We often work with clients to develop a retirement plan that gets them from point A to point B.  As the map to this mysterious world gets sketched out, we sometimes forget that, like the first explorers, there are sections of the map that are uncharted, with boundaries outside of which nothing can be seen or explained.  

It’s not uncommon to overlook these voids. We simply assume they will remain outside the mapped area. However, instead of considering the unknown as off limits, advisors can take clients on a different journey—one that helps them survey the depths of their heart and soul, and which encourages them to seek out those distant places. A personal voyage that can unearth treasures inside a client’s body, mind and spirit and expand the retirement horizon instead of putting boundaries around it.

Despite the many freedoms that retirement is supposed to offer clients, providing advice to help clients venture off a traditional path isn’t part of the playbook for many advisors. Instead, they prefer to walk the seemingly safer, well-worn trail, the one blazed long ago that should work if everything is done just so. It's a scary reality that has, in a way, imprisoned our industry, practices and ultimately our clients. 

Approaching retirement planning as a voyage that embraces both the known and the unknown leads to very different conversations than much of those that take place in many offices. That can mean reframing clients so that they are more “present” with their plans rather than future oriented. Too often, we medicate our clients to believe that it’s better to postpone living the life they want until retirement, instead of living for today. We have to stop convincing people that they need a certain amount of money and to reach a certain age before making themselves, their relationships and overall well-being a priority.  We need to start retraining people so they understand that there’s no better time than the present simply because we don’t know what the future holds.

That opportunity can be seized in a number of ways. First, infuse more probing questions into client conversations and communications. For example, instead of asking a client how they are going to spend 20 to 30 years in retirement, shift the focus to the here and now by asking what would happen if they never made it to retirement. This is not a tactic for selling life insurance. It’s a way to ask if staying on the known parts of the map sacrifices too much and whehter clients need to strike a better balance between living for now and later. 

On the surface, questioning your client’s longevity may not seem like the ideal way to increase assets under your management, but clients want to have these conversations. They just don’t know who to have them with, or how to initiate them. If every advisor would simply accept the fact that every client has a fire in their heart waiting to be kindled; a relationship cut from the past that needs to be stitched; and the urge to reach their full potential, our industry members would achieve cult-like status. 

While I can’t pinpoint how much an advisor may make or even lose by investing extra time and energy into resources that support these areas of client development, I do know that every advisor is at their very best, and most influential, when they are fully engaged in the business of helping others. It adds meaning to the advisor’s time, swagger to their step, perspective in their conversations, comfort in their sleep, and helps make everything in life worthwhile.

This doesn’t mean the advisor becomes a therapist or life coach, or that he or she changes everything. It’s simply acknowledging that they too may need to explore new boundaries and leverage new material and topics to meet the needs of their clients. I was trained as a social worker and I am willing to cover taboo topics with clients, but half of the retirement remapping I provide is done through e-mail, newsletters and similar vehicles. It’s not always easy or appropriate to ask a client certain questions when they’re in your office. Furthermore, it’s not something you can just try once in a while. You need to create a consistent and reliable stream of empowering ideas and insights that hit a client and prospect at a time they most need it. That’s the power, influence and benefit of using drip marketing to extend your influence and have a bigger impact on your client’s everyday lives. 

We often send our clients out into the world of retirement fearful of their resources, on a strict path to make their money last, almost sleepwalking toward retirement. Yet it doesn’t have to be that way. A great retirement is made of the same stuff that makes for a positive and fulfilling life leading up to it.  Retirement doesn’t need to be a strange place where we all end up, full of excuses as to why so much of life belongs in the background, out of sight and off the map. If we truly want to help people see retirement as a voyage of discovery into the unknown, filled with opportunities that lie beyond the shallows, then we have to help them create concrete plans to accomplish this right now.

It can be as simple as encouraging married clients to set up a “date night” fund instead of focusing solely on a retirement travel fund. If they don’t spend some quality time together now, there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to do so later. It can also mean redirecting some savings from that college fund to a quirky camp or cruise that their kids have clamored for. That might be a deviation from the normal family vacation, but it’s an important step in helping clients venture into unchartered territory. And it will (and maybe should) fly in the face of mainstream planning. I see no problem in someone reducing 401(k) contributions for a while in order to adopt a child, minister in a foreign country or start a side business because of the quality of life it can provide.