulatory environment, we expect confidence to continue to drift lower in the months ahead. There is no obvious circuit breaker available in the current low interest rate, low growth environment. The leading indicators suggest that the recent positive momentum in the property market may be short lived.

By way of background, these results are derived from our household surveys, averaged across Australia. We have 52,000 households in our sample at any one time. We include detailed questions covering various aspects of a household’s financial footprint. The index measures how households are feeling about their financial health. To calculate the index we ask questions which cover a number of different dimensions. We start by asking households how confident they are feeling about their job security, whether their real income has risen or fallen in the past year, their view on their costs of living over the same period, whether they have increased their loans and other outstanding debts including credit cards and whether they are saving more than last year. Finally we ask about their overall change in net worth over the past 12 months – by net worth we mean net assets less outstanding debts.

We will update the results again next month.

Damn Lies and Statistics

We have been watching the continued switching between owner occupied and investor loans – $1.4 billion last month, and more than $56 billion – 10% of the investor loan book over the past few months.

This has, we think been driven by the lower interest rates on offer for owner occupied loans, compared with investor loans. But, we wondered if there was “flexibility with the truth” being exercised to get these cheaper loans.

So we were interested to read the latest from UBS which further underscores the possibility of untruths being told as part of the mortgage underwriting processes – to the extent of $500bn (on a book of $1.6 trillion).

This is based on survey results from 907 mortgage applicants over the last year.  There are significant differences across channels and individual lenders.  The net effect is that loan portfolios contain more risks than banks believe – something which our own analysis also demonstrates.

Understating living costs was the most significant misrepresentation, plus overstating income, especially loans via brokers.

In 2017 one-third of mortgage applications were not factual and accurate UBS Evidence Lab found that only 67% of respondents stated their mortgage application was “completely factual and accurate” in 2017 – a statistically significant reduction from the 2016 Vintage (72%). This year 25% of participants said their application was “mostly factual and accurate”, 8% said it was “partially factual and accurate”, while 1% “would rather not say”. By channel the level of “completely factual and accurate” mortgages fell across both brokers to just 61% (from 68%) and via the branches to 75% (from 78%). At a bank level there was a statistically significant fall in factual accuracy at NAB to 62%. While at ANZ the level of factual accuracy fell to 55% in 2017, statistically significantly lower than the Industry (99% confidence level).

Given the rising level of misstatement over multiple years we estimate there are now ~$500bn of factually inaccurate mortgages on the banks’ books (ie ‘Liar Loans’ – a term used in USA during the Financial Crisis for mortgages where documentation was not accurate). While household debt levels, elevated house prices and subdued income growth are well known, these finding suggest mortgagors are more stretched than the banks believe, implying losses in a downturn could be larger than the banks anticipate.

We are underweight Australian banks and are very cautious the medium term outlook.

Expect the normal rebuttals from the lenders, but that has more to do with protecting their positions than wanting to understand the truth – a core cultural problem across the sector.

Underemployment Higher – Roy Morgan

Roy Morgan Research says that in August 1.324 million Australians were unemployed (10.2% of the workforce). This is similar to a year ago (down 8,000, or 0.2%). The “real” unemployment figures of 10.2% are substantially higher than the current ABS estimate for July 2017 (5.6%).

However more Australians are now under-employed than this time last year. 1.241 million (9.5%) Australians are under-employed (looking for work or looking for more work), up a significant 324,000 (2.4%) in a year.

Roy Morgan Monthly Unemployment & Under-employment - August 2017 - 19.7%

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source October 2005 – August 2017. Average monthly interviews 4,000.

This aligns with our own data on mortgage stress, which pointed to under-employment being one of the prime drivers of financial difficulty for many households.


Draining The Tank

The latest National Accounts data, with GDP reported at 0.7% in trend terms for the quarter and 2.1% for the year was supported by the household sector.  Household final consumption expenditure increased 0.7% and government final consumption expenditure increased 1.2%.

