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Milevsky: Advisors Should Charge More for Retirement Spending Advice

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What You Need to Know

  • Advising on which accounts to tap and when is a complex task in which financial advisors have an advantage over robo-advisors.
  • The 4% withdrawal rule is a good starting conversation to educate clients on decumulation.
  • Advisors, particularly young ones, should focus less on lifestyle advice for retirees and more on the mathematical problems of asset withdrawal, Milevsky says.

Moshe Milevsky is on fire when discussing his most recent project: explaining what decumulation really means and outlining how it applies to clients, advisors and the financial services industry in general. Here’s a hint: It’s not retirement planning, but something more complicated. Therefore, it should be more expensive to clients.

Milevsky is a tenured professor at the York University Schulich School of Business in Toronto and a managing director of PI Longevity Extension Corp., a fintech company that develops algorithms, intellectual property and economic strategies to extend the longevity of portfolios. For 30 years, he has been training students and advisors alike on new ideas, new directions and new products in the retirement, and decumulation, arena.

Retirement Planning vs. Decumulation

Drawing down wealth and retiring from the workforce are two different events that take place simultaneously, Milevsky explains.

Economists have finally realized two things: People don’t necessarily retire all at once, and many people “don’t hate work as much as economists might think, because some of us derive social engagement from it,” he told ThinkAdvisor. “We like seeing people outside our family, as COVID has taught us, and we actually like what we do.”

In short, decision-making on how and when to retire is a “a sociological/psychological problem” that is more complicated than it might seem. A financial advisor, particularly a young one, trying to counsel a retiree on lifestyle issues may come off as “vacuous,” Milevsky says.

Instead, he says, advisors need to “stick to their knitting” and “draw a line around what they have expertise in and get better at that, and vice versa. [They should] partner with professionals in related fields to deal with these other fields.”

Decumulation, for its part, is a mathematical problem — a process far more complex than the process of saving and investing for retirement, he says — it’s “the process of figuring out how much to take out of my accounts every year and which accounts I should take them from in the most tax-efficient manner.”

This has several facets: Should the money be pulled from Roth IRAs or taxable accounts? When should a client claim Social Security or take their pension early? Should a 401(k) be rolled into an IRA or be kept in the plan? What about annuities?

4% Rule Is a Good Start

For decumulation, advisors need “a powerful, robust dashboard to help them with this complex problem; it’s no different than building portfolios,” Milevsky explains.

In the old days, he says, brokers would recommend stocks. Then they realized they couldn’t build portfolios one stock at a time so began to study asset classes, correlation structures and historical returns as they moved to asset allocation.

“It’s become a much more quantitative and certainly a much more sophisticated process,” he said.

He points out that the 4% withdrawal rule “is a great conversation starter” and a good way to educate a client. But it doesn’t stop there.

Charge More for Decumulation Advice

“[Decumulation is] an expensive and elaborate process,” he explains. “It takes time. It’s more complex, time consuming, and who is going to compensate the financial advisor for this time-consuming process?”

The answer isn’t “a minimum trail fee or [being] paid on some small fraction of assets,” he says. After all, “people want to get paid for their time. You have to pay more for decumulation advice than accumulation advice. So prepare clients who have become accustomed to paying very little for accumulation advice, that decumulation advice is a lot more expensive. … That’s why you don’t want to call it retirement planning.”

This also means, he adds, that robo-advisors will face challenges in this phase as decumulation has to be more tailored and unique to the individual. “So I’m preparing the masses as they age,” he says. “It’s going to be more expensive to get guidance, and rightfully so.”

Watch Interest Rates

We also asked the finance professor what he thought about the aging bull market. “Nothing shocks me anymore,” he said of stocks’ recent trajectory, but he did recommend that advisors keep their eye on long-term interest rates.

“Interest rates are at such low levels and all assets are appreciating because income is becoming more expensive,” he said. “If you’re looking for a prediction, keep your eye on the long-term bond market. That’s going to become the bellwether. When long-term interest rates start to head up, that’s not good for a lot of things, which is why the Fed is working so hard to keep that number down. If six months from now we’re still at 2%, 1.5%, then yeah, this bull market will continue. But if suddenly that number increases quickly, then I’ll become very bearish.”

Pictured: Moshe Milevsky

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