Preparing for Retirement Featuring Dr. Adam Kassam
What will retirement look like for you? In Episode 6 of The Financial Checkup, we talk with Dr. Adam Kassam, president of the OMA. He shares what retirement looks like to him and how he’s preparing for the retired life.
My biggest worry is not having enough money to have support if we were to need it. And so again, this concept of outliving your, your nest egg or your your savings, I think is is always an evergreen worry for most folks.
Welcome to the Financial Checkup, a podcast series devoted to improving the financial health and retirement readiness of physicians and their spouses or common law partners. This series is brought to you by the award winning Advantages Retirement Plan from OMA Insurance.
Preya Singh-Cushnie 0:38
Hello, everyone, I’m Preya Singh-Cushie Director at OMA Insurance, plan sponsor of the award winning Advantages Retirement Plan for Ontario doctors. This program is a first of its kind group retirement savings plan designed to help physicians, their spouse and common law partners. The purpose of the plan is to provide medical students, residents and physicians a way to begin saving for their retirement at any stage of their life and career. In the retirement talk series, we invite physicians from across the province to get personal with us on what retirement will look like for them, and to share how they’re preparing for the next phase.
In this episode, we’re pleased to welcome Dr. Adam Kassam, our newly appointed President of the OMA. Welcome Dr. Kassam. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Dr. Adam Kassam 1:25
My pleasure. Priya. How are you?
Preya Singh-Cushnie 1:26
I’m good. How are you doing?
Dr. Adam Kassam 1:28
Well, thank you.
Preya Singh-Cushnie 1:29
Excellent. So before we get into our conversation, I’m going to invite you to share a little bit more about you specifically focusing on what took you on the journey to becoming a physician, and then any other interesting facts that you’d like to share with us?
Dr. Adam Kassam 1:43
Sure. So my journey began 30 some odd years ago when… so first of all, I’m from Toronto, born and raised in the city here. My family’s originally from East Africa. My mom came from Kenya and my dad came from Tanzania and we’re of Indian descent originally. You know, I grew up playing ice hockey. I grew up in North York, rooting on the on Toronto Maple Leafs who unfortunately, are we still struggle with as a… and but you know, the Raptors I will say, have brought a lot of life to the city and their championship recently was awesome. But in terms of my journey into medicine, I actually began thinking about it as a result of my grandmother losing her sight. She
Preya Singh-Cushnie 2:33
Dr. Adam Kassam 2:33
Yeah. So she developed significant glaucoma. And she lost sight in both of her eyes, partially in one and then fully in the other. And I actually initially around the age of eight or nine wanted to become an ophthalmologist because I was seeing how much she was struggling in her day to day life. And that sort of desire to help people was you know, sort of grew from there. And you know, in high school, I remember volunteering at Sunnybrook Hospital, I was it was I was volunteering at the veterans wing in which I believe was wing Kay at the time, and I learned more and more about sort of how valuable health care was to just normal folks. And so that really inspired me to want to become a physician, it was sort of that combination of my seeing my family member gets sick, but also seeing just how valuable care could be in other settings like for veterans. And so that led me down a path in through college where I studied neurobiology and then went to medical school. And then after medical school, I came actually back home to Canada. So just to give you a brief aside from the I went to the United States for 10 years to do schooling, college, my medical school and then my Master’s in Public Health. And then I came back to Canada for residency and five years after training sort of the training programs for five years after that I moved and that was in London, Ontario then I moved back to Toronto for practice and my wife and I’ve been here for the past several years.
Something that people who might not know, we adopt rescue dogs that’s sort of our hobby my wife and I are previous rescue dog unfortunately recently passed away but we have recently adopted a German Shepherd mix from from Texas and she’s been giving us keeping us busy during the pandemic among other things that we’re obviously busy with so yeah, that’s sort of our shared hobby.
Preya Singh-Cushnie 4:33
Wow, that’s such an interesting journey. Just even just the story of from you know, seeing your your grandma losing your sight and then going on this path to to now where you are in life. It’s an amazing journey and congratulations on being a pet Dad, I would say.
Dr. Adam Kassam 4:52
yeah, we think of ourselves as parents, although I’m sure real parents would would disagree with that statement, but ya know, her name is Lucy and she’s a rambunctious and, and curious and she’s two likes chasing squirrels and raccoons is what I will tell you.
Preya Singh-Cushnie 5:08
That’s awesome. So you touched on an interesting point. So your journey into practice took you across the country, took you overseas, so International. And so when we looked at the research that we conducted, when creating the Advantages Retirement Plan, it’s interesting to see that about 37% of our physicians feel in the age demographic of 25 to 34 feel that they’re not financially prepared for retirement? And I was just thinking, is that because of graduating with higher than traditional debt loads? Like what are your thoughts on that when it comes to the specific age demographic of the 25 to 35 year olds?