But given the low wages growth, this household spending was supported by a continued raid on savings, with the savings ratio falling to 4.8%, the lowest level since the GFC in 2008.

This is consistent with our research of household cash flow, where more than 26% of mortgaged households are now relying on savings, credit cards and the like to manage the monthly budget.

The point though is this cannot continue indefinitely, because household savings are not infinite, and they are also skewed in distribution terms towards those with more assets and net worth.  Stress resides among households with lower net worth and little or no savings.

The debt burden will come home to roost, sometime.

Mortgage Stress Still On The Up

Digital Finance Analytics has released mortgage stress and default modelling for Australian mortgage borrowers, to end August 2017.  Across the nation, more than 860,000 households are estimated to be now in mortgage stress (last month 820,000) with more than 20,000 of these in severe stress. This equates to 26.4% of households, up from 25.8% last month.

We also estimate that nearly 46,000 households risk default in the next 12 months, 7,000 down from last month, as we have revised down our expectations of future mortgage rate rises.

In this video we discuss the results and countdown the top ten suburbs across Australia.

The main drivers of stress are rising mortgage rates and living costs whilst real incomes continue to fall and underemployment is on the rise.  This is a deadly combination and is touching households across the country, not just in the mortgage belts. In August higher power prices, council rates and childcare costs hit home.

This analysis uses our core market model which combines information from our 52,000 household surveys, public data from the RBA, ABS and APRA; and private data from lenders and aggregators. The data is current to end August 2017.

We analyse household cash flow based on real incomes, outgoings and mortgage repayments. Households are “stressed” when income does not cover ongoing costs, rather than identifying a set proportion of income, (such as 30%) going on the mortgage.

Those households in mild stress have little leeway in their cash flows, whereas those in severe stress are unable to meet repayments from current income. In both cases, households manage this deficit by cutting back on spending, putting more on credit cards and seeking to refinance, restructure or sell their home.  Those in severe stress are more likely to be seeking hardship assistance and are often forced to sell.

Martin North, Principal of Digital Finance Analytics said “flat incomes and underemployment mean rising costs are not being managed by many, and household budgets are really under pressure. Those with larger mortgages are more impacted by rate rises if and when they occur”.

“The latest housing debt to income ratio is at a record 190.4[1] so households will remain under pressure. Stressed households are less likely to spend at the shops, which acts as a drag anchor on future growth. The number of households impacted are economically significant, especially as household debt continues to climb to new record levels.”

“We continue to see the spread of mortgage stress in areas away from the traditional mortgage belts. A rising number of more affluent households are also being impacted.”

Regional analysis shows that NSW has 238,755 households in stress (225,090 last month), VIC 236,544 (229,988 last month), QLD 146,497 (144,825 last month) and WA 118,860 (107,936 last month).

The probability of default fell a little, with around 9,000 in WA, around 8,500 in QLD, 11,500 in VIC and 12,400 in NSW. We are projecting mortgage interest rates will remain lower for longer now, and this has had a beneficial impact on our results. Probability of default extends our mortgage stress analysis by overlaying economic indicators such as employment, future wage growth and cpi changes.

Here are the top counts of households in stress by post code.

[1] *RBA E2 Household Finances – Selected Ratios March 2016

What Lies Beneath? – The Property Imperative 26 Aug 2017

Mortgage Stress hit the headlines thanks to the ABC Four Corners programme, which used data from our household surveys. But if the tip of the iceberg is high debt, rising costs and devalued incomes, what lies beneath?

We helped make the news this week, so in this special weekly edition of the Property Imperative to 26th August 2017, we take a deeper dive into the underlying drivers of high home prices, and the resultant massive debt burden.

The ABC Four Corners programme set out the first order issues quite well, and you can even use their interactive map to look at stress and interest rate sensitivity by post code, which is based on our data. But they did not touch on the more fundamental second order issues which need to be understood to explain how we got here. So we will discuss some of these more fundamental factors, and show why the whole housing conundrum is so complex.

