The results of the 18th annual Retirement Confidence Survey, conducted by the nonprofit Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), are less than encouraging when it comes to gauging the retirement savings habits of Americans today.

According to the study, just 18 percent of all workers were “very confident” about being able to afford a comfortable retirement, down from 27 percent in 2007. This represents the largest one-year drop in the history of the survey. Meanwhile, only 43 percent are “somewhat confident” that they’ll have enough money for retirement. And a full 25 percent believe they’ll need less than $250,000 for retirement, while another 16 percent believe they’ll need between $250,000 and $499,999. A retirement lasting 25 or 30 years can require a lot more than this.

Still, while these figures don’t bode well for those consumers trying to figure out the future, this presents an unprecedented opportunity for advisors interested in retirement income planning. With 78 million baby boomers heading into retirement, many of which are middle-income consumers, and the vanishing of defined benefit plans, the need has never been greater for agents to help clients plan for their financial future.

“This is the No. 1 need of the United States today,” said Larry Passaretti, managing partner of Professional Planning Services LLC Corp. “How do consumers work out a financial schematic? Many don’t have a blueprint for retirement, and they really need a relationship with a counselor rather than a salesperson.”

Passaretti pointed out that today, many consumers spend more time in retirement than they do working, and while many end up with second careers, they’re faced with an emotional and financial transition when they go from working 40 to 60 hours per week to a much more reduced schedule.

While the need appears to be a no-brainer, retirement income planning is far from simple. It requires the skill necessary for any niche, particularly one that serves such a far-reaching market, but with some work, it can prove to be both lucrative and satisfying.

First, as with any consultative approach, the compensation is not immediate or consistent.

“Retirement planning is not just about product sales, and agents aren’t compensated for the advice factor,” said Sally Bryck of LIMRA International. “People will need that type of service after the sale, but most people just don’t want to pay for advice. The question then becomes, how will companies compensate agents for servicing without product sales?”

Developing the right skill set, certification, and product portfolio is also essential for setting up a retirement planning practice, as is partnering with those knowledgeable in the field, such as estate planners, certified financial planners, and certified public accountants.

There are several other things to keep in mind, said Suzanne McNeeley, president of Senior Planning Services. For one, an agent needs to re-train themselves to sell differently, particularly in the coaching area, as product knowledge alone just won’t carry them in this field. “I would say that understanding the individuality and the differences, that there are a lot more differences between (different groups of retirees and pre-retirees) is essential.”

It’s particularly essential to look at female clients and understand their financial, educational, and emotional needs, added McNeeley. This is especially important as women are more likely than men to be single, more likely to live longer, more likely to need long term care, and less likely to be prepared for planning.

Other groups worth a look are Generations Y and X, whose members are quite likely to retire with no defined benefit plans and little to no Social Security benefits, said Bryck.

“Traditional retirement planning will be done earlier and earlier as fewer employers provide support,” she said. “The idea that you have to wait until 50 to plan is probably old school. It’s more self-directed for saving for retirement today, and agents need to be up on that.”

And look out for common senior stereotypes – ideas you may not even realize you’re holding onto. These can include the notion that older consumers aren’t as capable, energetic, or hardworking as their younger cohorts and that people cannot be productive in the face of chronic health conditions.

For agents interested in approaching retirement income planning, especially those who start with younger consumers, it can be an important way to build relationships and create lifelong clients. It simply takes solid partnerships, training, and patience, as well as a deep understanding of your clients that can only come with time.

“The people you are trying to inform and trying to give your excellent wisdom to,” said McNeeley, “they don’t really hear how much you know until they know how much you care, and if you keep that in mind from the beginning, it’s a really good way to know how to start.”

Christina Pellett is managing editor of the Agent’s Sales Journal. She can be reached at 800-933-9449 ext. 226 or ASJeditor@AgentMediaCorp.com.

According to a study by LIMRA International, “Comprehensive Retirement Planning: What Are Producers Doing?” producers should include the following activities in their business in order to take advantage of this retirement boom:

  • Target clients whose profiles match those who tend to have personal financial advisors (PFAs).
  • Target clients who are least likely to have PFAs, such as younger clients and less-affluent clients. Consider developing a niche market by specializing in such underserved markets rather than the oversaturated affluent market.
  • Target people in their 50s to ensure savings are on target, help plan retirement, assist with rollover and asset consolidation, and so on.