Advising the Mid-Market

The key to successful retirement income for these clients is to have a systematic method for managing retirement income and risks; one method has six steps, outlined here.

Many wealth advisors focus exclusively on high-end clients. That's understandable from a business perspective, but it doesn't mean that advisors can't serve the mid-market effectively.

Kevin S. Seibert, CFP, CRC, CEBS, is managing director of InFRE, the International Foundation for Retirement Education (infre.org). The non-profit education foundation provides retirement education and certification for financial advisors, including the Certified Retirement Counselor (CRC) designation, and is based in Lubbock, Texas.

Seibert doesn't define mid-market clients by income or net worth, which is the usual method. Instead, he focuses on the clients' risk of running out of money if their spending assumptions are unrealistic, a problem that can affect the wealthy as well as those with more modest assets.

The key to successful retirement income for these clients is to have a systematic method for managing retirement income and risks, says Seibert. The InFRE method has six steps:

1: Estimate duration of retirement assets

2: Identify and manage retirement risks

3: Identify distribution, tax, and estate issues and opportunities

4: Identify options for addressing gaps

5: Convert resources into income

6: Maintain and update the plan

The process considers multiple aspects of retirement, such as the client's engagement in the community and health, along with financial questions. For risk exposures, the identified risks include longevity, inflation, health care, and investing.

One result of following this process is that clients can distinguish between their essential (non-discretionary) retirement expenses and their discretionary expenses.

Essential expenses are best covered with predictable incomes: Social Security, pensions, income annuities, etc. Income from managed sources--investment accounts, employment, etc.--can then be used to cover discretionary expenses as needed.

The mid-market requires a more defensive approach to retirement income management, Seibert says. Consequently, advisors serving these clients need to go beyond managing assets and systematic withdrawals. That can require consideration of options such as spending less, creating additional retirement income, using home equity, and other choices.

Although this approach may seem complex, a well-defined approach simplifies the process. "For many clients, especially in the middle market, it doesn't need to be overly complicated," says Seibert. "You can come up with relatively easy-to-follow solutions by applying our process."

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