The old journalism joke goes that the definition of "news" is what the editor experienced that day, or week, or month. When the guy at the top gets hit with, say, a really high tab to fill his car's gas tank or becomes subject to the alternative minimum tax, that's when the topic rises in "newsworthiness." In the real world, it's not quite that simple, though as with most stereotypes, the joke contains more than a grain of truth.
It was thus interesting to hear Ellyn McColgan, the gal at the top of Fidelity Brokerage Corp., vent her frustration with our healthcare system in an aside at Fidelity's Executive Forum in April. McColgan's experience with a big-name doctor at a big-time hospital when she was presented with a relatively minor ailment that included relatively major pain was much less rewarding, shall we say, than her interaction with a massage therapist in a hotel spa who provided great bedside manner and immediate pain relief at a fraction of the cost of Mr. Hippocrates. Recall that money was not an issue here, nor was having access to the best healthcare providers, nor could you question the sophistication of the patient. I have similar stories, and so do you. There may not be simple solutions to our national healthcare mess, but we must make some hard choices now.
But back to McColgan. While there's no evidence that her personal healthcare experience has spurred any new initiatives at the three FBC business units that serve advisors--Fidelity Registered Investment Advisor Group, National Financial, and its Family Office Services initiative--in her welcoming address at the Forum McColgan argued that "health insurance and long-term-care insurance must be seen as pillars of retirement security," along with pensions, personal savings, and Social Security. She also baldly stated that "everything you think you know about this business will change" as the 76 million boomers retire over the next 25 years. How big will that boomer market be? In a separate presentation, FRIAG President Bill Carey displayed Cerulli's estimate that there is $10.9 trillion in retirement assets currently held by people aged 60 and older; by 2012, that amount will nearly double, to $19.5 trillion; and $1 trillion of that will be distributed yearly by 2012. McColgan argues, however, that this group is "woefully unprepared" for retirement and that advisors have a duty to educate consumers, though in doing so you can't frighten them into taking no action. One such scare could come from Fidelity research showing that the average 65-year-old couple retiring today will need to sock away at least $200,000 to cover out-of-pocket healthcare costs during retirement, a 5.3% increase from 2005. Instead, she counseled, "approach them with a message of optimism."
To succeed in this brave new world, McColgan suggests five steps: Really get to know your customer ("in accumulation we dealt with people's hopes; in distribution we will deal with their fears"); focus on solutions, not products (though new products will need to be invented); forge effective partnerships to enhance your service offerings to clients; leverage technology (boomers will expect round-the-clock access to their account information); and keep it simple ("investors want direct, honest, helpful answers," she says, don't try to impress clients with the depth of your knowledge). Sounds like a plan to me.