The hard costs of love. Why fintech startups need to solve for the sandwich generation

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Sometimes the way ideas iterate and develop can be rather strange. Today’s blog post is an excellent example. Let me explain.

The weekend just past in Sydney was sweltering. There were only two places you could comfortably exist: either in the presence of air conditioning or near water. I chose the latter, mainly because I don’t have the luxury of the former. So the beach it was, which for me generally means an excellent excuse to indulge in a podcast or two.

Saturday saw me devour in full Malcolm Gladwell’s latest podcast series Revisionist History. It’s excellent by the way and I highly recommend you listen to it. But like a great night out I was in need of a hair of the dog antidote to dispel my Gladwell podcast hangover come Sunday.

After some casual googling, which in the sun, and with sand involved, is always a tricky manoeuvre, I came across a ‘if you listened to this you’ll like this’ type listicle.

After a short peruse, Modern Love seemed to fit the bill. An offshoot of the popular New York Times column, the producers employ notable personalities and actors to read the column’s many essays on love, submitted by everyday people from all over the world. It ticked the boxes of being cerebral enough but simultaneously lighthearted, in other words perfect for slumming it on the beach and a nice little segue into this week’s main event, Valentines Day.

It was the second episode of Modern Love that really got me thinking. A gay couple, who had decided to have a child had written about their experience in seeking an egg donor. An experience, by the sounds of it, that sounded a lot like internet dating.

Thanks (I think?) to the internet, fertility challenged couples of any sexual orientation can peruse women of all ages and walks of life from the comfort of their homes, trawling through their breeding credentials and educational attainments. The couple on Modern Love even went as far as filtering out the grammatically challenged – ‘your’ verses ‘you’re’ mishaps, that kind of thing. The last is a common dating deal breaker, so no surprises there – I’d do the same.

Harvard college grads might see you forking out $30K for a clutch of ova, while eggs from someone with fewer entries on their owner’s resume might see you landing a bargain basement price of $5K.

For a moment I considered whether donating or selling my eggs would be something I would do. While it’s illegal to take payment for any human tissue in Australia, if I were desperate to turn a profit, I could probably jump on a plane and do so in the states. There’s clearly a demand.

Two ethical questions then formed in my mind. Would I be donating my eggs for purely selfish reasons – to perpetuate my genes without bearing the cost of raising my offspring directly? Or would I be doing it for altruistic reasons, helping those who can’t have children experience the joys of parenthood?

An interesting thought experiment – and that’s before you consider any other religious based arguments. Interestingly, for the record, Australia faces a shortage of both sperm and egg donors. People who want to have children, can’t. Will those with capacity to pay fund those who can’t in the future? More than likely. The village approach to child rearing I am sure will take on a very different dynamic 10 to 20 years from now.

Anyway, parking that one for the moment, the next thing I started wondering about was how expensive it actually was to have a child.

Turns out astronomical.

Focusing on education alone, if I had to raise a miniature version of myself starting tomorrow, it would cost me $665,966, according to the Australian Scholarships Group Friendly Society, a financial organisation that helps families save, tax effectively, for their children’s future education needs.

But if you’re currently childless, like me, as an expense item that’s actually the least of your worries. Chances are as you enter your thirties and forties, many of you will also need to start thinking about how you’re going to finance your parent’s retirement as well. Yes, this is a thing.

Research from Filene Research Institute indicates there is a generation of workers caught between an economic rock and a hard place, supporting Boomerang millennial children – kids who return home after university because they can’t afford to live on their own – and ageing parents who can’t meet some or all of the costs of their retirement.

The research report is well worth a read, but for those of you looking for a few quick hits, consider the following:

  • 40% of survey respondents reported giving parents between $1000 and $4999 in financial support over the past 12 months while 35% reported giving the same amount in support to children over 18.
  • 40% would go into debt to provide support to help a child or parent
  • The biggest stress factor amongst respondents was the difficulty of having a conversation with their parents about their finances.

 

One in every eight Americans are estimated to be caught in this financial intergenerational debt spiral. In Australia the numbers aren’t as well documented, although some estimate around 2.6 million workers face similar financial circumstances.

So here we have a great problem that really isn’t being addressed by incumbents. Filene suggests credit unions consider building products to service this sector. Well, even better, maybe startups could.

So if you’re in the market for a set of requirements, here’s what respondents said they wanted.

  • The ability to view their parents bank accounts
  • Some level of access into their children’s bank accounts
  • Help eliminating the taboo around speaking about money with parents
  • Multigenerational financial planning assistance
  • Help with healthcare costs and future proofing

 

Aside from the health piece, it’s like a family office for people on far, far less than a typical family office income. I’m pretty sure there’s a startup in there somewhere. And layering in health insurance or health data isn’t really that extreme either.

It’s nice to romanticise many aspects of life, like having children, or watching our parents enter into a comfortable retirement. But the dangers inherent in this glass half full approach is we fail to adequately plan for what tends to be a relatively unexpected future. How many of us can really say things in our lives turned out the way we thought? My point exactly.

And Mum, if you’re reading this don’t worry – I started saving yesterday I promise. I so owe you.


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