Many financial advisors figure there’s nothing more to learn about baby boomers. Many are boomers themselves, aged 53 to 71, and they’ve been working with boomer clients for years. What could possibly be new?
For one thing, the intragenerational divide.
“Leading boomers, born from 1946 to 1955, and trailing boomers, born from 1956 to 1964, have different outlooks on retirement and money in general,” said Cam Marston, author, speaker, coach and founder of demographic profiling firm Generational Insights. Understanding these two echelons, and incorporating their differences into your approach, can be the key to connecting with a boomer client.
Although many leading boomers are already retired, most of their younger siblings are still in the homestretch of their careers. “These trailing boomers are buying second homes or downsizing, packing kids off to college, searching for retirement destinations and looking for places to park their investments,” Marston said.
Not only do the two groups have different financial needs, but they often perceive things in a completely different way. Sometimes the differences are minor (think of an American conversing with a Brit), while at other times they can be dissimilar enough to prevent a relationship from forming (e.g., a Finn trying to chat with a Bantu). “Everyone sees the world through his or her own generational filter,” Marston explained. The better you understand your leading or trailing boomer client, the easier it will be to forge a connection.
Leading Boomers: The Golden Generation
Leading boomers, who started crossing the threshold of 65 six years ago, have led a mostly charmed life. As a generation, they experienced the Summer of Love, the first moon landing, the fall of the Soviet Union and a long-running bull market, so it’s no wonder they believe anything is possible. Crediting hard work for their accomplishments, they sometimes aren’t aware how exceptionally well the system worked for them.
The term “workaholic” was invented for this group of boomers, who believe one’s work ethic should be visible. In other words, if you’re not sending emails at 4 a.m., you’re not working that hard.
As a result of their labors, they’ve felt entitled to tangible rewards of their success: a big house, an expensive car, ultimate toys for themselves and their kids. Now, as they move toward or into retirement, Marston said, they’re beginning to value time and experiences more than things.
Still, they’re under a lot of stress. With their children typically out of the nest, they ought to be free to wrap up their work lives and transition harmoniously to retired life. However, many are still burdened with debt, from mortgages to credit cards to education loans, leaving them anxious about maintaining their lifestyle amid a wobbly economy and a high-priced stock market.
“It’s become clear to them that they should have done more,” Marston observed. He referred to a study by Transamerica’s Center for Retirement Studies, noting, “Three-fourths wish they’d saved more and on a more consistent basis. If an advisor can show that working together will help them stay independent, you’ll be viewed as an ally.”
Whether or not they work with a financial pro, leading boomer parents and their millennial children often consult each other about major financial decisions. “This type of parent-child relationship is the first of its kind,” Marston noted.
However, many of these parents don’t intend to leave an inheritance. Reckoning they’ve already spent enough on raising and educating their offspring, they plan to use all their money themselves, maybe bouncing the last check on the day of their funeral. While this may be consistent with the original “me” generation, it’s a dramatic shift away from earlier generations’ attitudes.
Not that leading boomers plan to kick the bucket anytime soon. They like to be thought of as “fit, active, energetic and current,” Marston pointed out. To be considered “old” is anathema, to the point where boomers shy away from such coy terms as “active adults,” “mature,” “50-plus” and even “middle-aged.”
That said, leading boomers (and trailing boomers, to some extent) have never really let go of their past. They’re nostalgic for things that were important in their youth, from snacks to TV shows. By the same token, even though they may pride themselves on being tech-savvy, they generally prefer to do business face-to-face or by phone. Marston said, “The personal touch is critical to maintaining relationships.”
If You’re Younger Than A Leading Boomer Client
Establish your competence. To build credibility for your expertise, document your credentials and awards.
Be positive. Younger advisors who pride themselves on “calling it as they see it” may tend to be too terse and pragmatic. Maintaining an optimistic outlook will make a better impression on boomer clients.
Become an expert in decumulation planning, keeping in mind that leading boomers feel they’ve earned a comfortable lifestyle.
Avoid the temptation to fall back on emailing and texting. “Gen X and millennial advisors often consider electronic communication more efficient,” Marston explained. “They need to take care to communicate personally and face to face with boomer clients on a regular basis.”
Trailing Boomers: ‘Just Keep Swimming’
In Marston’s view, leading and trailing boomers appear to share similar characteristics of ambition, competitiveness and ardent consumerism. However, trailing boomers tend to be more pessimistic — or at least more skeptical — about their future. Caught in the crossfire as their mothers went to work, college costs climbed and the job market dried up, they had the further bad luck of being hit by a recession during their prime accumulation years.
As a result, Marston said, trailing boomers’ outlook is more like that of Generation Xers: skepticism, weariness and a conviction that their financial security depends completely on them. Deeper in debt than leading boomers were at their age, they expect to work longer and get less retirement help than those early boomers did. “They simply haven’t been able to gain the same financial foothold as their leading boomer peers,” he concludes. “The ‘dream’ that rewarded their older siblings so well has been diminished and postponed for them.”
To complicate matters, many trailing boomers not only go into debt for their children’s expensive educations but also continue subsidizing them afterward, sometimes for years. Almost three-fourths of millennials (ages 19-35) currently receive financial support from their parents.