LAST August 29, we celebrated National Heroes' Day. It inspires us when we honor heroes, including those who work very hard for their loved ones and for the country.

Juan (not his real name) was an employee of a medium-sized firm for over 30 years. With no wife and children of his own, he provided financial support to his extended family. He helped pay the tuition and education-related expenses of nephews and nieces. During summer, he sponsored gatherings and trips. He was generous with gifts on birthdays and Christmases. He would extend aid to his kin in times of emergency and medical needs. He was happy to share what he had with those he cared for.

When he retired at 65, he was department senior manager. Today, he relies solely on his monthly pension from social security which is not enough even for his basic needs. When he gets sick, he has no option but to ask relatives to help pay for his medical expenses. He does not feel good about that. Given his lack of resources now, he just stays in his rundown place and has limited opportunity to socialize. His nephews and nieces would sometimes visit. But they cannot extend him much support, as they have their own families to feed.

At this stage, Juan is supposed to be enjoying the fruits of his labor and having the time of his life. But he is depressed and is losing dignity each time he has to depend on anyone for his various needs.

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This is not just the story of Juan, but of countless Filipinos who worked very hard for their families and communities but forgot to take care of themselves financially. We read of OFWs who labored for decades but still could not return home because they have not saved for their retirement. According to the Global Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development, these modern-day heroes contributed to our economy nearly $37 billion in remittances in 2021.

We have teachers, health workers and many more professionals who devote much of their lives taking care of others. We hail them all as our heroes. Sadly, when they grow old, most fall in dire financial straits and live miserable lives, bereft of dignity. In a 2015 East Asia Retirement survey, at least 90 percent of Filipinos are worried about their life in retirement. In 2019, the Commission on Population and Development noted that about 55 percent of our senior citizens had no pension; most are living in poverty.

There are a number of reasons for this heartbreaking condition, including the lack of financial literacy, the limited awareness of the need to plan for retirement, and the want of convenient ways for long-term savings. A 2015 World Bank survey showed that we have the lowest financial literacy in the Asean region at 25 percent. The BSP's 2019 financial inclusion survey also revealed that only 50 percent of Filipino adults correctly answered financial literacy questions.

Preventing our latter-day heroes from falling into a life without comfort and dignity during their senior years requires a concerted effort to create greater awareness and urgency to take meaningful steps to plan for retirement.

Individuals can take the initiative to learn about personal financial management. There are rich sources of information and advice which can inspire them to take meaningful steps to save for retirement.

Educational institutions can include a personal finance course in their curriculum. Graduates who become employees and entrepreneurs need to learn early how to manage their hard-earned money to prepare themselves for the long haul.

Companies can conduct regular financial planning sessions in the workplace. Employers can offer convenient schemes that will promote a saving and investment discipline.

The financial services industry can be more aggressive in promoting financial preparedness to their customers. With greater vigor, they can teach their customers and offer appropriate products that will help them in retirement.

Various industry associations that hold regular forums and conferences can raise awareness among members by including in their agenda personal financial planning.

There is a Savings Consciousness Week and a Life Insurance Consciousness Week; the government could also introduce a Retirement Planning Consciousness Week to create more awareness about retirement planning among Filipinos. A regulation allowing a portable retirement program can help as well.

We must look after the heroes in our midst. Those who work hard and make sacrifices for their loved ones deserve a life of comfort and dignity when they grow old. Let us have all hands on deck to help them prepare for a well-deserved happy retirement.

Ariel "Aibee" G. Cantos is the former president and CEO of AIA-Philam Life and of BPI Philam Assurance Company. He was also the president of the Philippine Life Insurance Association. He is an advocate of retirement planning, personal leadership, gender diversity and inclusion.