A new study by the Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. draws attention to the importance of effective planning in helping boomer business owners protect their company and personal assets.
Many started their own businesses relatively late in life, with an average ownership period of 10 years, the survey found. Among leading reasons for going into business for themselves: They were tired of working for someone else (36% of respondents) or wanted to pursue a lifelong dream (20%).
One troublesome issue uncovered by the survey is that personal savings is by far the favorite source of new business financing for boomers. Of more than 500 boomer-age business owners surveyed, 75% drew on their personal savings to fund the start of their businesses, compared to only 20% who used credit cards and 16% who relied on bank financing.
The problem with using a personal nest egg for a startup business is that less than half of new U.S. businesses survive beyond 4 years, Hartford points out, citing Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
While using personal savings to launch a business offers financial advantages compared to borrowing at potentially high interest rates, boomer business owners often face distinct retirement challenges. A key hitch is they are putting their financial resources at risk later in life, Hartford notes.
Overall, just 51% of those surveyed said they were confident they and their family could live comfortably off the income earned from their business once they retire. (Among those for whom their business is their primary source of income, 70% felt the same way.)
The study of business owners between ages 45 and 60 found they had an average of 42% of net worth tied up in the business.
The survey suggests financial advisors can play a key role in helping boomers deal with practical issues to help preserve their wealth, says John Diehl, senior vice president and leader of Hartford’s retirement solutions group, which sponsored the survey. Critical points to consider: understanding when and how to pay back start-up costs, planning for cash-flow crunches and taking advantage of potential tax benefits.
Asked why they hadn’t yet retired, most cited more than one reason: 44% said they were not financially prepared to do so, while 40% said they had a flexible work schedule that allowed them to use their time as they wished. Other reasons cited were “I’m too young” (33%); and “not interested in slowing down” (25%).
The survey found business ownership gives boomers plenty of problems as well as benefits. Among the problems, according to 70% of those surveyed, is the surprising amount of time they spend on issues not directly related to their core business.
The survey found 63% estimate they spend anywhere from 1 to 5 hours a day on accounting, insurance, finance and human resources needs of their business.
To help them take care of such issues, 51% said they regularly turn to accountants, 32% to insurance advisors, 31% to legal counsel and 20% to financial planners.
At the same time, 90% described themselves as extremely (31%) or somewhat (59%) confident of their ability to plan financially for their business and personal needs. And 79% described themselves as extremely (21%) or somewhat (58%) confident of their knowledge of insurance, both for their personal and business needs.
Yet their evident self-reliance can be a drawback when a crisis arises after the startup is underway. When things get tough, 58% say there are times they have no one to turn to for guidance.
Another important issue boomers may need help with is replacing any savings invested if their venture turns out to be unsuccessful. Boomer business owners have a shorter time to rebuild their wealth than do younger business people if their investment in their business fails to produce desired financial results, points out Diehl.
“At the same time, many boomers, in what is known as the Sandwich Generation, may also be responsible for providing financially for college-age children as well as aging parents, so their financial plans need to take those obligations into account,” Diehl says.
For advisors, there is an opportunity in offering help with business and personal finance issues faced by such boomers, he notes. Boomers who have a clear vision of what their business itself can do may turn a blind eye to other obligations, he says.
There are a lot of pressures and responsibilities unique to the baby boomer business owner, Diehl says. He suggests that advisors press boomer owners to look at their overall portfolio and what role the business has in it, he adds.
Many got into owning a small business because it gives them the ability to call the shots, he observes. So they’re looking for a planner who is able to help them take a step back and view their business in terms of their overall financial picture.
“Often, we see that business owners who are using their own assets have their primary focus on running the business,” Diehl says. “They tell themselves the business is going to generate the money they’re going to depend on in retirement.”
The financial advisor should help the owner view those prospects realistically.
“Let’s assume the business doesn’t go gangbusters,” says Diehl. “Consider what percent of retirement income would come from the business. Should there be other sources of income to make sure the client has a sustained plan outside the day-to-day operation of the business?”
The astute advisor can help boomers more effectively plan for their business and personal financial success while freeing their time up to focus on building and growing their business, Diehl observes. “With a shortened time horizon and potential family obligations, boomers especially need to balance their strong sense of confidence with practical counsel,” he says.
Other survey findings:
o 67% of boomer business owners consider themselves conservative decision makers rather than risk-takers when it comes to business judgments. In their attitude toward financial investments, they were even more cautious, with 74% describing themselves as conservative.
o 59% say their work-life balance improved after going into business, despite the many day-to-day responsibilities business owners face.
o 55% reported an improvement in their personal financial picture after starting their business, compared to only 25% who saw their financial situation get worse.