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Banking on Boomers

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What does the retirement-income security strategist foresee? This enormously influential demographic will keep on making history — big-time.

Financial advisors, take careful note.

“As they’ve grown up, boomers have changed every facet of their lives — whether it’s the emergence of the suburbs or the emergence of McDonald’s and Pampers. There’s no doubt that, with their retirement, boomers will impact and fundamentally change the financial services industry too. That’s fascinating to me,” says Heather Dzielak (pronounced ja-LOCK) of Lincoln Financial Group.

At age 39, she certainly isn’t boomer-age; but it is this huge chunk of largely affluent retirement-stage consumers that is her prime focus. Her official title sums it up: senior vice president of retirement income security ventures.

Who: Heather Dzielak, Senior Vice President of Retirement Income Security Ventures, Lincoln Financial Group, Philadelphia

Leading a group of 15, she strategizes with every company head within Lincoln Group to help leverage the vast opportunities that retiring boomers present. The team creates new retirement income-related products, distribution and other businesses designed to grow the entire firm, which includes a network of 7,200-plus financial advisors. Among other enterprises, it also has a wholesale distribution group — which works with the likes of Bank of America, Merrill Lynch and LPL Financial — as well as a unit that markets 401(k) and 403(b) plans.

It was Dzielak’s recommendation to start RISV, launched in 2006 and born of her previous successful stint to position Lincoln as an RIS leader.

“Heather’s visionary oversight of innovative new processes, products and services will ensure that Lincoln Financial continues to be seen as a retirement asset-gathering engine within the marketplace,” says Dennis Glass, CEO of Lincoln Financial Group.

An articulate team player who says that she finds “comfort” in collaborating to solve problems, Dzielak visualizes clearly a major “flight to advice.” “As they move into retirement, people are seeking out advisors more often and at a higher level than they had during their working years.

“So to have expertise in retirement planning is an obvious business-growth opportunity. That’s where the money’s going.” But acquiring such expertise doesn’t always mean converting your practice, “just extending and adding to it,” says Dzielak from her Philadelphia office. Four days a week, she commutes to headquarters by corporate jet from her home in Hartford, Connecticut.

As she defines it, retirement-income security is a strong sense of confidence and safeness folks have as they embark upon retirement. Indeed, that feeling is far from typical. Because then, “it’s no longer about accumulating wealth. It’s ‘How do I figure out how to live off that wealth?’” she says. Complicating matters: “Because boomers don’t [necessarily] have the comfort of a pension plan and Social Security, they need to replace those guaranteed sources of income.”

Aiming to produce that confident mind-set, Dzielak’s group is creating a variety of innovative products and services to be provided via the advisor channel.

“We don’t know what’s going to work,” she says, “but we’ve got some pretty interesting concepts that we’re prototyping.” Dzielak’s motto: “Think big, start small, scale fast!”

One direction is exploring ideas that will help boomers leverage a fully comprehensive range of assets, including their homes. And due to be pilot-tested at the start of this year was a client-engaging online tool allowing advisors to embed retirement advice into their practices.

Above all, “advice absolutely needs to drive the product sale. It’s not going to be enough to hawk product,” Dzielak stresses. “Baby boomers have more information at their fingertips than any generation before them. They want an advice-led approach and to understand how the financial plan was put together.”

A Hartford native, Dzielak found financial services intriguing from the time she was 13, when she began working summers for her dad, who ran customer service at Cigna Individual Insurance.

Not only did she intern at the firm, she joined it in 1990 right after graduation from the University of Connecticut, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in finance and real estate.

From the complaint department, she moved into product development, helping Cigna build its first annuity product. Eight years later, she left to join Aetna as a corporate strategist. When the firm was acquired by ING Group, she segued into distribution, traveling the country with wholesalers to observe how FAs delivered product to clients.

Five years ago, the mom of twin girls — she’s wed to home dad Moose Dzielak (“Only his Nana calls him Edward!”) — hopped aboard to head Lincoln Life & Annuity Co. of New York’s variable annuity line. It was the need to deeply understand the VA consumer that sparked what became Dzielak’s immersion in the retirement income area. Under her leadership, the firm’s VA business climbed from No. 12 to No. 5. At the same time, the strategist was instrumental in Lincoln’s expansion in the RIS space.

“There is a cry for help and a huge population with a lot of money. But it’s not just about the financial side. It’s a time when boomers feel a little more alone than they have in the past. It’s therefore important for advisors to understand behavioral economics too. So, not everyone can just put out a [retirement expert] shingle.”

Freelance writer Jane Wollman Rusoff is a Los Angeles-based contributing editor of Research and is the founder of Family Star Productions.


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