It's family before self for most S'poreans: Survey

Most Singaporeans would rather provide regular support to their parents and children at the expense of their own financial future, according to a new survey.

It found that 68 per cent of Singaporeans would prioritise paying for their children's education when asked to choose between their own retirement fund and financial support for their family, while 66 per cent would prioritise their parents' health and social care over themselves.

This naturally brings financial strain, something that is most acute for the "sandwiched" generation - people in their 40s who are supporting parents and children.

The findings come from an HSBC survey that polled more than 13,000 people across 13 countries and territories, including about 1,000 respondents aged 25 and above from Singapore. They gave views on their concerns about the future and how they protect themselves financially.

FAMILY FOR LIFE

Around 77 per cent of Singaporeans are providing financial support to their families, compared with 48 per cent in Britain and 44 per cent in the United States.

In particular, 45 per cent of Singaporeans are still providing for their grown-up children (over 18 years of age), and 72 per cent are financially supporting their parents.

Providing this level of support for family members can take a toll on a person's finances, lifestyle and emotional well-being.

Among those who regularly support family members financially, they said half of their disposable income is spent on others. On top of that, 46 per cent of Singaporeans have to put off their own aspirations and 42 per cent feel guilty when spending on themselves instead of helping their family.

  • 4 steps to prepare for the future

  • HSBC's research findings indicate four actions that can help you better prepare your family to face the future:

    1. IDENTIFY YOUR PRIORITIES

    Make sure you have a financial plan in place that addresses your needs as well as those of your family. Don't neglect your own aspirations when planning for the future.

    2. ASSESS YOUR FINANCES

    Think about whether any financial support you are giving to others is likely to increase or decrease in the future and if you need to update your financial plan.

    3. PLAN FOR WHOLE FAMILY

    Unexpected life events can have knock-on effects for the whole family. Bear this in mind when reviewing if you have enough financial protection in place.

    4. TALK ABOUT THE FUTURE

    Discuss what could happen to them if you were to experience a life-changing circumstance and what financial safeguards you have in place. If you need help, seek professional advice.

However, the feel-good factor of being able to provide for the family more than makes up for the emotional strain, the survey found.

Mr Ian Martin, chief executive of HSBC Insurance (Singapore), notes that Singaporeans are providing financial support for their family members that extends beyond levels seen in other cultures, such as in the West.

"This long-term financial dependency puts them in a challenging position. It is especially so for the 'sandwiched' generation who are in their 30s and 40s," he adds.

With greater longevity, Singaporeans will need to plan better in order to sufficiently provide for their parents' as well as their own needs in old age.

"Not only do they need to provide for their growing children, but they are also in many cases supporting their aged parents. In doing so, the danger is that they may leave themselves inadequately prepared for their own retirement and healthcare needs."

NEED TO PLAN FOR THE FUTURE

Singaporeans feel even bleaker about their financial security when looking ahead.

Only 46 per cent of those people supporting someone in their family, who say that they are managing well or very well financially, expect their situation to improve in the next three years, compared with 54 per cent of their global peers.

But plenty of people helping out family members are already feeling that they are not managing at all well or are just about managing with support from family or social benefits. The poll notes that 51 per cent of this group think their position will worsen compared with 28 per cent of their global peers.

Despite these worries, 62 per cent of Singaporeans do not have insurance that would pay a regular sum in the event of a serious illness or accident. And over half said they do not hold any insurance products that would pay out a lump sum to take care of their loved ones in the event of death (51 per cent) or if they contracted a critical illness (53 per cent).

This is a concern given that Singapore's rapidly ageing population would mean that by 2024, the nation will join 33 others as a "super-aged" country, where one in five people is 65 or older.

With greater longevity, Singaporeans will need to plan better in order to sufficiently provide for their parents' as well as their own needs in old age.

Mr Martin says that while most Singaporeans have safeguards in the form of MediShield and integrated shield plans that will cover part of their medical expenses, having additional insurance coverage such as early critical care insurance will be equally important.

"Such insurance protections will ensure that dependants will continue to get the much-needed financial support when a breadwinner is hit with a major illness and is unable to work during the recovery period," he adds.

Lorna Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 29, 2017, with the headline 'It's family before self for most S'poreans: Survey'. Print Edition | Subscribe