Its Time To Get Real

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Getting aging baby boomer clients to get real about setting up a sound retirement plan is not as easy as it may sound.

For instance, one two-income boomer couple had trouble building up retirement savings. They were clients of Dianne Koeppler, a financial planner and partner at Navigator Planning Group, Green Bay, Wis.

Since the two could not figure out the source of the problem, Koeppler asked them to keep track of their income and expenditures for several months. When they returned, the husband was amazed. “He learned he had spent $700 at a pizza parlor in just one month,” Koeppler recalls. “He was not even aware they had been spending that much on things like that.”

Meanwhile, the couples savings amounted to only a small emergency fund, she says.

Turns out, this is not an uncommon occurrence in advisor offices these days, based on comments made in interviews with National Underwriter.

Many boomers are just in denial, says Stanley J. Grabowski, sales associate at Dedecker-Saxe Associates, a brokerage owned by M&T Bank in Buffalo, N.Y. “They deny that they need to plan or they repress the fact that they may one day need long term care or may run out of money or may need to go back to work after entering retirement.”

But advisors can take steps to help many such clients start to get serious about their planning, say experts. At least, they can point the way.

For instance, when an advisor has established rapport and trust with boomer clients, the advisor can point out how the client is not yet dealing with the issues realistically, says Russ Kyncl, a financial representative and branch manager with Multi-Financial Securities Corp. in Lakewood, Colo.

The advisor might, for instance, observe that “there is a pattern going on in your life that is making this [financial problem] happen.”

This does not always go over well, he allows, and “some clients might fire you.” But if the relationship of trust is there, many will keep listening and some will accept, he contends, “particularly if you find some hope to give them, or show them they can turn things around if they start dealing with reality.”

People who attend seminars do have a lot more awareness today about LTC and retirement issues compared to 10 years ago, observes Grabowski. But boomers do not always link that awareness to their own lives and “some just dont know how to retire,” he says.

Many times, it takes some kind of personal experience to spur them to take actionseeing a parent or close friend struggle, for instance.

Koeppler believes the advisors role is to help boomers realize that the money will not be as “ever-flowing” as it seems to be when one is employed. Some people have no idea that the money flow will come to an endunless they take control, she says.

“I urge my clients not just to wait and put it on the government or to hang back wondering, what can I do,” Koeppler continues. They can make changes now that will enable them to have a good retirement later, she maintains. But they do have to take some steps.

For example, one boomer arrived at her office with $60,000 in credit card debt and seemed mystified about how to erase that. Koeppler helped the family go on an austerity budget for one year, and they did wipe out the debt. Now, this family is building up retirement savings.

Kyncl has arrived at the same conclusion: “My message to my clients is, you need to be accountable to yourself.”

Not all boomers are irresponsible, he stresses. Some of the financial problems they are having result from having 401(k)s instead of traditional pensions and from not knowing the best way to manage that. Some started out in life paying extremely high interest rates12% or moreon a first mortgage. And many are uncertain whether to plan for retirement with, or without, Social Security, he says.

Still, some do have psychological issues with money, continues Kyncl, who is a former mental health professional. “This shows up as ignorance, or lack of awareness, or failure to think strategically, over the horizon.”

However they got to the spot where they are not planning for retirement, “boomers still do need to recognize they need to change,” he concludes.

“You cant lasso people to come in for help,” adds Koeppler, “but advisors can do informational seminars, advertise and seek referrals.”

When boomers are in the office, here are some pointers for nudging them to address retirement planning issues:

Use probing questions to get people to think, says Grabowski. Dont just ask yes-no questions, but rather ones like, “What do your other advisors think about this?” In one instance, he recalls, that particular question turned up the fact that the client had no other advisors. It also uncovered the fact that the man and his wife had not done any planning, even though both were professionals and enjoying “fine living.”

Tell clients to pay themselves first, suggests Kyncl. For instance, suggest they take advantage of automatic things like auto withdrawal from the paycheck or bank account. Then they can spend what is left over, he says. “Ideally, they should be saving 10% to 20% of what they make. If they cant do that right now, then suggest starting out at 1% or 2% a month and bumping it up over time.”

Urge them to ask themselves basic questions like: “Who am I? What am I? Where do I want to go? And how do I want to get there?” advises Koeppler. Sometimes she asks a client, “What do you plan to do with the rest of your life? And, after youre 65, do you plan to live on a pound of hamburger a week or work until you diebecause you have to?” She also points out that “if what you want is to have a good retirement, you will have to work for it and you will have to save.”

Have access to resources that can assist the boomer with specific needs, says Grabowski. For example, at the bank where he works, many staff members have financial-related professional designations and degrees. When a special request comes up, someone is usually available to respond. “The quality of advice you have available to the boomer is key,” he says. “Nothing will pry the boomers mind open, but quality resources will help them see.”

Similarly, invite the boomers other experts to sit in on the sessions with the advisor, suggests Grabowski. “That sends a signal that we want to be part of their advice team, and we will work to get things right.”

If someone believes he or she cant save anything or cant save any more than they are saving now, thats a good time to see a financial advisor, says Koeppler. “We can show you how to do it.”

Remember that people need to make a financial and emotional adjustment when considering retirement, says Koeppler. Some boomers put off planning because of that, she says, especially since “it is easier to accumulate money while working than to spend it during retirement.” Once retired, people start to worry that they may run out of money or that Social Security may run out of money, and they dont know how long they will live or how long their health will hold out, she explains. Advisors may need to address these issues, so clients can make good decisions, she says.

Urge boomers not to squander what they already have, advises Kyncl. “Sometimes the biggest change a person has to make is to stop spending unconsciously,” he explains, “or to keep from spending an unexpected extraan inheritance, saywithout any thought to the future.”

Help the boomer make the connection to the fact that their circumstances will change, says Grabowski. “For instance, remind them what they wanted and needed when they were starting out compared to where they are now. Then explore with them what things could be like when they are in their 70s. Help them see that the decisions they make now will impact that future, just as the decisions back then impacted where they are now.”

Even if certain boomers dont yet get the message, says Koeppler, “their childrenthe young people in their 20s and 30sdo.” In fact, she says, she is noticing that a lot of the younger adults are “saving a lot and, when they have their own children, they set up a college savings fund right away.”

Many say they are not going to rely on Social Security being there for their retirement, she adds, so they are doing their planning now.

Sometimes that can influence their boomer parents to take some action, she indicates.

“We also see situations occurring where the boomers own parents are urging them to start planning. They will say to their son or daughter, Come on with me. You need to see a planner, too. Dont wait until youre my age.”


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, February 25, 2005. Copyright 2005 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.