From the April 2006 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

Guides in the Wilderness

Here's a short quiz. What's the name of an association representing 30,000-odd professionals that was founded scant decades ago, but is poised to help the nation address the biggest social, economic, and cultural challenge faced by the United States in a long time--the graying of America? This group has a unique interdisciplinary approach designed not just to meet older folks' needs for security but to improve the quality of their lives. The group does have its critics. Not everyone agrees that these professionals have the right approach, partly because older people have gotten along quite fine without their services for a long time. Yet others--including many of those same older people--know that this group offers such hope to so many people who will be struggling with maintaining a respectable quality of life in their so-called Golden Years. Younger people are also getting the message: more and more students are majoring in this field.

While the Financial Planning Association would be a good guess for the name of this group, in this instance I'm referring to the Society for Neuroscience. Neuroscience is the marriage of multiple approaches to studying the brain and nervous system, and the search to find treatments for ailments of the brain. The reason this field is growing so sharply is that its members are the pathfinders into that fascinating yet troubling terra incognita where medicine meets the mind. These are the folks who are addressing the cloud that obscures the silver lining of increased longevity--diminshed mental capacity in all its forms.

Our cover story debuts a special report on retirement planning. In it, we argue that the profession has not kept pace with the changing needs of retirees that will flow from the expectations of the boomers and the challenges of finding reliable income streams for what may be a very long and very expensive retirement. The second complete article in the report may be even more valuable. In it, the incomparable Olivia Mellan uses her knowledge of behavioral psychology and her research into neuroscience to explore how the physical brain changes as we age, and how and why our behavior changes. If you have older folks (however you define "older") as clients, you're sure to gain insight into why they act like they do, and how you can better speak to them and help them act in their best interests. You'll also find suggestions on how to stay mentally young. I'm very glad Olivia writes for the magazine.

When I spoke at the NAPFA South regional meeting last fall in Orlando on the topic of increased longevity and how advisors will need to respond, I repeated the advice of Gene Balliett in making one of my modest recommendations to the audience. Gene, who runs Balliett Financial Services with his wife Dee in Winter Park, Florida, suggested that NAPFA members were uniquely qualified to form a nationwide directory of resources that other NAPFA members could use to help their clients. These "resources" were people from all sorts of professions and trades who could help advisors "get it done," as Gene told the conference. Like many of you who have been plying your trade for a while, Gene already has a shortlist of estate planning attorneys, accountants, and other professionals to whom he could refer clients. But Gene considers himself an "outsource manager" for his clients, finding them eldercare managers or patient advocates, for instance. He also keeps track of hundreds of fee-only service providers (he is a NAPFA guy, after all) from home maintenance companies to family counselors. These services will become ever more important to your aging clients, Gene argues, and the wise advisor will make it his business to be the source of those referrals.

If you're a wealth manager, it won't be a just a prudent step, but a necessary one. If you understand the way their minds work, you'll do it all with insight and aplomb.

Reprints Discuss this story
This is where the comments go.