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Marcia Mantell

Retirement Planning > Retirement Investing

A Retirement Recipe for Advisors Who Don’t ‘Cook’

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Many clients are in a quandary trying to figure out how to plan for retirement. Often, their advisors lack the specialized knowledge, apart from the necessary financial smarts, to help them.

“The hundreds of thousands of investment- and insurance-focused advisors … in the product lane [are] faltering because they can’t address their clients’ questions” about retirement; they lack the “expertise,” argues Marcia Mantell, founder of Mantell Retirement Consulting, in an interview with ThinkAdvisor.

To fill that gap, she wrote a new book, “Cookin’ Up Your Retirement Plan” (December 2022, Mantell RC), an interactive, reader-friendly decision guide on how to create one’s unique plan for retirement.

The title comes from Mantell’s analogy that building a retirement plan is like making a lasagna: You do it layer by layer, making darn sure that the underlying layer is sturdy.

For the plan, that means Social Security or a pension, Mantell says in the interview.

As it happens, cooking involves the higher-level thinking processes of executive function, initiation, planning and organization, according to the National Library of Medicine.

That’s just what creating a successful retirement plan needs, too.

Mantell, 61, is a popular public speaker with mastery of the intricate ins and outs of Social Security and Medicare.

She is the author of “What’s the Deal With Retirement Planning for Women?” and “What’s the Deal With Social Security for Women?”

As a consultant, she creates retirement income programs and workshops for advisors and their clients, as well as for employees of large firms.

A small side consultancy she has steers baby boomers and older Gen Xers away from bewilderment to retirement-planning clarity, using her book as a guide.

In the book, she presents templates for three plans: ideal, alternate — which could be even better than the ideal — and Plan C, for when something terrible suddenly happens. She discusses all three in the interview.

For more than a decade, Mantell, who develops curriculum for the Investments & Wealth Institute (formerly IMCA), was a vice president in retirement product marketing at Fidelity Investments.

She is particularly focused on baby boomers, which led to the creation of her blog, Boomer Retirement Briefs.

In addition to her work, she spends “an inordinate amount of time” in the kitchen, which well qualifies her to write about making lasagna.

One of her favorite creations is a fancy spinach-and-mushroom lasagna with béchamel sauce.

ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed Mantell, who was speaking by phone from her base in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

She recalled that her new book stemmed from phone calls from people who had read her work or saw her presentations and were lamenting, “I’m trying to figure out this retirement thing, but I don’t know where to start.”

Here are highlights of our interview:

THINKADVISOR: My sense is that you’re trying to change the financial services industry’s approach to retirement planning. Am I right?

MARCIA MANTELL: That’s exactly what I’m trying to do — change the conversation, fill the gaps that I see. It’s hard, though, especially for advisors or annuity brokers, who have to sell and produce.

I “get” that. But that’s not what [consumers] need. People are trying to figure out how to retire.

What do you suggest?

We aren’t going to make those advisors planners. So let’s help them empower their clients. My [book’s approach] might be a way, especially for getting the women in the game.

“Cookin’ Up Your Retirement Plan” spins on making a lasagna as analogous to creating a retirement plan. Who does your book target specifically?

Two groups: anybody who’s 50 to 65 and wants to find out what their transition to retirement will be like.

The other group is the advisors. If you’re an advisor with a large share of business coming from planning, the book isn’t for you. You’re already doing lots of this.

Which type of advisor is it for, then?

All the other advisors who are investment or insurance people who are in the product lane. I see them faltering because they can’t address their clients’ questions.

And there are hundreds of thousands of advisors who are insurance- and investment-focused.

Their clients want something that the advisors say they don’t have expertise in.

So how would those advisors use your book?

Put it on a bookshelf as a recommendation: “Here’s a guidebook that will walk you through the different considerations you need to have. When you get to the end, let’s talk so I can make sure the investments are on track for what you need.”

Or they could send clients a link to the book or give them a copy. I sell it to advisors in bulk at a 50% discount.

Is the book a financial plan?

No. It fills a gap in the way the industry does retirement planning. It has all that missing information.

