Most soon-to-be retirees won’t know what they missed. They’ll just know that life seems a lot more difficult for them than for their parents.

They won’t know exactly why. So let me tell you about a change that may help the surge of baby-boomer retirees: the creation of a new specialty and professional designation, the retirement management analyst, or RMA.

As recently as 1970, about 80 percent of all workers were covered by a pension plan. It was the Golden Age for American workers. They owned their homes. They had Social Security. And they had a shot at getting a monthly pension check from their former employer — for life.

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There were problems with pension plans. Some were underfunded; they weren’t a good solution for an increasingly mobile workforce; and some were structured to benefit the few rather than the many.

But when defined-benefit pensions worked, they delivered a lifetime retirement income without requiring workers to save a dime or make a single investment decision. It doesn’t get much better.

Today, only about 30 percent of all workers are still covered by a pension plan.

Instead, workers have another imperfect plan: a 401(k). Today, workers are expected to save part of their income and make investment choices that will grow their savings enough that they can create a healthy income when they retire.

That isn’t easy. Saving doesn’t come naturally, for one thing.

And defined-contribution plans only accumulate assets. What they don’t do is create reliable retirement income. That leaves an army of retirees needing to find a way to squeeze spending cash out of whatever they have for savings. It’s not a pretty picture.

But I found hope while attending a recent conference in Austin, Texas. Put on by the Retirement Income Industry Association (, the two-day event showcased some of the research and efforts being made to solve the retirement income problem.

“This is an insurgency,” Francois Gadenne said at the opening. Gadenne is one of the founders and the executive director of the association.

He quickly pointed out that financial-service firms have focused almost exclusively on asset accumulation. No one really thought about what we accumulate those assets for: a regular income after the paychecks stop, the equivalent of a pension check.

That’s why I find the mere existence of this association to be a sign of hope, another step toward solving the retirement income dilemma most workers now face with neither knowledge nor tools. The association has also created the curriculum for the Retirement Management Analyst. So far, about 100 people have earned the designation.

My bet: There will be a lot more.


Copyright 2013, Universal Press Syndicate