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Retirement Planning > Retirement Investing

The New Future of the Profession: ‘Longevity Advisors’

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For 15 years, Hartford Funds’ John Diehl has been collaborating with Dr. Joe Coughlin of the MIT Age Lab, which conducts some of the most interesting research regarding how America’s older population is being transformed by a host of factors. Diehl’s job, he said in an interview during the Schwab Impact conference in Washington, is to “translate” the Age Labs’ findings “into action” for advisors.

A good part of that translation revolves around how advisors’ service offerings and business models will have to change if they want to keep pace with the needs of their older clients.

Yes, advisors will continue to provide investment advice to clients, but to succeed in the future advisors will also have to educate clients about their options in their post-work stages of life and “connect clients to resources” that they’ll need to not just have a longer life, but a better life.

In a Hartford white paper on the Future of Advice, with an accompanying workbook, Diehl argues that the evolving value of an advisor will move from the financial planning realm to what he calls the “longevity-based advisor.”

The successful advisor in the (very near) future will:

  • Educate clients about their options in retirement, sharing their personal insights and the lessons learned from others in similar life stages.
  • Connect clients to various practical resources they’ll need in retirement, going beyond traditional referral or COI sources.
  • Introduce and demonstrate technology solutions that will make older age easier (and which “Don’t shout: ‘I’m old.’” to onlookers. One example: The Apple Watch app that detects when a person has fallen.)
  • Address issues that will matter personally to aging clients, including housing, transportation, health care and social connections. Self-driving cars, for example, can keep older clients socially engaged, staving off isolation.

And it’s likely clients will live longer, despite reports that Americans’ longevity has plateaued in recent years. Diehl cites one study showing that for an upper-middle-class couple aged 65 there’s a 43% chance that one will live to age 95; and by 2029—only 10 years away—that chance will grow to 50%.

But there’s a first step in that “connect-clients-to-resources” process, which Diehl compares to solving a jigsaw puzzle. To complete that puzzle, you need not only the pieces, but to “look at the picture on the box.”

Too many clients have only a vague vision of what their lives will be like after working full time, so advisors’ first job is to help clients “clarify the picture” of the next stage of life, and then “give them the right pieces” so they can complete the puzzle.

Referencing an earlier Hartford study, 8,000 Days of Retirement, Diehl said that “everybody knows what they’ll be doing on day one” of retirement, and likely on day 14 and even day 1,000. But retirement for many will last 20 years, or 8,000 days, and most clients will need and appreciate the help that a trusted advisor can provide during those days.

But advisors are experts, usually, in investment advice and other related topics. Do they really have the skills to help clients solve the retirement puzzle? To clarify what they want their retirement to look like? Diehl thinks they’re getting there, as shown by the now-common practice in successful advisory firms of building out teams whose members take on specific roles.

Diehl suggests that advisors expand the notion of building a network of centers of influence “beyond accountants and lawyers” to include “professionals” like building contractors and physical therapists. Diehl says that some of the best client events that advisors sponsor include presentations by people like contractors, who can provide advice on how, for example, to prepare a client’s home for aging in place. (Research shows that nearly 90% of adults age 65 or older intend to stay in their own homes for as long as possible. Even if they need regular health care as they age, 82% would still prefer to receive that care in their own homes.)

That’s fine, you might say, but how do you get paid for providing access to experts on Medicare planning or a tech geek who can explain the benefits or drawbacks of social media apps or how to use Skype to talk to grandchildren?

Drawing on his Age Lab partner Coughlin’s suggestion, Diehl raises one way to make such services financially feasible. “What if you thought about your practice as a membership group?” where all your clients are members entitled to multiple benefits, like those client events. While many advisors already provide such benefits not directly tied to revenue, most do not systematize those benefits. Perhaps there’s a fee to join your firm’s “club?”

Diehl is not advocating that advisors jettison their AUM fees, but he does suggest that it would make sense to tie an advisor’s compensation from clients to the overall value the advisor provides the client, not just managing their money. Plus, “the service model is something I control” as an advisor, rather than the ups and downs of the markets, which nobody controls.

Diehl argues that what clients really want from their advisors is that they be “experts in them,” the clients, rather than in some arcane investment theory.

Citing restaurateur Danny Meyer, who likes to say that “Food is my currency; hospitality is my business,” successful advisors, suggests Diehl, will be those who realize that when they ask themselves “What business am I in?” don’t respond by saying they are in the investment business.

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