There are a number of factors which have worked together to create very high property prices here, and in other countries around the world. The root cause is the shift in attitude towards property from somewhere to live, to seeing it as an asset class ripe for investment – the financialisation of property. Given the availability of cheap finance (thanks to low interest rates and in many economies extra stimulus from quantitative easing), and the high demand from investors, globally, price rises evident in many countries, mirroring high stock prices. Many baby boomers are at the front of the queue, looking for investment opportunities. But such high home prices makes it ever harder for new purchasers to enter the market, so rates of home ownership are dropping.

We also see flows of investment capital crossing international boarders, thanks to financial deregulation. For example, in Australia, last year Chinese investors bought more than $30 billion of property, including in some post codes more than 15% of residential purchases. Around the world there is hot money looking for a home, and the stellar returns on Australian property have made it an attractive target, especially in the light of the relatively stable political environment here, and until recently the ease by which foreign purchasers could enter the market. That said, Beijing has tightened controls on outbound investment, and this move will put pressure on prices in key property markets from New York to London. The top three overseas destinations for Chinese property investors in 2016 were the United States, Hong Kong and Australia.

In Australia, demand has also been stoked by strong migration. The recent census showed that 1.3 million new migrants have come to Australia since 2011. The impact of this is much debated, with many arguing that the floods of new residents moving to Australia is one of the most significant factors in play. The “big Australia policy” which, though not planned, is based on the assumption that we need more people to drive growth and pay tax; and so the current migration settings reflect this. Yet there is little proper planning for this continued lift in numbers. Some are now questioning this approach, which is causing significant congestion in our capital cities. And migration rates seem to be climbing with the fastest net overseas migration in 4 years, according to the ABS.

About one in three Australians are employed in property related industries, from building and construction, real estate, finance and specialist services. Because of this there is strong political and economic support for high levels of ongoing investment. The HIA this week released the latest National Outlook Report which suggests the housing sector will become less of an economic driver of the Australian economy, and also underscores the various regulatory interventions from state taxes, to limiting foreign investment and investor lending.

It is also worth saying that the standard line of there being an under-supply of property is questionable when we look at the census data on number of people per residence. In fact, this metric has remained static at 2.6 since 2000. Yet most households in our surveys believe we need more construction, not less.

Property Investment by local residents continues apace, supported by overgenerous tax concessions, across both negative gearing and capital gains.  Around 36% of mortgage lending is for investment property. Strong continued capital appreciation is driving this, and our recent surveys showed that even first time buyers were motivated by these gains. Property investment is pervasive, and as the Four Corners programme showed, some investors are geared up across multiple properties, with an appetite for more.  Earlier this year the ATO released their summary data which included quite comprehensive view of the range of costs those with rental properties have offset income. They also divide rentals into those functioning at a loss, and those who make a profit.

Of the 2.9 million rentals, 1.1 million made a profit, the rest a loss (which can be offset against other categories of income). That means 60% of rentals are under water.

We also showed this week that the Bank of Mum and Dad is the 11th largest lender in Australia, and that more than half first time buyers are looking to borrow from the family many of whom drew capital from their existing property. The Bank of Mum and Dad provides an average of $88,000, and some of this goes to assist first time buyers to go direct to the investment sector.

Then there is the wealth effect which rising home prices provides. Anyone holding property will benefit, at least on paper from capital appreciation, and so do not want to see prices slide. Two thirds of households own residential property, so the political weight of numbers is on the side of keeping home prices growing. No wonder, politicians do not want to be holding the reins of power when prices go south.  Neither do they want to rock the boat on negative gearing – though Labor says they would tackle it.

Talking of political power, most states are befitting significantly from the stamp duty received on home purchases. For example, NSW enjoyed more than $7bn of receipts from residential transactions last year – a sizable share of their entire revenue budget. So states and territories do not want to turn that off.  In addition, many are slugging foreign investors additional taxes and charges, to further boost revenue.