Dr. Adam Kassam 5:53
I certainly think tuition and student debt has a role to play in people’s perceptions of how well they are prepared for for retirement. I know that certainly exists. And in the conversations that I have with, with my spouse, who’s also a physician in sort of my vintage, but also other peers in our age group. I think the other consideration now is just how expensive things like real estate is in urban and suburban environments. We’ve seen just how, oddly how the real estate market has continued to tick up year over year, and even the pandemic really didn’t slow that down very much. And so I think the combination of higher student loan how much higher debt burden generally speaking, and then the how that debt burden is also factored into a higher mortgage, because of the rising house house prices, I think, gives us some pause about what how do we save then, with all of these types of commitments, or financial commitments that we already have? How do we how do we save appropriately for for our future? I think that is a concern.
Preya Singh-Cushnie 6:56
Absolutely. And I think it might be daunting, like when you actually look at all of those aspects and, and sort of focusing on building career building practice, to your point, real estate, buying a home settling down, there are a number of things that are happening in the life cycle, and also in the career cycle. So when you’re thinking about your own retirement readiness, what have you started to do to help you on that path, or that journey of saving?
Dr. Adam Kassam 7:25
Part of being perhaps better prepared for the future is educating yourself. And so I think I’ve tried to incorporate educating myself and my wife who is much more financially literate than I am, I will tell you,so I’m, you know, I’m learning from her as well. But learning how to do simple things like budgeting and forecasting revenue versus cost, and where things lie in terms of, you know, creating a plan for the future. So, you know, there are so many different factors that come that go into that. So, you know, one, again, kind of debt financing is one component, but then the second component is, you know, family planning, how does that affect what you’re going to be doing over the course of the next five or seven years? And then how do you try and incorporate cost savings and environment where there’s where a lot of that is a challenge, at the best of times, because part of this is there has been some delayed gratification, right? I mean, physicians have had to delay their earnings for quite a significant amount of time and to enter into an environment where focusing on on on on saving, as opposed to spending becomes an another added challenge. And so I think it’s, it becomes a bit of a conversation about what our priorities are, how do we create a roadmap for the future and then execute on a strategy that you ultimately land on. So I think having that alignment with your spouse is extremely important, hopefully having shared values about what those what that spending is, is all about, and then educating yourself on how do we accomplish a goal, I think that’s sort of where what my experience so far has been, like.
Preya Singh-Cushnie 9:06
Definitely interesting. And it’s great that you you have a partner in life that’s going to help you with the journey, because it is difficult when you’re looking at all the different aspects as you build your your life and your career as to what do the priorities look like? And so, if you were to just look, take a look at your own sort of buying habits and how you currently are making decisions, what’s the drivers that go into your purchases, when it comes to the types of products that you own and buy, the types of investment vehicles that you would be interested in using as a saving mechanism? What’s your decision making process when it comes to that piece?
Dr. Adam Kassam 9:48
Yeah, you know, it’s it’s interesting because I think so I will tell you that we, because we’re not we don’t have a financial background, I will say that we have had the benefit of advice from a number of different people that of course, these are people that you pay into what we have, we initially had an advisor that we actually then switched from, part of that I will, I will admit is due to sort of this, what is now perhaps a more normalized conversation about management expense ratios and costs associated with advising. And so fees that advisors would will charge we’re actually now with a almost like a fee for service, financial advisor who we pay on a per encounter structure. And so we’d like that aspect of being of having some personal accountability, but then also not being tied to an advisor who may have escalated fees that we know will eat into returns down the line. And a lot of that has been sort of through this financial literacy that we’ve started to better understand. And I will say a lot, a lot of that has been as a result of some of the groups on Facebook that we are part of. And so this notion of passive investing in, in longvest term investing and trying to reduce MER’s and things of that nature have have impacted the way in which we have changed our investment philosophy. In addition to that there are other diversified areas that I think that for us, as a family has been important to take in mind, I guess. And so real estate is one of those things, especially if we’re living in a place for we’re going to be using our home for family purposes. And then of course, how did how do you? What are the what are your forecasted expenses? And what are your work? And then how do you then build that into a savings model that will achieve whatever goals that you set out for yourself. And so we’re actually entertaining that conversation right now, like with our advisor, we are, we are currently trying to create a strategy for the future. And in support of this conversation is very salient, because it’s what we’re doing, as we speak.
