A recent survey suggests that consumers' outlook on retirement is gloomier than previously thought.

Interviews with retirees, and those preparing to retire, found that many believe their savings are inadequate, and some are unsure of the security of their investments, according to data from Behavioral Science Research, Coral Gables, Fla.

More specifically, nearly a quarter of the 558 people surveyed believe their 401(k) or pension plan will fail, the study said.

Americans in their 40s are "expecting to have to work longer, with a cutback in their standard of living," said the company's president, Robert A. Ladner. "The myth of retirement was that Social Security, life insurance, and company pensions were rock-solid bets, but now all bets are off."

The fears have been heightened in recent years, as the population depends less on guaranteed pensions and Social Security to retire on, and more on into riskier retirement plans based on mutual funds and other investments, Mr. Ladner said.

The data also showed that nearly half the people between the ages of 45 and 54 believe that their Social Security benefits will be gutted by the time they retire and nearly half don't expect their homes to appreciate much before retirement.

The survey, conducted in March, was sponsored by Bank Rate Monitor, a newsletter based in North Palm Beach, Fla.

Persons polled identified themselves as the financial decision makers in a household, and all considered themselves informed about financial matters.

Many bankers are hearing some of the same complaints from people in the work force, as more and more banks step up the marketing of 401(k) and other employees retirement plans. But some bankers say playing off those fears can give them a competitive advantage.

"The stability of a financial institution is an important issue with people," said Glenn P. Sherman, employee benefits product manager for Crestar Financial Corp., Richmond, Va. "But when you work with banks that have been around for a long time that fear just isn't an issue."

"What's worrying most people isn't the long-term viability of 401(k) (plans), but the grinding fears about the stability of Social Security," said B. Randolph Bateman, a senior vice president at Star Banc Corp., Cincinnati.

Mr. Bateman said Star is emphasizing that 401(k) plans give participants more investment options than traditional pension plans.

He added that "the industry has gone a long way at communicating the investment changes to consumers. Most people know where they stand in a 401(k) plan. They don't get that from their Social Security."

Behavioral Science Research's Mr. Ladner said banks should advise their customers to stagger their retirement investment strategies so as to better ride out changes in economic and investment conditions that occur every 10 or 15 years.

Behavioral Science Research helps corporate clients, banks, and credit unions devise ways to develop and market retirement plans. Its bank clients include First Union Corp. and SunTrust Banks Inc.'s SunBanks subsidiary.

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