When two lamps appeared in the steeple of the Old North Church to indicate the British were coming by sea, tradition says, Paul Revere went tearing through the roads outside of Boston shouting “The British are coming,” and the situation was dire.

Today, the situation isn’t as dire as it was in 1775, but make no mistake, the boomers are coming, the boomers are coming. That shouldn’t be news to anyone, as baby boomers are the largest, most written about, most stereotyped and possibly least understood generation in American history. Despite all of that, not everyone is as prepared as he should be.

Advisors who think they can keep doing what they are doing and still gain business from the next generation of clients are wrong. Those intrepid colonists of yore wouldn’t have enough lamps to let senior advisors know how the boomers are coming at them in the 21st century – land, sea, air, telephone, e-mail, snail mail, cell phone, handheld, teleconference, face to face – the list goes on. Boomers are different than the generation before, in the way they think, in the emotional triggers that spur them to action and in the qualities they are looking for in a financial partner. And while some of the traditional ways of reaching prospects will stick around, they will remain the same in name only, with the internal workings changing drastically.

All of the tips and advice in this story come with this caveat: A generation as large as the baby boomers cannot be pigeonholed into one mode of thinking. Older boomers are going to possess some characteristics of the Silent Generation, and younger boomers are going to exhibit some traits of Generation X. But make no mistake. Change is coming. Do some homework and get out in front of it, or get left behind by the Age of Aquarius.

Differences

That one generation should be different than the generation that preceded it is no surprise. That one generation might be different, in at least one respect, from all of the generations to precede it may surprise some, but that is how Ann Fishman sees it.

“The baby boomers are the first generation to value the needs of the individual over the group,” says Fishman, president of Generational-Targeted Marketing Corp. (www.annfishman.com) in New Orleans.

That could be a big change for senior advisors used to dealing with and marketing to Silent Generation members, many of whom think about children and grandchildren first. Marketing materials heavy in content that focuses on leaving a legacy for one’s family may not work as well with boomers. They want to know that their wants and needs will be taken care of, that their money will cover their own expenses as they move through financial independence.

Another difference that matters to advisor marketing plans is that boomers are not as brand loyal as seniors, according to Briggs Matsko, CFP (www.briggsmatsko.com), a Sacramento, Calif.-based planner with Lincoln Financial Advisors. Financial professionals can’t assume that once they land a client the person will remain a client indefinitely. Advisors must market to their client base as well as to new prospects. As every business owner knows, it’s far less expensive to keep an existing client than to find a new one.

A list of differences big and small could go on at length, but for advisors wondering how to catch boomers’ attention, knowing what they respond to is just as important as knowing how they differ from current clients.

Emotional triggers

The past may help define who people are and how they got that way, but financial professionals need to think in terms of the future when capturing boomers’ attention. Brad Elman, CLU, thinks about boomer retirement in terms of what’s next, since that’s how boomers think about it. They’ve begun taking stock of what they’ve done and what they want to do. He begins conversations by asking forward-looking questions: What would you love to do? How do you want to spend the next 15 to 20 years?

“That gets them talking,” says Elman, a San Jose, Calif.-based financial representative of Northwestern Mutual Financial Network. “They can think about the things that bring them the most joy. That’s the fun part of it.”

After that, the technician part of advisors comes out while they figure out how to make those things happen.

Elman’s thoughts dovetail with what Gilmartin sees. Boomers – and this may be true for other age groups, too – aren’t going to respond to marketing that uses fear or anxiety. Senior advisors need to make their products and services a positive part of people’s lives. “They want to know how a product can help them feel good about themselves,” Gilmartin says. “Couch your products and services as a way to fulfill their lives.”

Here are a few other things to think about when trying to find boomers’ emotional triggers:

  • Financial independence is their word for retirement.
  • Most of them don’t see Social Security being a big part of their income.
  • Advisors who can reflect boomer values will be ahead of their peers.
  • They know they aren’t kids anymore, but they still see themselves as younger than their age.
  • Align financial instruments with boomer lifestyles, values and attitudes.
  • They want retirement to be experience driven, not product driven.
  • Relationships are valued.

Financial partner

As the financial experts, advisors expect their recommendations to be listened to and acted upon, but that expert influence may need to be soft pedaled when working with boomers. They aren’t anti-authoritarian like they were in the Woodstock past, but they don’t want to be talked at or down to, especially since they may feel like they’re as smart as their advisor, Fishman says.

“They don’t want you to be the boss,” Fishman says. “They want you to be part of a team that helps them. You’re there to make their lives easier.”

Gilmartin agrees. “Help them get where they want to go, but let them remain in control.”

The independence factor is so high with this segment that it leads to a duality some advisors may find difficult to deal with: Boomers want the information an advisor can impart, but they aren’t going to trust it blindly, not without checking it out.

“They want an executive summary, and then they want to be given the tools to access to the details, to drill down into the information,” Matsko says. “They want to participate more.”

A financial professional who expects to work with boomers will be honest and upfront. Me-Generation members will come in armed with knowledge, listen to what advisors tell them and then check up on what they were told.

Successful boomer advisors will help clients dream as big as they want to, but will also act as a voice of reason.

“We are a reality check for boomers,” Elman says. “Not so much on their dreams as on the plan for getting there. They may say, ‘We’ve got plenty of money,’ but once they get a second opinion (the advisor’s), they may realize that’s not realistic.”

Matsko says these qualities will make advisors successful financial partners to boomers:

  • They have to transcend economic matters.
  • They will be transparent about fees, expenses, commissions, etc.
  • They will have respected credentials, but they have to validate those with their knowledge of individual client needs and the ability to meet them.
  • They will create clear solutions in a complex world.
  • They won’t take offense to challenges to their recommendations.

Baby boomers. What can be said about them that hasn’t been said already? Well, if the stereotypes about their vanity hold any truth, it wouldn’t matter if it’s already been said because they love to hear about themselves. A generation that large can’t be lumped together like a homogenous pile of matchsticks, but some common threads run through the 78 million individuals. Advisors who understand the way they think, the emotional prompts that spur them and the traits they want in a financial partner can market to them with confidence and can get them on the road to financial independence, in whatever form that takes.

No matter how many lamps are in the tower, senior advisors need to be prepared. In fact, anyone still looking at the tower for an indication is probably missing opportunities right now.

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