Then of course, the banks continue to grow residential lending at three times inflation or CPI, creating, as we discussed last week an amazing debt monster.  This is helped by generous capital ratios which makes home lending more capital efficient than lending to business, even of the growth it generates is, well, illusory.  But for lenders, mortgage lending is highly profitable, and remains their primary growth engine. They will continue to lender as hard as they can, targeting lower risk households in particular.

The profitability of the finance industry was underscored by results from two of the aggregators – these players sits between the banks and mortgage brokers. Mortgage Choice delivered a 10.2% growth in cash profit, though revenue was up just 1.1% to $199 million. They have 654 credit representatives and settlements rose to 12.3 billion.

Australian Finance Group (AFG) reported a 2017 net profit of $30.2 million an increase of 33% on FY2016. They now have around 2,900 mortgage brokers, and process on average around 10,000 loan each month with 45 lenders on their panel.

The finance sector is reliant on a buoyant home lending sector, and as Four Corners highlighted, with 60% of their assets in this business, they would be exposed in any downturn. We also saw in the programme some examples of shoddy practices in the sector, and generally we believe that underwriting standards are still too generous.

The regulatory structure in Australia, with the RBA, ASIC and APRA, collectively with Treasury in the Council of Financial Regulators, has been myopic in its focus, not wanting to rock to boat given the high economic impact of the construction sector, with high volumes of apartments coming on stream in the next year or two. They finally got around to pressing down on interest only loans – too little too late in our view, but this has given the banks ample ammunition to lift the interest rates on these loans, and as a result, they are competing for principal and interest loans, especially for owner occupied borrowers below 80%, with keen rates.  Note too, lenders were forced to tighten their controls, which suggests that the risk management processes in the banks is not adequate, we think they are trading volume and profit over prudent behaviour. Overall loan growth is too strong relative to incomes, but no one wants to talk about the risks of this in a low income growth environment. The regulators are trapped because rates are too low, but they cannot raise them because of the pressures this would exert on households. They argue the systemic financial stability risks are being adequately managed, we are not so sure.  Currently loan volumes continue to grow too strongly.

So in summary, if you pile up all the stakeholder groups who benefit from rising prices, ranging from existing owners, investors, lenders, the construction sector, and the political weight of numbers, no surprise that little is being done to tackle the root cause issues – of high migration, poor lending standards and too strong mortgage loan growth.  This underpins the high household debt and rising mortgage stress.

The politicians may play lip service to housing affordability, and lenders still claim they are being disciplined in the current environment. But it could all too easily turn to custard.

We need a focussed policy on controlling migration, effective planning to accommodate growth, tighter lender restrictions and higher interest rates. But the likelihood is we will continue to muddle though, kick the can down the street, and hope it will turn out ok. But, hope, to quote former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, is not a strategy.

And that’s the Property Imperative Weekly to 26th August. If you found this useful, do subscribe to get our latest updates, and check back again for next week’s installment.

Household Finance Confidence Continues To Fall

Digital Finance Analytics has released the July results from our Household Finance Confidence Index, which shows a further fall, with momentum decaying.

The average score was 99.3, down from 99.8 last month and below the neutral setting. However, the average score masks significant differences across the dimensions of the survey results. For example, younger households are considerably more negative, compared with older groups.

This is strongly linked with property owning status, with those renting well below the neutral setting (and more younger households rent these days), whilst owner occupied home owners are significantly more positive. We also see a fall in the confidence of property investors, relative to owner occupied owners.

Across the states,  we see a small decline in confidence in NSW from a strong starting point, whilst VIC households were more confident in July.

The driver scorecard shows little change in job security expectations, but lower interest rates on deposits continue to hit savings. Households are more concerned about the level of debt held, as interest rate rises bite home. The impact of flat or falling incomes registers strongly, with more households saying, in real terms they are worse off. Costs of living are rising fast, with the changes in energy prices, child care costs and council rates all hitting hard. That said, the continued rises in home prices, especially in the eastern states meant that net worth for households in these states rose again, which was not the case in WA, NT or SA.