Preya Singh-Cushnie 11:49
Interesting, so it’s a sort of looking at, you mentioned a really important point about fees and looking at sort of the fee for service model. And you know, what you’re getting for the advice and how much you’re paying MER’s, there’s admin fees, there’s other hidden costs as well that sometimes are not quite apparent to the investor. And so it’s interesting that you mentioned that, because that’s one of the driving pillars that drove us to create the Advantages Retirement Plan, because when we did the research, there are lots of things that were prioritized from the membership. But a key one was making sure that we were able to provide something that had low fee structure. And so the investment manager in the portfolio is an institutional money manager, we’re able to bring that forward to our members through a very low cost. Because of the buying power of OMA Insurance, we’ve got a group program there that has a 65 year history. And so leveraging that existing platform to use to bring forward the group retirement savings program really allowed us the possibility to make the Advantages Retirement Plan a low costs, flexible online service that members can sign up for at anytime. So it’s interesting when you talk about, you know, just the journey from going through that process and understanding what fits for you, and for your, for your spouse and your future.
When you’re doing that, and looking at the advice you’ve received, has it helped you to think a little bit deeper about what retirement looks like for you?
Dr. Adam Kassam 13:25
Yeah, certainly, I think sometimes, you know, and in part of this is being told very directly. And so the advice that we expect from our advisors or for the people that we talk to, should be direct and should be transparent. And, and I think that’s sometimes a harder conversation to have. So specifically, if someone tells you, you’re not saving enough, or you’re spending too much that does give us while it is a frustrating thing to hear, I think it does give us an opportunity to revise sort of how we are living our lives, so that we can, of course plan for retirement in an appropriate way. Because, you know, in my line of work, you know, I do see a lot of folks who are elderly, and who struggle with with home care or retirement home savings or you know, a number of challenges with with aging. And so part of seeing that at a professional level, and also hearing some of that correlated at a financial level, from our own experience, I believe gives us some maybe added motivation to get things right early on. And so I think, you know, I’m a strong believer of starting strong, and if you can start strong, and perhaps be faithful to a to a strategy that you have devised, and so that execution becomes part of that, that success profile. I think that’s sort of one of the key ingredients to success. If you if you plan correctly, and then execute and then are faithful to the plan, then things will work out and sort of and so that’s sort of our philosophy so far.
Preya Singh-Cushnie 14:54
That’s excellent. And so when you think about that, and you look at your peers and your colleagues and even those that are that are up and coming the medical students, residents that are studying to, to start in the path that you’re in flight with today. What advice would you give to other young physicians? When it comes to the subject of planning for retirement and saving? Do you think it’s, it’s too early? What would be your thoughts on sharing some of your views on that piece?
Dr. Adam Kassam 15:24
I don’t think it’s ever too early to start thinking about retirement as sad as that might sound for people who are just starting out in their careers and are focused on things like getting through medical school and getting licensed and figuring out where they’re going to practice and what their practice looks like. I do think, however, that some of that financial planning, and I admit not to not being as concerned about it earlier on in when I was in medical school, I certainly wasn’t giving it much thought, because I had so many other priorities. And I and I understand why that would sort of fall on our backburner. But I do think that new innovations, with investment and with investing probably has changed how younger generations view view that concept. And so whether it’s the ease of online investing, or apps or robo advising or whatever are the or the or products that like, for example, the OMA is providing for ease of, of the user experience and the investor experience. I think that has probably changed the landscape much more than it was when I was sort of at a medical student segment and in my career path, which is good, because I think it opens up that conversation much, much earlier. I also think the pandemic has given us some, some some lessons to learn about how about spending and saving? I think, obviously, if you look at a lot of the statistics, and the Bank of Canada talks about how much savings have happened over the course of the past year. And that’s really encouraging for most retail investors. But I think that moving forward, how do you consolidate those gains, and then build that into a behavior a sort of a persistent behavior of savings for the future, I think I think that will would serve our our younger generation very well.
Preya Singh-Cushnie 17:08
That’s an excellent point, because it is really behaviors. I think, you can correct me if I’m wrong, but I think I heard somewhere it takes 21 days to create a new habit. And then once it becomes that, you then put it into practice. And it just happens. And I think, you know, when you look at you know, having a thought process or a behavior towards protecting that next step, or that next phase of your life, it really isn’t too early, it’s also not too late. So if there’s no plan in place, just because it’s it’s daunting, and there’s a lot to think about. It’s just having that concept or having that, you know, in the backburner to think about that you should maybe approach that behavior and try to build that into your everyday, because we’re spending every day, we’re budgeting for groceries and bills and insurance for our cars and things like that. So this needs to, I think, to your point become one of those other behaviors.
