If you want to know what type of retiree you'll make, ask Lynn Drake, a Washington, D.C.-area retirement coach. I did. And boy was it a shocker.
This savvy coach uses a bevy of diagnostic tools, chief among them a retirement success profile, to figure out in less time than it takes to watch the latest Denzel Washington flick how productive, happy and healthy you might be in retirement. Her tests and processes ferret out where you're likely to succeed and where you might stumble when it comes to transitioning to the next stage of life. It's less about money than it is about discovering your sense of self and purpose and putting your discoveries to good use.
That's just the starting point of Drake's work with those clients who are fast approaching retirement or already there, but it's a critical one (like the data collection advisors do when they take on a new client).
can the coach tell you about your prospects for retirement success based on your answers to the 23-page survey she uses? Things most of us never think about, let alone spend any time planning for. Advisors fill their days seeking financial solutions that optimize investments and reduce financial risks. But what about optimizing clients' 20 to 30 years in retirement? What about their goals and aspirations, career and business desires, fitness, socialization, hobbies and, yes, even relationships?
These are life's-higher-purpose-type goals. Then there are the downright pragmatic considerations coaches can help you tackle, such as how you deal with your spouse now that you're both home and he's appointed himself new manager of the household. And how about helping clients who are obese? Or the ones who have taken up retail therapy as a hobby and find themselves racking up big bills for stuff they don't need?
"When I coach clients, I look for what gets them out of bed in the morning-what they're great at," says Drake. "Just because someone is successful in their work life doesn't mean they know what to do when they don't need to go into the office anymore."
Drake is a Certified Retirement Coach-a program blessed by the CFP Board of Standards. She is also a longtime communications expert and consultant who is certified to coach by the International Coach Federation. She spent more than a decade as the director of media relations for the Washington, D.C. office of the American Institute of CPAs, where she advocated for the group's Personal Financial Planning Division and its growing membership of planners.
Both the ICF (www.coachfederaton.com) and the Retirement Options Certified Retirement Coach Certification Program (retirementoptions.com) are recognized as leading standards-setting and certification organizations for coaches and are good starting points for finding qualified facilitators. Together they have certified 11,600 coaches. Hourly rates start at $125 and range upwards of $250. Drake, who charges $150 an hour, says engagements usually last 10 to 12 sessions.
What's a good way to personally vet a coach? Do what I did with Drake. Ask her or him for an introductory or initial coaching session and see what they're made of and what they deliver in terms of cogent retirement preparation.
Hiring a qualified coach, say for a lunch or evening event you sponsor for a group of clients, will not only open clients' eyes to the possibilities retirement holds, it will underscore your firm's worth.
A small but advanced cadre of advisory firms is already using coaches to help clients prepare for retirement and make the most of their time and money throughout life. "We've just hired a consultant to start a coaching series for a group of about two dozen clients two Tuesdays a month," says Greg Sullivan, president of Sullivan, Bruyette, Speros & Blayney (SBSB), an advisory firm that manages $2 billion in McLean, Va. "We call the sessions 'conversations.' We really think they'll help clients plan for the emotional and strategic issues involving retirement and money management." A leader in his profession (his firm's Zen relaxation room is just one example of Greg's commitment to doing things right for clients and employees), Sullivan says that personal and family coaching can provide a meaningful and even necessary accompaniment to SBSB's advisory work.
"I help individuals articulate their goals and find ways to help them express those goals," says Diana Chambers, a Washington, D.C. wealth coach who works with SBSB and other advisors in the D.C. area to help their clients explore their options and choices.
Of course, advisors are not always at the forefront of trends, especially when it comes to giving outside professionals access to their clients. So it's not surprising that it's often retiring investors who seek out coaches on their own.
That's exactly what Suzanne Langsdorf, 62, of Arlington, Va., did when she hired Drake early this year. "My husband passed away in December [of 2006] and I had to think hard about whether I wanted to retire as planned," says Langsdorf. "I work with an investment advisor, but he's a money doctor. He's not going to ask: 'So what will you do with all your free time in retirement?'"
