This year’s Senior Survey revealed the impacts of a year’s worth of national health care debate and continued economic downturn. Seniors are confused and concerned, but as the web-savvy baby boomer generation moves into the retired ranks, advisors will also find new challenges in offering their services to new clients. Learn more about what attributes (and approaches) today’s seniors are looking for as they navigate the still-perilous financial waters.

After several consecutive years of economic freefall in the United States, there have been plenty of signs that optimism is slowly returning. But when it comes to the feelings, hopes and desires of America’s seniors, we are clearly not out of the woods yet.

2010′s edition of the annual SMA Senior Survey has revealed a group of older Americans that say that they do not see their financial circumstances improving in a timely fashion. And after many months of divisive national debate over health care reform, most of the seniors surveyed by the Boomer Project say that their own health and health care issues are top of mind.

Get More: Read the 2009 Senior Survey.

But there’s a major disconnect.
Too many of them are going at it alone, with no professional financial-planning advice, and their needs are not being met. Many of them concede that they’d be interested in using your services and your knowledge, but you need to earn their trust–more than 50 percent say that traditional seminars, direct mail and even e-mail marketing do little to interest them in seeking your help.

What does this mean to you?
By continuing to reinforce your role as a highly informed and trusted advisor, you can help bridge that gap and help build more confidence in your retired or soon-to-be-retired clientele (or at least get them to talk to you in the first place, which many seniors admitted is not happening at present). Here, in the words of 300 seniors from across the country, is a snapshot of what they’re looking for in an advisor and the kind of advice they’d like to receive. As an added bonus, we’ve also featured the input of several industry experts on the best methods of earning that trust.

A crisis of confidence
In a number that’s actually dropped since our 2009 survey, only 33 percent of those contacted this year say they seek the advice of others when it comes to their finances. Asked who they trust with their finances, 78 percent say they choose to do things themselves, 50 percent say they accept guidance from their family and friends and only 47 percent say they’d turn to a financial advisor. “I will not give my money to someone that I know nothing about,” one senior commented. “We are bombarded with data from financial institutions every hour of every day, and I just turn it off and don’t listen, unless it’s Sam Waterston or some other readily identifiable celebrity.”

Or, more damningly, “I can lose money just as fast as a financial planner. In other words, I don’t believe they have any more knowledge than I do.” Of those seniors who do seek out advice with their
finances, 37 percent say they’d contact financial advisors, 33 percent have contacted CFP designees, 20 percent turn to their family and friends and just 7 percent go to insurance agents or brokers for help. Those who have used advisors say that they’ve had great results; clearly these are the kind of clients you need to seek referrals from. “He has known my family and my needs and will tell me what he thinks, and so far he has told me about good investments … I trust him,” one senior said. “I have had a financial planner handling my financial matters, stocks and life insurance for the past 35 years and he has never steered me wrong yet.”

In a major disconnect revealed by the survey, while health is now their primary concern, versus wealth (when asked, 91 percent say they favored health over wealth), seniors rather adamantly say they do not want to discuss health care issues with their financial advisor. In fact, 68 percent said they do not (and do not want to) talk about the issue whatsoever.

Those who have opened up to (or are at least open to talking with) their advisor say that discussions about long term care insurance and the actual financial impact of new health care legislation would be the most important conversations–subjects an advisor could graciously broach with new clients, if the benefits are explained clearly. “I’m interested in Social Security, interest rates, stock market issues, health care, Medicare, Medicaid and how we get the best interest rate return,” one senior said.

“What can I do to help myself in spite of my illness? Could I stay in my own home? Would they listen and carefully consider my opinions? Who will be able to help me if my husband dies before me?” another asked. “I just want to know that the person I have been dealing with in regards to that LTCI policy will be there to aid me when needed.”

Trust is key
What is it that seniors are looking for in an advisor, or what is it about the regular methods of sales and marketing of your services that frequently distances seniors from actually engaging with your services? Our respondents had plenty of opinions on both.

While a full 55 percent who do not already have an advisor say there’s absolutely nothing you could do to earn their business, the remainder were clear in stating the attributes they are looking for: trust, knowledge, loyalty, good listening skills, honesty and integrity. “I want someone who is interested in what I think and why I think that way; I want someone to honestly say, ‘I don’t know,’ if that is the case, but then contact me with the answers,” one senior said.

And with a web-savvy, baby boomer group of potential prospects out there, advisors have to be aware of the way they approach potential customers. “I’ve spent most of my life in sales and do not want to deal with a salesman face to face,” one respondent said.

Get More: Read the expanded content and commentary from this year’s Senior Survey (Click to open the Power Point presentation).

“If the benefits of the product or service can’t be adequately explained in a letter, I would not be interested in pursuing a conversation … if I was, I would contact him with any questions I had.” “I’d prefer to get information from an advisor, and then I would have time to go through what is sent and evaluate it,” another added. “I can go through it at my own leisure, without the pressure of a sales call via phone or in person. I delete unsolicited e-mails and I don’t read Internet financial ads.”

In another key finding, among those already with advisors, particularly seniors aged 60-69, many say they feel there’s a serious imbalance in their relationship. Nearly two-thirds say they really want their advisor to know them better, but just a third feel their advisor really does know them well. Seniors aged 70-plus tended to have a more positive view of the relationship, but still only 55 percent admitted their advisor knew them well. Clearly, for the business relationship to blossom, a personal relationship has to be fostered and developed.

