Golden oldies can offer the City a wealth of experience

YESTERDAY, the actress Jane Fonda announced that she is to film a new workout video at the age of 72, 30 years and one hip replacement after the video that made her a global star. In the world of business too, oldies are still going strong. Warren Buffett – who will be 80 in August – is still taking an active role in his company Berkshire Hathaway. If anything, Buffett’s stock has risen as he got older – his recent comments about Kraft’s takeover of Cadbury made front pages all over the world.

People in the developed world are living longer and healthier lives than they did at the beginning of the 20th century – a baby girl born today can expect to live to 81 on average, compared to just 50 for one born in 1918. It is no surprise that more people are expressing an interest in working beyond the current retirement age, which was set in 1925.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) yesterday published a set of proposals designed to allow older people to work for longer. A leading think-tank, the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (Niesr), has estimated that extending working lives by 18 months would earn Britain £15bn.

And indeed, we also want to carry on working into old age. The EHRC survey showed that most workers over 50 wanted to keep working after they reached state pension age. And 62 per cent of the over-50s thought that existing employment structures and attitudes towards older workers were the problem.

The City, despite its image of sharp-suited thirty-something traders, has had its fair share of old boys carrying on into their 80s. Back in 2002, Terence Ahern was reputed to be the City’s oldest stockbroker aged 88. He started his career in 1931. And on Wall Street, 103-year-old Irving Kahn still puts in six hours a day betting on stocks.

But is having so many old people in the workforce a good thing? In the wake of a financial crisis partly caused by traders jumping on shiny new products, there’s plenty to be said for the experience and leadership that older people can provide.

George Magnus, senior economic adviser at UBS and author of The Age of Ageing, says: “It is an essential part of the adjustment to a rapidly ageing society that we allow people to carry on working for longer, if they can and if they want to. Employers have to come to the conclusion that it is far too costly to let go to waste the skills and experience of people that might have retired.”

Magnus advocates abolishing the default retirement age and says that employment structures have to change if firms are going to keep older people working. Many prefer to work part-time or at least to have more flexible working hours and to work more from home. In the EHRC review, 68 per cent of the over-50s unemployed below state pension age and 85 per cent of people inactive and over state pension age said that greater availability of flexible and part-time work would help them find jobs.

It’s not just experience that older employees can give a firm, says Brian Winterflood, who at 72 is life president of Winterflood Securities. He isn’t involved in the daily running of the company but spends his time networking for the firm.

But while older people have more experience, the abolishment of a default retirement age would make it more difficult for firms to retire employees who can no longer do their job. At the moment, firms can lawfully terminate your contract once you reach 65 with no further explanation. Many, including the Employers’ Forum on Age, have said that this is discriminatory and the abolishment of the default retirement age is the only answer.

But while it might be discriminatory, this can cause problems for employers, says Chris Bracebridge, an associate in law firm Paul Hastings’ employment law division. If there is no default retirement age, then a firm which thought that an older employee’s age was affecting his performance would have to go through a long process of setting performance targets and proving that he was no longer able to perform. This can take up huge amounts of resources as well as being unpleasant for the individuals involved.

But for many in the City still working beyond retirement age, it is the adrenaline and the buzz that keeps them going. As Brian Winterflood puts it: “I don’t know how long I’ll go on for, I’d love to go on for as long as I can. I would rather die with my boots on – they can carry me out.”

Brian Winterflood might be turning 73 later this month, but he is still very much part of the company he set up: “I consider it as my second family.”

“I saw most of my contemporaries retire but I don’t like golf or sport. The adrenaline still flows for me and the excitement is still there. It’s all very interesting.

“My wife also doesn’t want me around the house all the time. Fortunately, the firm don’t mind me coming into the office.”

When he isn’t working for Winterflood, he is involved in charitable causes and is also president of the Quoted Companies Alliance.

“I don’t know how long I’ll carry on for – it’s not a case of earnings now, it’s a case of doing some good.”

Author of The Age of Ageing, George Magnus, 60, thinks that we need to allow people to carry on working for as long as they want.

“There are certain types of occupation that are clearly unsuitable for older people – trading for example. But banking is going to be about all sorts of things other than trading and there are areas where the expertise of older employees can come in useful.”

Magnus says he enjoys what he does and recognises he is fortunate to be able to do it. He gives his time to UBS and UBS’s top clients, doing what many economists do in banks. But he also has the opportunity to pursue his other interests, such as demography, and write books.

BGC Partners’ David Buik, 65, is a well-known face in the City and has 47 years of experience behind him. “The proposals are absolutely right. You felt massive age discrimination among employers 10 years ago but this is improving.”

“At 65, you shouldn’t have to be playing golf and walking around the park. If you are up to the job, you should be able to do it. As long as employees are fit and well they bring enormous experience. They aren’t very good at change though, which is why they need the young.”

“I can’t afford to retire, they’d have to sack me. I’ll be 66 in a few months time and I have thought about retirement. Maybe in a couple of years – I would hate to put in a sub-standard performance.”

THE Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) yesterday launched a set of proposals to improve employment opportunities for older Britons and address the challenges of an ageing workforce. These include:
• Abolishing the UK’s default retirement age – currently 60 for women and 65 for men.
• Considering incentives to improve flexible working, with an emphasis on hours and/or location for the over-50s.
• Overhauling employer recruitment practices to prevent discrimination and improved training and development

Research by the EHRC found:
• 62 per cent of women and 59 per cent of men want to keep working beyond state pension age.
• 85 per cent of people over state pension age and not working say greater availability of part-time or flexible jobs would be the key to getting a job.
• 11 per cent of over-50s want promotion while only 4 per cent want to downshift.