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Life Health > Running Your Business > Selling

What You Think and What Retirement Clients Want Are Different

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What You Need to Know

  • Aging people have different reasons for investing.
  • Most financial professionals say they talk about emotions and goals with their clients.
  • Clients are much less likely to say they have discussed emotions and goals with their financial professionals.

As people grow older, they naturally contemplate what matters most to them. In particular, they aim to live a life that is meaningful and makes a positive contribution to the world.

Wealthy or not, this universal ambition is grounded in the truth that our lives are fundamentally worth living and that each of us matters.

Every aging person sooner or later faces certain questions. A normal part of growing older is to ask the “why?” question. Why am I investing? What truly matters? What do I want to do with my next chapter in life?

Financial professionals should be starting every client conversation discussing such issues as a means of clarifying their overall investment objectives.

Unfortunately, many don’t.

Life issues are long-term goals and aspirations ranging from bucket list experiences to simply a financially secure retirement, as well as the emotionally unsettling speed bumps investors inevitably encounter on the road to achieving their goals.

However, according to two parallel nationwide surveys of both financial professionals and investors, conducted by the Alliance for Lifetime Income, financial professionals significantly overstate their performance on this all-important metric.

The survey shows big gaps between what financial professionals think their clients want and what clients really want and concludes that they are consistently falling short of their clients’ expectations when it comes to discussing an array of life issues with them.

1. Bucket List Goal.

Whether it’s witnessing the Northern Lights or attending an Elton John concert at Madison Square Garden, bucket list experiences are a major reason why people invest.

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of financial professionals say they have discussed such goals with clients, but investors disagree; only 37% of investors say their financial professionals have mentioned bucket list goals in retirement planning conversations.

2. Life in Retirement

Americans are characteristically optimistic about the opportunities awaiting them in retirement. However, only 35% of investors say their financial professional has asked how they envision spending a typical day in retirement, whereas 55% of financial professionals contend they have done so.

3. Emotions

Investors who are approaching or have entered retirement inevitably experience a variety of life-changing events — be it a downturn in the stock market or the birth of a grandchild — that can affect their emotions and health, and therefore, their financial outlook.

Sixty-four percent of financial professionals say that they have discussed the emotions their clients experience as they anticipate or enter retirement, but only 23% of investors agree.

Moreover, roughly half (48%) of investors worry about their finances at least several times a month, but only 8% of financial professionals believe their clients worry that much.

4. Unexpected Retirement

Nearly half of retirees (47%) report that they retired earlier than they expected to, according to a 2022 Employee Benefit Research Institute survey.

Despite this trend, however, 37% of investors indicate that they haven’t discussed an unexpected retirement with their financial professional, whereas 92% of financial professionals say they raise the issue consistently or at least sometimes.

5. What Matters Most in Life

Perhaps the single greatest life issue — that which is most important in life — is central to many of the discussions financial professionals have with their clients.

Alas, while 81% of financial professionals say they have discussed what is most important to their clients with them, only 53% of investors agree.

To their credit, the overwhelming majority of financial professionals (95%) recognize that discussing life issues with their clients is either moderately or very important. Therefore, it’s likely that many financial professionals think they or doing so, or at least intend to do so, but the survey findings nevertheless find that many investors are left wanting.

The Alliance’s survey findings correspond with a variety of groundbreaking research studies conducted in the past few years which show that knowing your purpose can also play a positive role in your emotional and physical well-being and can help you live longer and happier.

One recent study showed that among a group of nearly 7,000 adults over age 50, those who scored highest on a scale that measured “life purpose” were less likely to die during the four-year study period.

Fortunately, there’s never a bad time for a financial professional to ask a client about what matters most to them in life.

Indeed, given the ongoing volatility in the stock and bond markets, spike in inflation, economic and political uncertainty, this is perhaps the best time in decades to raise such issues.

Whatever the timing or the impetus, however, investors want their financial professionals to initiate such discussions far more often than they claim to have of late. They’ll be happier, more grateful clients as a result.


Richard Leider and Suzanne Norman. (Photo: Alliance for Lifetime Income)Richard J. Leider and Suzanne Norman, CIMA, CPCC, are both education fellows with the Alliance for Lifetime Income’s Retirement Income Institute. Leider is co-author of Who Do You Want to Be When You Grow Old?, and founder of Inventure – The Purpose Company. Norman is a veteran of the investment industry. She most recently was a principal at Milliman.

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