Sun Life survey suggests Canadians increasingly stressed about their finances

TORONTO - A new survey suggests that more than a third of Canadians -- including well over half of young people -- feel more stressed about their financial situation now than a year ago.

The survey commissioned by insurer Sun Life Financial (TSX:SLF) and released Wednesday says 36 per cent of respondents are more worried about their personal finances than last year.

The survey comes as the economy slows down and volatile markets, squeezed incomes and recession fears erode consumer and business confidence.

Economic confidence trends have been moving negatively for months as consumers retrench and businesses worry about the economic future. A scaleback in spending is already affecting the Christmas shopping season and could lead to tighter money next year.

Still, there is some resiliency in consumer spending. On Wednesday, Statistics Canada reported that retail sales rose one per cent to $38.6 billion in October, their third straight monthly increase.

The Sun Life survey shows 43 per cent of women and 53 per cent of Canadians between the ages of 18 to 34 feel more pessimistic about their financial prospects.

The Canadian Financial Checkup survey was done by Ipsos Reid and polled more than 2,136 people about personal finances, work and career and the economy at the end of this year.

Such surveys are routinely done by banks, insurers or other financial companies to research their customers' views and promote financial products and services such as mutual funds and wealth management.

On the economy, the survey found that one in five men felt more stressed about the economy than they did this time last year. One in five Canadians 55 and older are also more stressed about the economy.

"It's clear from the survey that the uncertain economic conditions are impacting Canadians and causing financial concerns during an already stressful time of year,'' said Kevin Strain, Sun Life' Canada's senior vice-president of individual insurance and investments.

"Canadians approaching retirement are feeling these impacts the most because they are planning to put their savings into action,'' added Strain, who said Canadians should work with financial advisers to help plan their finances in an uncertain economy.

"If they haven't prepared accordingly, the current environment may be throwing their plans off track.''

Most economists expect Canadian growth to slow to under two per cent in 2012 as the economy continues to weaken because of European recession fears and slower growth in the United States, China and India.

Such sluggish growth will do little to create jobs for the nearly 1.4 million Canadians now unemployed. With prospects of federal and provincial government restraint looming in 2012 and beyond and an expected jump in the 7.4 per cent jobless rate, consumer and business confidence could erode further next year.

The survey results show more women and younger Canadians are feeling more stress related to personal finances and work.

"We've seen that women are often taking care of family finances, and the holidays are when we feel the impacts of our spending habits throughout the year,'' said psychotherapist Kimberly Moffitt, a member of the Ontario Association of Counsellors, Consultants, Psychotherapists, and Psychometrists.

Sun Life is Canada's third-largest insurer with operations around the world. It has about 16,000 employees, nearly half of them in Canada.

Last week, the company's new CEO Dean Connor announced the insurer will exit from individual insurance products in the United States that caused it to suffer a deep financial loss and is cutting 800 jobs, mostly in the U.S.

Connor said the company will discontinue selling variable annuity and individual life policies in the United States starting Dec. 30. The layoffs will be related to those businesses.

The decision came after the insurer carried out a strategic review of its business. Sun Life said the move will not affect existing policyholders and is not expected to have a material impact on its 2012 operating net income.

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