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Preparing for the second act

Nov 27, 2020

If you want to work beyond the State retirement age, preparation is key. Des Peelo outlines what needs to be done to guarantee an active professional life post-retirement.

Do you intend to continue working into active old age? What is the definition of old age? Current longevity can mean an active life to age 80+. Age 65 has historically been seen as retirement age, though one-in-six of the current workforce is aged over 65.

There is also the regular commentary as to 60 being the new 50, 70 being the new 60 and so on. Working after first retirement is now referred to as a ‘second act’ of working life.

Professional life may be another indicator of working into old age. Self-employed professionals across all professions frequently practice well into later life. However, retirement is currently compulsory at age 60-62 in most large legal and accounting firms. The retirement age in professional firms in the UK can be as low as 55. There is also a reported trend in the UK towards a tapering role for seniors/partners over the five years from 55 to 60.

Commercial life does not generally encourage working past the late 50s/early 60s, despite the debate about ageism and inadequate pensions. There is a perception that older workers are expensive.

The reason for mentioning the above is that there can be a mindset in successful mid-career, at senior level, that options to continue working into later life will be readily available. I have witnessed many expressed beliefs that offers of non-executive directorships, consultancy, advisory roles or dispute resolution will all be there when the time comes.

However, this expectation is a fallacy. Your contacts and relevance to current developments and trends will age with you. It is a truism in professional life, maybe less so in commercial life, that you carry out much of your business with people aged five years or so either side of your own age. It may also be that your contacts are particular to your role and job, and not to you personally.

If work continuity into older age is your aspiration, how might you plan for it? The primary underpinning is to keep your knowledge and skills relevant. This means actively continuing your business/professional development. Membership of professional and industry/sector associations – and regular involvements and attendances – is important.

Speaking at, and attending, seminars and conferences is always good value in developing wider recognition. An industry focus can create good possibilities for continued work, as compared to occasional assignments. For example, a knowledge of tourism carries through to many different aspects and opportunities in transport, hospitality and leisure. Food, construction and communications are other sectors with broader prospects. Financial/accounting skills alone are not in demand unless linked to a particular sector like the ones mentioned above.

There is a wide range of part-time opportunities in the not-for-profit sector. These can range from charities to health service providers and cultural institutions. While there isn’t usually remuneration in the not-for-profit sector, it does give you continued contacts and involvement. It is a useful idea to pursue these opportunities in the decade before retirement, as it creates a separate identity that can continue post-retirement and can look good on a prospective CV. It also has the satisfaction of contributing to wider society.

The ‘second act’ will not happen without preparation.

Des Peelo FCA is the author of The Valuation of Businesses and Shares, which is published by Chartered Accountants Ireland and now in its second edition.