As the first of nearly 76 million baby boomers reached Social Security age last year, it began to dawn on many advisors that their work in financial planning was gradually going to require a whole new focus. In the coming decades, those retiring boomers will present great challenges–and provide excellent opportunities–for advisors hoping to deal with the impact of the boomers’ notoriously devil-may-care attitude toward saving and long-term planning. This month, we speak with Barbara Walker, an expert on dealing with boomer client?le, as well as offering a special section (starting on page 48) visualizing many of the differences between boomer-age retirees and more traditional seniors, members of the older, pre-war Silent Generation.
Los Angeles-based advisor Barbara Walker, a boomer herself, has found that specializing in serving the needs of boomer-aged retirees and pre-retirees has turned into a thriving business. SMA managing editor Andy Stonehouse spoke with Walker about the differences between reaching the older generation of seniors and a newer, more independent (and more financially embattled) generation of boomers.
SMA: How did you get your start, and at what point did you begin to focus on the boomer market?
Walker: I began my career in the early 1990s. I had a master’s degree in business management and specialized in corporate taxation and investment; I worked in the corporate arena and I traveled a lot. But I was also married with two young kids and I thought it was important to pass a value system along to my kids, but hard to do when I was gone so much.
In 1998, I opened my own small business, a children’s daycare center in Altadena, and I ran that for 10 years. I maintained a select few financial clients but for the most part, I was the director of my center. That’s where I first started noticing boomer parents and their behavior. There was so much lack of knowledge about their own finances. It was really astounding how much information was missing from their financial lives.
In 2005, I started work as a personal financial planner, with a focus on boomers. I set out to empower them with knowledge and educate boomers to allow them to have a successful retirement. That was based a lot on what I saw out there … a lot of people caught in the sandwich generation, taking care of their children and their parents at the same time. It was heart-wrenching.
And yes, I am a boomer myself. We were definitely not a generation of savers. We seem to have focused on the wrong things, and then you wake up one day and you say, “Wow, I forgot to plan at all.” That light bulb never came on and many people have found that their retirement plans have fallen through the cracks.
SMA: What strategies have you found work best with boomer clients?
Walker: I started doing workshops specifically geared for 55 to 65 year olds. It’s a chance to show them my knowledge base, and get them to come in and work with me. I try to change the focus so it’s not totally on accumulation of wealth but more about preservation and distribution during retirement and the efficient transfer of those assets to their kids. I also absolutely insist on a family meeting at some point during my sales process. Hopefully that way we can all start building a generational cycle of financial knowledge within the family structure.
I do a lot of pro-bono work for churches, even for the corporate sector, where I bring this kind of education, at no charge, to the community. I’ve worked for Disney here in Southern California … I go down there monthly and I do different workshops. I let people know about the benefits of being physically fit, of having their 401(k) in order and having total financial literacy. I’m also the president of the Culver City chapter of the Society for Financial Awareness, a nonprofit group which provides financial education in the community.
My business stretches all over Los Angeles, into Orange County and Riverside, and I also have clients in Atlanta, where many of my local clients’ families live. Referrals are very important to me, and the number of referrals I get I think is mostly due to the personal, no-pressure approach I use.