The Client Is Not Always Right

It was one of those “Hello McFly” moments (if you remember the iconic line from Back to the Future with Michael J. Fox). On stage at a national retirement income industry summit featuring brilliant scholars and company CEOs. A panel of confident, self-directed investors said they felt they didn’t need any help (this is before the recent 20% sell off, BTW). “I feel like advisors are trying to sell me something”, each of them remarked. The line of the day came from a top advisor with an insurance company parent that started off replying, “If you feel like you are being sold something, maybe you need something!” Drop the mic – a subdued chuckle rolled through the room.

Perspective is Personal, and Preparedness is a Preference

I’m fortunate to work a lot with the Alliance for Lifetime Income (, a not-for-profit group dedicated to championing retirement income – supported and funded by 24 of the biggest companies in financial services and retirement. The summit organized by ALI and roundly attended by industry leaders sought to expose all perspectives. The confident over-confidence of investors sounds familiar to those of us who have been around for awhile. If you’ve lost 50% of your account value in a “correction”, you have perspective. That would be most Baby Boomers – the dominant client cohort today and for the forseeable future. The Alliance and its educational arm, the Retirement Income Institute, keep tabs on consumer views with terrific studies like the most recent work, Protected Income and Planning Study with @Cannex.

The work of the ALI and the RII shows that people do know better – and they are learning more every day about how little they know.

Welcome to the Curveballs of Retirement

Navigating retirement is a bit like batting in a baseball game against a wild pitcher. You expect the fastball down the middle – the cost of living, healthcare, et al. You prepare for those pitches. But life sometimes gets in the way of the expected and it’s really hard to prepare for the inevitable curveball – like an illness – or a wild pitch like your only home being wiped out by a hurricane. My 88 year mom was standing tall at the plate for the first 25 years of her retirement. My dad set up four two-life annuities from his universities and had a New York State pension. Mom gets five checks a month since he passed away in 2016 – and can’t spend the income. And then Hurricane Ian blew up her idyllic Sanibel Island world. Safely evacuated by my nearby sister, she is crushed but grateful to also own a share in a continuous care retirement center on the mainland where she can live safely and close to both professional care and longtime friends. She no longer remembers how she fought that idea….

Helping Clients Learn How to Hit the Curve

I continue to fear that most people are not prepared for retirement. That’s a big statement, but understand the perspective. Most people don’t have the cash to survive a protracted retirement. Longevity will suck up their savings. Especially if markets and interest rates don’t cooperate. And especially when big expenses, aka curveballs, are added into the mix. A very interesting interview I conducted recently with a terrific advisor revealed his approach to longevity education and planning. He navigates clients through the regular planning process with Money Guide. He congratulates them and thanks them for their patience. Then he says, “And now we do it again – with the ‘what-ifs’ included”. Time to learn how to hit the curve.

That Wild Pitch Just Might Hit Your Head

More and more smart thinkers are talking about the non-financial issues of retirement, or what my ALI colleague Mike Harris calls, “emotional finance”. Your client might have money for retirement but an undeveloped sense of what you will do in retirement to avoid isolation, boredom, lack of purpose. I see those forces eating away the spirit of friends and relatives. Another great industry colleague, Eric Sutherland of PIMCO rescued his mother from her retirement paradise but she lost her friends as they fled to disparate locations. And don’t try to tell me that pickleball is enough to engage a Type A businessperson at the same level. Silver lining: my aging orthopedist stays young fixing those folks.

Practice Management Pandemonium

The bottom line is that there is now building a slowly moving conveyor belt of pre-retirees, new retirees and wannabe retirees, all in various stages of education, realization and comprehension. Unlike the relative order associated with investing for the future when everyone is equally impacted by markets and news – this lineup is all over the place. If I stretch that baseball analogy, we have an unlimited roster of players (clients) of varying abilities facing an equally prodigious pitching staff firing pitches (life events) of all kinds at all of them at once. And that is now the typical advisor’s practice – a free-for-all of issues and events across multiple generation families scrambling to adapt. You will be tested as never before by the sheer volume of activity. Organization, teamwork, digital support all play a role.

Objective: Be Worthy of Being Consulted

Master the madness. Help people face the curveball and at least deflect its damage. Listen to them explain what happened. Listen more. Ask questions. Only then can you provide some perspective, some education. And then listen some more to reactions. There is plenty of time to suggest actions to prevent but seldom any time to linger over an unexpected head shot. Sooth, calm and balm. The best advisors know these events happen, they know how to handle them and that the most important step is listen well. That’s what defines a great advisor in this crazy land of retirement – a listener who has been there and can project their professionalism through their confidence.

Related: Wealthy Investors Are Optimistic