Consumers face daunting issues as a result of the inability of lawmakers to fess up to soon-to-be retiring baby boomer demands and needs.

Additionally, at many companies, sales of long-term care products have declined notably over the past 2 years, but the need for supplemental coverage at the client level remains monumental, especially if eligibility requirements for Social Security change, as they will have to, in the years ahead.

Although most “boomers” recognize the term ‘long-term care,’ most have no idea what the product’s features and benefits are, and they often perceive the need for LTC to kick in only when they are of Social Security age. Compounding this dilemma is the total lack of consumer understanding, and industry support, for one of the best product groups available to those who can afford it–disability insurance.

When you look at all 3 issues – the need for Social Security and Medicare reform, lack of customer understanding about LTC, and the profound need for disability insurance – we have incredible opportunities as an industry to educate consumers at every opportunity. At client meetings, presentations at chambers of commerce, and media interviews, we can elevate awareness about the genuine good that insurance and financial products can generate for wealth management and asset protection.

But before we can effectively educate others, we must educate ourselves. We need to better understand the changes that our legislators are proposing and make sure our aging clients understand the impact this will have on their savings and investments. To communicate effectively with the senior market, we must understand the unique challenges and issues confronting mature Americans.

Retirement distributions and estate planning are 2 critical issues seniors will confront. A report released in 2005 by Tiburon Strategic Advisors, a market research and strategy consulting firm, stated, “It is the baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, who will look to liquefy their retirement plans, small- and medium-sized businesses and homes as they reach retirement in the coming years.”

Seventy-seven million baby boomers will start retiring in 3 years’ time. One-half of the baby boomers will retire over a 5-year period, starting in 2009. This will double the number of retirees in America. Today, a baby-boomer turns 50 every 8 seconds. We are not ready as a society.

As the senior population grows along with the financial challenges confronting older adults, there will be a need for a new breed of personal advisor who will assist consumers in preparing for the second half of their lives, including their retirement years.

To be effective, the advisor will need to be well-versed in technical financial knowledge, housing, gerontology, and government programs. Equally important, the advisor will need to be familiar with the sociological and psychological aspects of aging. More than a financial advisor, this person will need to be a trusted counselor.

Effectively serving this senior population will require advisors who understand and counsel their clients on the full range of options open to them during their retirement years. These individuals must focus on serving the whole senior. In addition to learning about financial and medical issues, advisors must have an advanced understanding of the challenges related to aging and the key lifestyle issues affecting work, retirement and family relationships.

Advisors need to provide comfort to clients at a time when they are feeling confused, vulnerable and afraid of outliving their assets. It is important for professional financial advisors to assist seniors in protecting these assets from inflation, the economy, health issues and housing issues. To meet these challenges, financial service professionals must learn more about what it means to be a senior.

There are several educational offerings available to financial professionals looking to serve the senior market. Here’s what you should be looking for if you want to be effective in serving the unique needs of this demographic.

? Accredited–Is the educational program offered through an accredited educational institution? Look for regional accreditation. This is the highest level of education available.

? Rigorous–How difficult is it to complete the educational program? You may be able to earn a credential after a weekend seminar and an easy test, but you are not doing yourself or your clients any favors in the long run. Look for a program that has substance and letters that show you have completed an educational program of value.

? Content–Does the educational program only address one aspect of financial planning or is it more comprehensive? The more you learn, the more you can bring to the client relationship!

? Code of Ethics–Are you required to subscribe to a code of ethics as part of earning your credential? Remember, it’s your professional reputation that is on the line. If unethical people are known to be associated with your credential, what will that say about you to consumers?

? Continuing Education–Are you required to continue your studies after earning your credential? A solid educational program in financial services will require you to be current and stay current for as long as you hold the designation or certificate.

? Consistency-Look carefully at the provider of the education. Is the program being offered in a consistent manner or will different instructors and/or institutions have issues with quality and consistency in delivering the education?

? Dedicated Faculty-The quality of the education is often only as good as the educational professionals who stand behind it. What are the qualifications of the faculty? Are they experienced and knowledgeable or do they see education as a way to make money?

? Non-Profit–What is the mission of the organization delivering the education? Is it a professional association that sees a seminar or class as a way to generate revenue or is the education offered by a non-profit organization dedicated to education first?

Once we have accepted the challenge of educating ourselves, then we will be better prepared to be active and engaged social partners, ready to address the daunting challenges presented by Social Security, Medicare and the need for long-term care and disability protection.

Using knowledge, we can advance consumers’ understanding of key issues and elevate the professionalism of individuals working for insurance and financial service organizations, thereby creating value for individuals, families and businesses.