From the June 2011 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

Curious Fellow

Robert Laura aims to revamp retirement thinking.

Robert Laura, PRESIDENT OF SYNERGOS FINANCIAL GROUP AND CO-FOUNDER OF RETIREMENTPROJECT.ORG
HOWELL, MI
SOUNDBITE: “The advisor community has an awesome opportunity to make the world a better place.”

Ready to get naked? It’s not the typical conversation-starter for a financial advisor talking about retirement planning — but then there is little that’s ordinary about Naked Retirement author Robert Laura, whose provocative approach to retirement emphasizes open discussion of interests and ideas, including “truths” about older-age sex.

Laura, 39, president of Synergos Financial Group, aims to strip down the traditional models of retirement planning and replace them with a more creative and intuitive construct that helps people take control of their retirement planning, saving and investing.

“Retirement planning is 100 percent backwards,” says Laura, a former social worker and co-founder of RetirementProject.org, an educational initiative. “The day you retire, most people have a financial binder with charts and product information but 99 percent of everyday life in retirement has nothing to do with your retirement plan. Yet 100 percent of planning is focused on that stuff.”

Laura, whose one-and-a-half-year-old practice oversees $18 million in assets under management, says it’s important to dig deep with clients. Many advisors, for example, will ask clients: What’s your perfect retirement? Not good enough, says Laura, who considers the question “big and vague” — one that draws out discussions about things society values such as travel, possessions and money.

Instead, Laura suggests asking: If, the day after you retired, you learned you had five years to live, how would that change things? What do you want to accomplish, see or do? And what if you had just 24 hours? What are your regrets? What hopes or dreams went unfulfilled?

“Ask questions like that and people truly personalize what’s important about retirement,” he says. “When you focus on things that are most important to you, the results often change from what others value to what you value.”

Other topics Laura covers includes the importance of staying socially connected, an examination of how your retirement will affect your relationship with others, and the creation of a “Curious List” to add direction and purpose to your later years.

Laura, whose writings include Naked Retirement: Stripping It to the Core and The Five Most Important Things They Don’t Teach You in School, ran a $60 million trust department at First National Bank in Michigan for five years until he and a colleague started their own business in 2009. Laura got his early training with American Express Financial Advisors.

Ever entrepreneurial, he developed a software program called My Financial Reflection that he rolled out to financial advisors nationwide until shelving it a year ago. He also owns over 1,000 retirement and financial-related domains such as FinancialFYI.com, latefile.com, financial prayers.com and rolloveraccounts.com.

Additionally, he owns variations ofAdultDayCare.com or AdultDayCare.org in all 50 states. The domains are part of his long-term vision to provide services in those areas as his firm grows.

Laura and his partner, Drummond Osborn, a certified financial planner, serve conservative investors looking to generate retirement income. They hope to add two more advisors this year and grow at a rate of 25 percent annually.

Jim Carl and his wife, both 48, became clients in January after attending a do-it-yourself retirement planning seminar Laura led at a local high school. They have never worked with a financial advisor before but, Carl says, after learning that they weren’t nearly as diversified as they had thought, they decided to make the leap.

“We have different interests in how and what we want to invest our money in. He’s flexible enough to help us do what we want to do. For the first time, we said this is someone we can really work with. From a personal perspective, he’s very candid and we found that refreshing.” says Carl, who is in sales. “You’re limited when you’re a do-it-yourselfer. I think this will work well for us as a couple.”

Laura’s intent at the do-it-yourself workshops is to create “do-it-together” investment partnerships with clients. In such a case, the client actually implements the trade while Laura charges a fee to manage the assets.

“Right now, you find the advisor-client relationship on the far ends of the spectrum, meaning clients are either fully dependent on an advisor or fully independent and don’t use or need one,” says Laura. “There is opportunity in the middle.”

That middle ground, he adds, will force advisors to go from the old and outdated approach of information hoarding to becoming information providers who can educate and add value in other ways than just product sales.

“It’s all about pulling back the curtain. We want to be information providers, not information withholders. As advisors, we’re trained to think we’re so great. But it boils down to old thinking: I can’t tell you how or why I do what I do because if I do, you won’t need me,” says Laura.

He adds: “I don’t mind telling a client I don’t know everything. I’ve reinvented myself 1,000 percent. It’s shocking and amazing. I’m doing exactly what I want to do and how I want to do it in a genuine and authentic way. It’s all about telling it like it really is.”   

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