When you meet with your advisor, they’ll [typically] tell you that, since last quarter, or last year, your assets have — hopefully — increased, your portfolio has been rebalanced and they’ve done some tax loss harvesting for you.

Our entire industry is built around charts, data, analysis and legalese. That’s very unappealing to [lay people].

The advisor community gives you these analytics on the state of your “car” [so to speak].

But retirement is so big and unknown, and asks everyone to foresee what their next 30 years are going to be like, as if they were soothsayers.

Where else do advisors go wrong when it comes to clients’ retirement planning needs?

Some ask: “What’s your goal for retirement?” But people just don’t talk about goals for retirement. A goal is learning how to make a chocolate cake or how to play the piano.

Retirement for 30 years is not about having a goal.

People I [consult to], who are ages 55 to 60, are trying to figure out their retirement but don’t know where to start.

The idea of retirement is all very foreign to people who have been working and building a career for 40 years. So they ask me to help them.

What’s the asset level of folks who seek your help?

They have $1 million to $2 million. They’re the constrained investors.

The retirement management-advisor world calls anyone between the bottom 40% and 98% of Americans [the top 2% being the ultra-wealthy] constrained investors. And for the most part, they are.

The people I talk to have been saving but may not have a whole lot of wiggle room. They’ll be OK if they pay attention in retirement.

They’re just not really sure how to approach it. They wonder [whether] they can afford to retire. And if so, when?

You liken retirement planning to making a lasagna and say that the underlying layer needs to be “very sturdy and hold up the rest of the layers.” What should that first layer be for retirement?

Social Security or in lieu of that, a pension.

Should the rest of the layers be laid down in a certain order?

You can’t change what the layers are, but you can change the order that you prepare the ingredients.

For the lasagna, you need sauce and meatballs [unless it's a veggie lasagna]. Some people put the ricotta down and then the sauce. Others put the meat layer down and then another layer of pasta. but you must have a sturdy first layer.

Most people say that in retirement, they want to travel or purchase a second home or acquire other pricey things — expenses they didn’t have pre-retirement. How does your book help with that?

I present three different plans:

Plan A is your ideal retirement plan. You map out ideas of how you want to fill your days in retirement. Then you [write down] your estimated expenses and income.

Plan B is your alternate retirement “menu.” What if something [game-changing] favorable happens? Say, you’re offered early retirement, a positive for most people.

But what if something terrible suddenly happens, like the financial crisis or the pandemic — bad events that can throw off your vision of retirement?

That’s Plan C: Someone gets sick. You or your spouse or partner dies. A natural disaster befalls you.

Or the market tanks for a long period of time, so the value of your portfolio drops by 25%. And the money you thought you had, you don’t have.

It doesn’t necessarily completely change what you want to do, but it may put you on a different schedule. For instance, maybe you’ll wait till the market recovers and [thus] put off travel for two years.

For a client couple with adult children, you recommend that the parents meet with them to discuss legacy plans and perhaps have an attorney there as moderator. What about a financial advisor moderator?

Most financial advisors don’t do the legacy piece in the way I write about it in the book. They can do it for the money piece. But legacy is so much more.

It’s about health and health care, end-of-life decisions that each of us should be making, and where all your stuff is going to go [upon death], like who’ll get Grandma’s wedding dress or the Christmas ornaments or the [family] menorah?

So I think the estate planning piece should stay with the estate planners.

But surely, financial advisors should provide substantial input into legacy planning. Any further thoughts?

Absolutely. But [you need to] establish a team of experts: wealth planner, retirement advisor, CFP or financial planner, tax accountant, trust and estate attorney, and a business succession planner if you have a business.

All these people have to be supporting you and your wishes.

How have the folks you’ve worked with who use the book as a guide reacted?

The ability to see where you are is pretty remarkable. But it also makes some people very nervous.

I’ve noted with couples that [the wife] is gangbusters about what to do in retirement; [the husband] just wants to know if he can quit working next year.

He doesn’t necessarily want to go through a lot of this conversation. But you can’t avoid it when you plan together.

This approach gives people a very structured framework. It’s about the ability to talk through the decisions that need to be made.

(Pictured: Marcia Mantell)


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