The Most Important Ratio in HNW Retirement Planning

Top advisor Barbara Attardo says high-net-worth clients have many of the same problems as the mass affluent

Who knew high-net-worth clients need just as much help with retirement as the rest of us?

Retirement planning for the wealthy comes down to one important ratio: desired lifestyle relative to asset base, according to Barbara Attardo.

She should know, since her sweet spot is working with clients that have investable assets in the $1 million to $10 million range.

“I do a lot of financial planning in addition to investment management,” Attardo, senior client advisor and senior wealth strategist with Boston-based Daintree Advisors, recently explained. “The big issue I’m currently dealing with is baby boomer retirement. They come to me and essentially ask, ‘What will my retirement look like?’”

Either they are on track and looking good, or off track and behind in their planning, she added. If it’s the latter, she and her team figure out what they need to do in order to get on track.

“I try and avoid using the b-word—budget—because it has a negative connotation for some,” she noted. “It’s more about if the client has a high lifestyle and they have too much debt or spend too much, which levers do we pull to get it right?”

A common mantra at the firm is, “You can never start too early or too late when it comes to planning for retirement.”

“Some clients will absolutely say, ‘I’m not changing my lifestyle.’ The only response is to tell them to work longer or die sooner, and the second option isn’t palatable for them.”

For those that are willing to change their lifestyles, she said, she often finds they spend out of habit — meaning what they’re spending their money on isn’t important to them or actually necessary. They do it because they’ve always done it.

“So we go through the order of their priorities and then try to identify where retirement planning fits into those priorities.”

Attardo also runs projections to see how their portfolio would hold up under various scenarios. She usually starts with what she calls “the dream scenario,” where a client might want to retire in two years, own a second home and travel. If they’re off on the projection, she suggests that maybe they get more aggressive with their allocations, or maybe they work one extra year. It does them no good if she says they’re off in saving, but then doesn’t offer solutions, she added.

As mentioned, for high-net-worth clients in particular, it’s all about their lifestyle relative to their asset base.

“Often, they will come to me and say, ‘Barbara, something doesn’t feel right. Come into the weeds with me and help me figure it out,” which I do. There’s no judgment, we create an environment where they feel safe to ask questions. We want to look at the entire picture and every possible source of income—whether it be deferred comp, stock options, an inheritance they might receive, a gift they’re receiving from their parents, pensions (although we don’t see as many of those anymore) or anything else.”

She’ll also “practice retirement” with her clients, suggesting that they cut their spending by X amount, and then “see how it goes.” Obviously, she concluded, the sooner they do something like that, the better, as it gives her and her clients time to adjust.

“Meetings go easier if the numbers are good, but if not, we always strive to present it in a way that gives them hope.”

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Barbara Attardo will be a speaker at this year’s Think Retirement Income Conference in Boston on Oct. 10 and 11. For more information and a list of other speakers, please visit www.thinkretirementincome.com.  

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