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In Search of a Solution

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A cardiologist recently advised a relative to have a certain surgical procedure. Because her husband was in between jobs, they made extra sure they were covered by their health insurance, since the procedure would cost at least $100,000. I recently spoke with a neighbor with the same heart-related condition (though less intense), who surfed the web and found that magnesium pills could help. In fact, they solved her problem. The cost for 180 tablets is just $7.99.

I find that scenarios like this are quite common. The surgeon recommends the knife — not because he likes to cut or wants to rake in the dollars, but because that’s what he knows. Just like vitamin gurus know vitamins.

The same phenomenon applies to the financial services industry. The big demographic challenge today is to provide a safe and enduring income for the swell of retiring boomers. The insurance companies solve this problem with annuities; the bond salesmen with municipal bonds; mutual fund companies offer lifecycle funds; other companies are packaging structured products. Everybody’s solution coincidentally involves the tools they already have in their own toolboxes.

It is for this reason that I have been impressed with the work of the Retirement Income Industry Association, a relatively new group of industry professionals seeking ways for advisors to provide their clients with optimal solutions for their income needs. The group, founded by Francois Gadenne (see profile, “Riding the Wave of the Future”), brings together representatives from the entire spectrum of financial services — including financial advisors — to address these issues. So it is unlike, say, the National Association of Variable Annuities, which is primarily interested in annuity sales. The feeling amongst the group is that there is no optimal solution as yet — and whoever finds the best solution will profit immensely. But in the meantime, regular discussion “across the silos” will help the industry get there.

RIIA last met to discuss these issues in September. To fill you in on what you missed, we have devoted a substantial amount of coverage in this issue. In addition to our profile of Gadenne, we have a feature-length report on the conference itself (“The 20 Trillion Question”); a “Lunch with Research” featuring Prof. Zvi Bodie, honored at the conference for his lifetime achievement in applied retirement research; a Q&A with MetLife’s Garth Bernard, a thought leader on income annuities; and of course be sure to read Moshe Milevsky’s column, the cornerstone of our ongoing retirement income coverage. His thought-provoking contribution this month is called “Questions to Ask Annuity Wholesalers.”

RIIA’s next conference will be February 11-13 in Miami, and we encourage your attendance. The reward will be a position on the cutting edge (don’t worry — not the surgical kind) of this important issue. It takes a certain humility, vision and broad-mindedness to realize how little we know about an issue and how what we do know is but a stepping stone on the path to a superior destination. And when we get there, we should be able to generate more income more safely for your clients.

Gil [email protected]