She equates going to an investment advisor for life advice with going to a personal trainer at the local gym for investment advice. "My advisor told me I had the money to retire. When you're preparing for retirement, all people think about is the money. That's critical, but there's so much more. How are you going to fill your time, when you're used to working eight to ten hours a day? What will take your job's place in terms of your sense of purpose and socialization? Do you know where you want to live?"
With Drake's assistance, Langsdorf faced off against these very questions. She credits Drake with leading her through a careful and thoughtful process that helped her confirm that she did indeed want to retire at year's end and stay put in her longtime home in the D.C. suburbs, close to the sights and sounds of the city, as well as family and friends.
"The process [Drake] leads you through is one of self discovery. It's important to do that self-analysis," Langsdorf says. "I discovered that I'm fairly well adjusted and prepared and have a good attitude about retirement. I won't feel the need to run out and get another job or spend thousands in retail therapy. The coaching allowed me to re-examine my sense of purpose, my relationships and validate my own understanding of what retirement will be. It also gave me goals to think about with regard to being creative with the way I think about this next phase of my life." Langsdorf will retire from the human resources department of a D.C. law firm December 15. She says she's looking forward to the next chapter of her life and spending more time as an art quilt designer. "I didn't want to be one of those people who is only focused on the next big deal or bonus and doesn't know what to do when they don't do what they do anymore." She credits Drake with giving her the confidence she desired to retire successfully.
I wish I could say the same! Oh, don't get me wrong. I'm confident after my coaching session that Drake is a fine facilitator. It's my belief in my own retirement preparedness that's in tatters. Granted, I'm only 45, so I have a good 17 years to get things right if I want to retire at age 62. But what I discovered, care of Drake's diagnostics and counseling, is that I may need every minute of that time. Sadly, Drake's retirement success profile survey discovered that I work too much. At everything. And it leaves less time for joy than it should. I even work too hard at one of my hobbies-weight training at the gym.
I should have listened to my 80-year-old dad Robert when he told me that if he golfs too often it starts to feel like a job. He still manages to squeeze in 18 holes with his golf league twice a week in Myrtle Beach, S.C., 18 years into his retirement. But when he tries to play that third round, it just doesn't feel right, he tells me. He's smart. But sadly, I haven't applied his sage advice to my own life. So with Drake's assistance, I'm going to trade one day of weekend training in the gym for more visits to museums and wineries and blues fests and even to the annual charitable polar bear club swim in the Chesapeake Bay (I'll watch from shore, with a blanket, but it's still a hoot). Well, I might still get a quick morning workout in on Saturdays. But no more than that!
It's a good first step on the road to retirement preparation, and I have Drake, my future retirement coach and newfound friend, to thank for it. Not all wake-up calls are happy ones at first, but it's better to start planning now for what my retirement will look like 15 or 20 years down the road than be surprised by my inability to cope. And that includes thinking about what I might want to do for work-another area where retirement coaches like Drake can help.
The AARP finds that some 80% of baby boomers plan to work at least part time in retirement and many of them want to start their own business. While you can help them plan for costs and financing needs and even recommend legal assistance, do you, as planners, really want to do vocational or business counseling?
Prior generations have often found, after a few years in retirement, that they had too much time on their hands and wanted to get out of the house, so they would take a job of convenience or sometimes one of desperation. With some planning and coaching, boomers might be able to do themselves one better and embark on a second career that is even more fulfilling than the first.
Drake walks the walk on this one. "I was a member of Future Teachers of America in high school, but let that go when the women's movement started because teaching seemed too traditional a woman's job. And now here I am in midlife,and in a sense I've come full circle. I'm back to teaching and coaching and I absolutely love it," she says.
That's where she often starts her coaching sessions with new clients. By asking them what it is they love to do. Not a bad start to any engagement.