Making the grade
On average, seniors surveyed this year graded their personal financial situation as a “C” on a traditional letter grade scale, but graded their personal health situation as a “C+”. Asked about the state of the economy, more than half responded negatively, and a full 53 percent say they think it could be more than a decade before the national economy improves.

Thirty-four percent say things are in bad shape in America and 23 percent described themselves as being “worried sick.” “I have had no raise in retirement income in nine years, and there will be no increase in Social Security in 2010,” one senior noted. “I’m not sure if either one will ever increase.”
As a spin-off, when asked how long they see it taking before their personal financial situation improves, respondents indicated that they think it’s going to be a very long haul. Only a third said things have improved already or will within the next year, and nearly half said they feel it will take five or even 10 years for their finances to improve.

“The trend is definitely in a down-spiral and with the economy and the politics the way they are today, there’s not too much to be confident about,” another senior said. Their confidence in meeting their goals in retirement is also a sticky subject. Only 54 percent of the entire group say they are very or somewhat confident that they’ve made the right retirement-planning decisions, compared to those who are already retired (where the number jumps to 61 percent) or are aged 70 and over (64 percent). Of those who’ve not yet retired, the level of confidence hovers at 38 percent. “My investments in real estate took a dive with the current economic depression, then my health took a dive and I am unable to work,” noted one respondent.

So, what should you do?
Industry experts were given a look at our Senior Survey results and offered their input, based on what they read. Here’s a sample of their winning advice:

Jesse Slome
Executive Director, American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance

Google has changed the buying habits of all Americans today and that includes an increasing percentage of seniors. Insurance salespeople and financial advisors must understand how to effectively deal with these changes. First, Google has enabled every consumer to comparison shop for every product and service. Second, Google has changed the timing of purchase decision-making. The phrase “Thanks, I want to think about it” now really means “Thanks, after you leave, I’m going to check this all out online.”

As a result, it is vitally important for those marketing any product (especially one as complicated as long term care insurance) to establish higher levels of trust, both during face-to-face discussions, as well as online. Trust today means being a source of relevant information not readily accessible with a quick Google search. In terms of LTCI, that specifically means ways to make coverage affordable and sharing intelligence on how long insurance claims actually last. It also means controlling your online presence, because your prospects will be increasingly checking you out before parting with their finances.

Kerry Johnson
Author, Speaker and Coach
Nearly all the research has shown that clients don’t rate advisors highly when buying multiple products, but they do rate their advisor highly. That means the relationships you build are more important than the products themselves. The best way to capitalize on the relationship you built when you sold the initial product is to keep in contact with those “A” and “B” clients once every three months and do the following:

Catch up. Find out what happened to them and their family since your last call. What are their grandkids up to? How are their children doing? Have they traveled recently?

Update. Let them know how their money has performed. Even if all you can say is that they didn’t lose money, that is good enough. Update them on what you expect to happen economically in the next three months, until your next call. You are not promising returns, but you can educate them on where the economic winds may blow. Use this as a jumping-off point to talk about life, LTC and other products. If you use these steps, your sales will increase 30 percent to 40 percent, based just on these calls.

Referral. Take the time at the end of this call to ask for referrals. Even if you don’t get them, the client will be reminded to talk about you to their friends and you will build an advocate.

Steven R. McCarty
Chairman, National Ethics Bureau
Extraordinary consumer skepticism demands extraordinary efforts to rebuild trust.

1. Consumers are suspicious of traditional sales approaches and materials. So trash the glossy marketing brochures and clever headlines. Only use understated, fact-driven materials. Then start to think of yourself as an educator, not a salesperson.

2. Consumers won’t do business unless they really know you. So greatly expand the amount of information you disclose. Plus encourage prospects to use third-party sources to learn about you: Google searches, contacting the BBB and NEB and calling former clients. Also set them up with their state regulator websites/phone numbers and with FINRA Brokercheck if you’re securities licensed.

3. Consumers want their advisors to know them better. So banish the one-interview sale. Instead, do serious fact-finding over several meetings, then present recommendations based on the facts and needs uncovered. Once you’ve got a client, enter the person into your client management system. Then drip insights on the person regularly. Also do a formal review once a year.

4. Consumer confidence in their retirement planning decisions is low. So interact with consumers from a position of strength and confidence. Beef up your knowledge of retirement planning techniques and products. Complete a legitimate professional designation that greatly expands your knowledge base.

Editor’s Note: Our annual survey was conducted for Senior Market Advisor by the Boomer Project and its associated partner, the Southeastern Institute for Research. The Boomer Project is a Richmond, Va.-based marketing research and consulting company focusing on baby boomers, started in 2003 by Matt Thornhill.

2010′s study was conducted online in late March and early April:

  • 300 adults aged 60 and over
  • 72 percent were ages 60-69
  • Participants represent all areas of the country
  • Median income of $56,000
  • Median assets of $445,000
  • Three-quarters are still married
  • 40 percent had completed some college study
  • Most are both parents and grandparents
  • Fifty-seven percent are retired and not working at all: About 12 percent of the retirees are still working, either because they have to or they want to