Dr. Adam Kassam 18:08
Yeah, you’re right, because not only is it never too early, there’s also now because of the democratization of saving platforms and opportunities. And there’s never a small enough, there’s no I see this. There’s, there’s no amount that’s too small to start saving with. So I think the combination of it’s not it’s never too early, and there’s there’s never it’s never too small amount to save. That really puts people in the driver’s seat to start early and continue down a path of success.
Preya Singh-Cushnie 18:36
I agree. So just pivoting a little bit, when I’m going to this might be interesting. What do you plan to enjoy in your retirement years? What do you envision that to look like for you?
Dr. Adam Kassam 18:48
Well, first of all, I hope that I’m healthy and to have all my faculties and health is wealth in many ways. And so I hope that it is done, hopefully a retirement that is that’s characterized by by health, I hope that I would consider a blessing. But you know, I do think, as a physiatrist, I do see it again, in my line of work, this concept of functional independence. And so being able to age and retire, first of all autonomously and independently is is something that I would value very much, but also being able to do that perhaps in a comfortable environment, meaning at home, if possible. And I think that we’re seeing that at with the pandemic again, you know, how are we? How are we? What are we going to look like in 30 years from now? What is homecare gonna look like what is retirement can look like, what is nursing home care gonna look like? And for me and I think for my wife, we’ve talked about how we would we would want to be prepared for any care that would be necessary to be done at home. And so we would that that factors into how we retire, how we save for retirement and what were those types of plans. So I don’t know I think that part of it is is wanting to ensure that we can do this autonomously independently at home and then having enough savings to potentially cover for any of those cost care costs that will inevitably come at some point.
Preya Singh-Cushnie 20:10
That’s great. That’s very thoughtful. Because you know, when you think about retirement, I’m normally hearing people on the golf course, you know, taking up painting…
Dr. Adam Kassam 20:18
I love the golf course I’d love golf…
Preya Singh-Cushnie 20:20
but you know, you’re absolutely right, having the blessing of health and being autonomous and being able to be mobile. And and and being able to sync and do for self definitely is a number one priority. Would you say that? What would you say is your biggest worry when you get to that that next phase?
Dr. Adam Kassam 20:38
Yeah. Well, my biggest worry is not having enough money to have support if we were to need it. And so again, this concept of outliving your your nest egg or your your savings, I think is, is always an evergreen worry for most folks, I think that that’s probably my biggest fear.
Preya Singh-Cushnie 21:00
I think it’s a common fear that a lot of folks, you know, feel and you know, this is what led us to actually creating the guaranteed lifetime income, piece of the Advantages Retirement Plan a nd in my conversations earlier with one of your colleagues, Dr. Karlinsky, she mentioned that as a pay day. And it was interesting because you put this money aside, and at the earliest age of age, 50, and at age 71, you basically set it and forget it, and at age 71, you’re getting a monthly income, aka the pay day. So you have that journey to actually continue your financial planning and anything else that you’re doing outside of the Advantages Retirement Plan, but also parking that money aside monthly, like setting it and forgetting it. And then having that extra layer can be something that would be interesting to layer into any other sort of financial planning or process that physicians are going through. So it’s a it’s interesting that that running out of money living longer than what you have saved is is a real challenge for a lot of Canadians. And so we were really inspired to create that piece and launched it not too long ago, a couple weeks ago for members to participate. So something for younger physicians to definitely think about and explore when they have the time. And so before we wrap up, I just wanted to give you an opportunity, is there anything else that you’d like to share with your colleagues when it comes to saving and preparing for retirement? Anything that you you want to leave? As last words?
Dr. Adam Kassam 22:39
All I would say is that I think being intentional about your planning is helpful. I’ve learned that from from my spouse, if we if you don’t set aside time and actually create a plan and be intentional about it and understand what your goals are early on, then then it might be a little bit more challenging to achieve success. So you need to know where you want to go. And so that that requires some thought it requires some planning and then ultimately deciding on how to how to achieve success is is part of that recipe. And so knowing exactly what success looks like for each individual is so crucial and then ultimately building a plan and being again faithful to the plan I think will guarantee some measure of success.
Preya Singh-Cushnie 23:19
I couldn’t agree more with you. Thank you so much, Dr. Kassam for taking the time to speak with me today. It’s been an absolute pleasure having this conversation with you. And for those who are listening. If you are interested in learning more about the advantages retirement plan, you can check out omainsurance.com/retire for any tips, education and advice from our OMA Insurance advisors.
Thank you for listening to the Financial Checkup. Have a wonderful day.
The Financial Checkup series is produced in collaboration with OMA Insurance and Commonwealth the administration and technology partner for the Advantages Retirement Plan.