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Wade Pfau, Practical Academic: The 2014 IA 25 Profile

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Teaching retirement income in The American College’s new Ph.D. program for financial and retirement planning is a sea change from teaching macroeconomics to public policymakers from emerging market countries.

But for Wade Pfau, who came to the Bryn Mawr, Pa.-based American College in 2013 after a decade of teaching at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo, the radical shift in career is very welcome, and his new gig is one that he truly enjoys.

“Economics focuses on trying to demonstrate mathematically why some models work, whereas with financial planning, you can’t get away with using models and assumptions. You have to explain things so that they’re both understandable and relatable,” Pfau said.

When it comes to retirement planning education, then, Pfau considers it his priority to bridge the gap between academic research and its practical application.

His name first came into the spotlight in 2011 with a research paper entitled “Safe Savings Rate: A New Approach to Retirement Planning over the Life Cycle.” Pfau credits the launch of his current career to that paper, which won the inaugural Journal of Financial Planning Montgomery-Warschauer Editor’s Award. Even now, he said, much of his work centers around its main concept, which is that anyone who saves at their “safe savings rate” will likely be able to achieve their retirement spending goals regardless of their actual wealth accumulation and withdrawal rate.

That viewpoint is catching on quickly with financial advisors and consumers, many of whom are keen readers of Pfau’s Retirement Researcher blog ( But even so, most retirement research today is still focused on the notion that individuals need to find a safe withdrawal rate for their retirement and use that as a barometer to compute a wealth accumulation target to fund their desired retirement spending. Most academics and financial advisors continue to view the accumulation and decumulation phases of life as distinct, Pfau said, rather than seeing them as part of the same cycle.

Still, Pfau has enough clout behind him to seriously spread the word about lifecycle retirement planning. In addition to his teaching, he is an avid blogger and seeks to generate high-quality, practical research about retirement and personal financial planning to help promote broader education both to the general public and to financial planners about the importance of developing sustainable retirement income strategies.

Pfau also serves as chief financial planning scientist for InStream Solutions, an interactive financial planning software company for advisors. He’s won, among other awards, two Academic Thought Leadership Awards from the Retirement Income Industry Association. He has also contributed to the curriculum of the Retirement Income Certified Professional (RICP) designation and the Retirement Management Analyst (RMA) designation.

Pfau earned a Ph.D. in economics from Princeton University in 2003 and became a CFA charterholder in 2011.

(Check out Investment Advisor’s full IA 25 for 2014 list on ThinkAdvisor.)


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