Please Don’t Shoot the Messenger: How To Give Financial Advice To Baby Boomers In An Insecure Economy
The financial planner, in this day and age, is often seen as something akin to the proverbial fox in the hen house- and may be treated likewise. The economic outlook is grim, and this doesn’t inspire confidence in clients; open any paper and dire predictions are handed out like candy at a pre-school playground. The catch-22 is that, while talking about one’s financial future is something many clients would rather avoid, now is the exact time solid financial advice is needed. This is particularly true for Baby Boomers. Here is the bad news:
- Baby Boomers, in general, don’t save the way their parents did, or the way they should. One-fourth of Baby Boomer households have so far failed to accumulate significant savings, and will most likely have to rely on government benefits to retire.
- There are currently 79 million Baby Boomers in the United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 20 % of them have a clear plan for their retirement.
- The aging of an enormous generation is combined with the lengthening of the average life span. Many Americans, therefore, expect to work longer, more often than not until death.
What is the financial planner to do in this type of climate? The task of re-creating trust, exuding confidence, providing realistic advice and even results, seems daunting; it is no wonder that many advisors are feeling the pressure. In addition, as Newsweek’s columnist Anna Quindlen pointed out in her recent article Dollars and Sense: “Many Americans don’t understand the basics of the economy”(Newsweek, 3-30-2009, p. 62). If that statement rings true for your clients, you have to address some serious issues. Don’t worry, you are not alone, and there is a solution.
Identifying your problems is essential; they may include some or all of the below:
- Unsympathetic media
- An uncooperative market
- Clients losing money
- Loss of confidence on both clients’ and advisors’ parts; only one in three Baby Boomers expects full retirement to be a feasible option.
- A breakdown in communication between client and advisor.
We can’t do much about number one; the media must report on the current economic crisis, and will continue to do so. This may be one of the few cases where vinegar catches more flies; the more bloodthirsty the headlines are, the more the public pays attention. As far as the market and the loss of revenue for many clients go; they are accomplished facts. Dwelling on them will cause us heartburn, and not much more. However, if one can address number four and five, there may be light at the end of the tunnel.
I believe that, in order for anyone to become more effective as an advisor, the communication between you and your client is the first thing that needs to be addressed. Ask yourself, what sort of a relationship do you want with your client? Do you want it to extend beyond the occasional business meeting, and do you want to create a dialogue that can work to your advantage?
Financial advisors frequently ask me where that dialogue begins, and I believe the first step is identifying what the ideal client looks like. The ideal client is someone with whom you are familiar, whose name you know, whose kids’ names you know, and who you are excited to meet with-whether it is at the store or in a professional setting. It is, in short, somebody you are comfortable with; in whom you have an interest that goes far beyond numbers and graphics. Only once an advisor reaches that comfort zone can he or she determine if the client is open to having an in-depth dialogue. This, however, requires a different type of investment on the part of both the advisor and the client.
At the True Wealth Institute, we have developed a holistic screening process that defines the parameters of the client-advisor relationship. In financial planning, we not only focus on the changing trends in the financial services profession, but we also research health, happiness, and knowledge. The client who achieves True Wealth lives a life that focuses on more than merely their bottom line. The financial advisor is instrumental in making the client understand what True Wealth is about, namely, all that money cannot buy, and all that death cannot take away.
Memories, relationships, family, and personal legacy are all concepts that fit into this category. Not many advisors ask their clients about these concepts, and not many clients are willing to bring these issues to the table when discussing their financial health. Many successful people do not want to take the time to think about where they are headed, and are not ready to have a conversation that goes beyond cold hard cash. We at True Wealth want to change that. The question is, how? How do we line up a client’s needs with a client’s wants? How do we make them see they can’t know where they are going, until they know where they have been?
When a client is willing to start a dialogue about the quality of his life, the advisor will be asking many unexpected questions. Guiding the client involves using these three True Wealth principles:
- Meaningful Purpose
- Goal Setting
In order for a client to discover his values, he needs to ask himself what motivates his decisions about his money and his life. To discover his meaningful purpose, the client needs to know why he is on this planet. Finally, the client needs to have a vision of where he is going, based on how he answered the first two questions. Thus, he arrives at systematic goal setting.
Currently, the retired –and soon to be retiring- population is growing faster than the taxpaying workforce. This causes severe budgetary pressures on the government, in a time when said government already faces tighter purse strings. However, because of longer life expectancy, Baby Boomers do expect to stay “younger” longer, and work longer. The concept of retirement, therefore, has changed. “old” does not begin at 65, life is not over, it is just becoming more interesting. The systematic goal setting you will be doing with your client will go beyond a clear work-leisure separation; “work”, whether full- or part-time, will possibly continue to be a part of your client’s goals. Even when Baby Boomers retire, many of them choose to repeatedly cycle between leisure and work, some because they have to, some because it is what they want out of life. Only 17% of Baby Boomers reportedly hope to never work for monetary gain again. Maybe your client would like to be a part-time schoolteacher after working his whole life as a banker; maybe she would like to volunteer at an organic farm after a lifetime as the editor of a national newspaper. Goals may be unorthodox and intimidating; it is up to you to create an environment in which your client feels secure enough to speak his or her mind.
After the financial advisor and the client have built the kind of relationship where these goals can be discussed, amazing things happen. Clients are no longer focused solely on rates of return; they are focused on the goals you set together.
An entirely new level of trust is created, and isn’t that what all advisors want? With this trust comes a –hopefully- lifelong commitment on both the client’s and the advisor’s part.
This conversation, as well as the ensuing relationship will be life long. The advisor, by learning about the client’s non-monetary goals, and helping him achieve those goals, will actually help change the client’s quality of life.
An advisor I coach told me about a delivery that was made to his office. The package came from one of his clients, and contained Mylanta, Roll-aids, headache medicine, and a few other things along those lines. “We know you are taking this harder than we are”, the accompanying note said. “This” was referring to the considerable down turn of the market, something that had caused more than one headache for both client and advisor. O “You have done a great job teaching us what’s important in life,” the client told him over the phone. “We still have our family, our friends, our hobbies. We know there will be substantial market fluctuations, and a potential for us to lose money. However, our goals and focus remain intact, because they weren’t just monetary. Money was just the tool to get there faster. I hope you don’t need any of those medications.” The client, on a day when the advisor would certainly expect some angry phone calls, remained friendly, because the relationship building happened on the front end.
Finally, the question of how to implement all this information into a working financial plan has to be addressed. The True Wealth Institute offers a written plan that encompasses financial as well as personal goals. Treating both types of goals as an inseparable entity provides the key for follow-up. To put it simply, clients aren’t in it strictly for the money, but for what that money can buy. When you, the advisor, measure a client’s financial growth, you simultaneously measure whether that client can reach his personal goals. When you measure the dollars, you measure whether your client can afford that vacation, that new house, or whether he is able to send his kids through college. Remember; those are the same kids you so diligently learned the names of in the beginning. Measuring goals rather than the bottom line, allows you to keep the client motivated.
Combine this with prioritizing the relationship in your client’s mind, through consistent phone calls, and a reiteration of their values, meaningful purpose, and systematic goal setting, and you will keep your client on track. Your clients will not only know where they have been, but they will know exactly where they are going; they will understand that life needs to be lived with intention, and not by accident.