Sentiment in the property sector is clearly a major influence on how households are feeling about their finances, but the real dampening force is falling real incomes and rising costs. As a result, we still expect to see the index fall further as we move into spring, as more price hikes come through. In addition, the raft of investor mortgage rate repricing will hit, whilst rental returns remain muted.

By way of background, these results are derived from our household surveys, averaged across Australia. We have 52,000 households in our sample at any one time. We include detailed questions covering various aspects of a household’s financial footprint. The index measures how households are feeling about their financial health. To calculate the index we ask questions which cover a number of different dimensions. We start by asking households how confident they are feeling about their job security, whether their real income has risen or fallen in the past year, their view on their costs of living over the same period, whether they have increased their loans and other outstanding debts including credit cards and whether they are saving more than last year. Finally we ask about their overall change in net worth over the past 12 months – by net worth we mean net assets less outstanding debts.


More Households Worry About Saving For Retirement

An increasing number of Australians believe they will fall far short of being able to fund their retirements, which may be leading to a greater focus on paying down debt and putting more aside in savings, according to the latest research from MLC.

Between the fourth quarter of 2016 and first of 2017, the MLC Wealth Sentiment Survey Q1 2017 recorded an increase in Australians who think they will have “far from enough” in retirement, up from 24 per cent to 32 per cent of respondents.

The research also identified a significant disconnect between the retirement Australians want and the one they expect to have. Most respondents described their ideal retirement with words like “relaxed”, “comfort” and “travel”, while one in five used words like “stressful”, “worried”, and “difficult” to describe how they expect their retirement will be.MLC Wealth Sentiment Survey Q1 2017

“While economic indicators are quite strong, at an individual level it’s apparent that Australians aren’t feeling confident about their finances, and this may be causing anxiety about retirement,” MLC General Manager of Customer Experience, Superannuation, Lara Bourguignon, said.

“What’s interesting is that respondents said they need over $1 million to retire on, but even small super balances help in retirement, so instead of being worried and fearful, people should feel motivated and empowered to take the little steps that make a big difference.”

More Australians paying off debt, saving

The survey also shows Australians are now taking debt and saving more seriously.

Overall, 21 per cent of Australians plan to pay off more debt in the next three months, outweighing those who intend to pay off less debt (13 per cent) than they were previously. Further, 26 per cent intend to save more and 19 per cent save less.

“With people reporting they are concerned about having enough in retirement, it may be that Australians are taking a closer look at debt and implementing savings strategies that will help improve their overall financial position,” Ms Bourguignon said.

“While the catalyst may be a lack of confidence about funding retirement, getting in control of your finances is very empowering, and so we may see people feeling a lot better about their money in the long run.”

Australians don’t feel wealthy enough to seek financial advice

Another key insight from the research was that Australians believe they need to be wealthy in order to seek financial advice, a finding that may be holding many back from reaching their financial goals, Ms Bourguignon said.

“Many respondents said they would visit a financial adviser if their needs were more complicated, or if they earned more or had money to invest. But tackling debt or implementing a savings plan is actually the ideal time to engage a financial adviser.

“We certainly need to start changing our view around advice being only for the wealthy; it’s for all of us.”

Other key findings:

  • Women are more pessimistic than men about having enough for retirement – 62% don’t expect to have enough to retire on, compared with 52% of men.
  • Despite concerns about funding retirement, three in four Australians haven’t seen a financial adviser in the last five years.
  • Only three in ten Australians are comfortable borrowing to invest, with a third of these preferring investing in property.

About the MLC Quarterly Australian Wealth Sentiment Survey

The MLC Quarterly Australian Wealth Sentiment Survey interviews more than 2,000 people each quarter. It aims to assess the investment environment by asking questions related to current financial situation, investment intentions, level of concern related to superannuation and other investments, change in life insurance, and distance to retirement and investment strategy.