Have you developed a career as a doctor or a lawyer? Do you spend your weekends obsessing over sports or visiting art galleries? Do you dread or look forward to big parties? Personality affects every aspect of our lives, and our pension pots are no different.

Planning for retirement can seem like an objective, financial exercise, little influenced by personal quirks or habits. But there is such a thing as a ‘financial personality’ and it can make a significant difference to your long-term wealth. There are four major traits which can impact on your levels of pension savings: risk-taking, organisational skills, anxiety and willingness to learn.

Risk-taking

When the words ‘finance’ and ‘risk-taking’ are put in the same sentence the immediate association is with The Wolf of Wall Street-style risk-taking by ego-fuelled traders. This is the type of risk-taking that is thought to be a major contributory factor to the 2008 financial crash.

Yet when it comes to personal financial planning risk-taking is more about working within the level of risk that suits an individual’s goals. Some are more comfortable with higher-risk options while others prefer a more cautious approach. The downsides of choosing high-risk funds are fairly obvious. What is less obvious is the risks associated with being overly cautious.

These graphs show examples of average and poor growth for funds at very low, average and high risk, nicely illustrating the potential outcomes of both these attitudes.

Fidelity investment graphs

Investing to avoid loss | Slow and steady mixed-risk | High-level risk for higher returns

Organisational Skills

Job-hopping is the new normal. On average employees will work for about six different companies during their working life. But this figure is skewed by older people, as many people in their late twenties or thirties have already worked for at least that number.

When this level of job-hopping is standard, having good organisational skills could be the difference between keeping track of a pension pot and losing it entirely. According to Age UK almost a quarter of British adults have lost track of workplace pensions. One in ten report that they’ve changed jobs so often that they’ve lost sight of at least one workplace pension, while one in five have lost the paperwork for at least one pension scheme.

Being organised enough to keep on top of paperwork for multiple pension schemes could be the factor which prevents savings from slipping into this black hole.

Anxiety

Anxiety and worry has the potential to prompt or hinder financial planning. In a negative scenario anxiety about pension savings could lead to avoidance. This is a mechanism whereby people cope with worry by trying to avoid whatever it is that’s concerning them. With regards to financial worry, this might manifest as avoiding dealing with any sort of money planning as well as pensions saving, with the potential to compound lack of pensions planning with problems such as debt.

Anxiety about provisions for retirement might not necessarily be a bad thing though. Research shows that there’s an ‘anxiety sweet spot’ where people are spurred to action. Given that in a recent report the British government lists a simple short-sightedness about retirement as one of the main reasons for low-levels of saving, being worried about turning 65 without adequate provision could prove valuable in the long run.

Willingness to learn

The idea that financial paperwork can be off-putting and confusing is news to no one. The same government report highlights lack of knowledge as another major issue which hinders saving, as the level of complexity creates a real barrier to understanding and taking appropriate action.

According to another survey people find pensions “difficult to understand and full of industry jargon”, to the point where some are so disengaged they feel they would be better keeping their money under the mattress.

While there’s definitely scope for the pensions industry to simplify the way they talk about their products, the information is available for those willing to take a step outside their comfort zone and start learning.

Image source: 23 dingen voor museaFidelity