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Retirement Planning > Retirement Investing

More Comfort With An Advisor?

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Having a financial advisor does not correlate with how comfortable older people feel about financial preparedness for retirement, according to a new survey.

“That’s a surprising finding,” says James Sholder, a principal in the retirement market practice of The Diversified Services Group, Inc., Wayne, Pa.

In March 2006, DSG polled more than 1,200 consumers, ages 55-70. The questions covered attitudes and perceptions about retirement income. Among other things, it found that 67% of those using financial advisors were comfortable about their retirement preparedness. But it also found that 68% of those not using financial advisors were likewise comfortable about their preparedness.

This shows that pre- and post-retirees “are statistically identical” concerning their retirement comfort level, Sholder says.

Why this is so is still being studied, he says. Some educated guesses include the following:

–Some people may “by nature” feel comfortable, regardless of whether a financial advisor is in the picture, he says.

–The financial profile of the survey group–$250,000 or more in investable assets–may impact the answers.

–Some consumers may be working with advisors who do not address feelings about retirement, who instead focus on plan particulars, making it so that the consumers are not fully aware of their comfort level.

–The trust a person feels in the financial advisor may have affected the results. It is likely that clients of advisors who take a consultative approach feel a greater comfort level than do clients of transaction-oriented advisors, Sholder suggests.

Another survey finding tends to support that, he indicates. The proportion of people feeling comfortable about retirement increased as the length of the advisor relationship increased, he says. In fact, people who had been with their advisors for 10+ years expressed higher comfort levels than those of the general group.

His assessment is that trust increases over time, and with it the comfort level about retirement.

Since two-thirds of those having no advisor relationship also expressed a high comfort level, some observers may conclude that advisors have no impact at all. But Sholder cautions against jumping to that conclusion, due to the finding about comfort increasing with the length of the advisor relationship. Also, he says, it is equally possible that when advisors bring out the truth about a client’s situation and feelings–as happens in consultative scenarios–people will start feeling less comfortable.

The important take-away from the survey is something different, the DSG executive says. Specifically, the survey found that how consumers self-identify their retirement comfort level makes a difference in their retirement approach.

The survey tested this by comparing responses of people grouped by comfort level to those of people grouped by asset level. It found that “consumers displaying high comfort levels had more in common regarding retirement decisions, regardless of investable asset level, than did consumers who are uncomfortable about retirement,” Sholder says.

This tracks with the widely-held view that “attitude governs how people behave,” he says.

Therefore, he continues, opportunities exist for firms and advisors that take retirement comfort level into consideration. “The way you go after people who feel comfortable should be different than the way you go after people who feel uncomfortable.” For instance, the communications, products and services offered would different, he says. Experts are now studying what those varying approaches might be.


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