Retirement today is a lot like an iceberg, where 90 percent of what’s really taking place is below the surface, absent from ordinary investment conversations and mainstream retirement planning. Almost 100 percent of retirement planning is focused on financial issues and concerns, yet about 99 percent of life in retirement has very little to do with money. The retirement issues and opportunities that were never part of advisor/client discussions are now being thrust into mainstream planning; not necessarily by choice but because the new Age of Retirement requires a new and different planning path.
Gone are the days of retiring at 65, living on Social Security, a company pension and personal savings only to die at age 68. The advisor is now responsible for helping retirees prepare for the things that no one tells them about.
1) Health Is Wealth
Much of retirement talk today is focused on a client’s “number”--the amount of money a person needs to avoid outliving it. But money can’t buy happiness or good health, the latter of which carries the unfortunate stigma of being an asset that isn’t prized or respected until it’s gone. People might be living longer, but that doesn’t mean all those extra years will be healthy ones.
That’s what makes it so important for clients to move beyond the dollars and cents of retirement planning and focus on another set of numbers, including cholesterol levels, fasting blood sugar, body mass index (BMI), blood pressure and resting heart Rate.
These are the new retirement numbers that both advisors and clients need to know. The extra time that clients have in retirement won’t automatically provide the motivation or habits that will make them healthier than when they were working. Therefore, advisors need to encourage clients to start developing healthy habits now, such as cooking healthy meals during the week, waking up early for a walk, or enrolling in a Yoga or Tai Chi class.
2) Time Is Of The Essence
Typically, traditional retirement planning helps retirees envision romantic walks on the beach, worldwide travel, watching their grandkids graduate from college, and all things wonderful during the next 20 or 30 years. Despite all the rosy pictures, though, at best the only guarantee is the breath they’re currently taking.
Don’t allow clients to create a retirement plan based on the empty promise of time ,for as Benjamin Franklin put it, “You may delay, but time will not.” Encourage clients to avoid postponing the things that are important to them, and to treat the time they have in life like a precious commodity that only has a present value.
The reality is, we live in a constantly deteriorating world, so it’s important not to neglect opportunities to make the most of the lives we have been given. Help clients identify and focus on the things that cost little but provide a big return on the time invested, and hopefully they will never feel that the things they put off until retirement are no longer attainable.
3) There Is A Dark Side
Deep in the shadows of retirement lurks a hidden epidemic. It’s a chilling reality, wherein powerful forces such as addiction, mental illness and suicide threaten clients just as much as running out of money and fighting inflation. The research and statistics are eye-opening:
The number of retires with alcohol and other drug problems is expected to more than double by 2020, nearly 2 million Americans age 65 or older now suffer from full-blown depression, and suicide rates are highest among the age group 65+. These unsettling realities can be triggered by a number of normal life events associated with retirement, including loss of a spouse, an unexpected medical diagnosis, isolation from family and friends, and the natural aging and dysfunction of the body.
Retirement is a phase of life that many people look forward to, but without a plan to replace their work identity, stay socially connected, as well as mentally and physically sharp, a client’s golden years can quickly lose their luster and become consumed by the dark side of retirement.
4) Work Is What You Do, Not Who You Are
Too many people confuse who they are with what they do. This condition once only plagued men, but is now equally prevalent among career women. It can be compounded when they love their work, but don’t realize their work can’t love them back; be it a computer, managerial control, fixed schedule, deadlines, or routine. It’s a situation that can affect anyone, from a professional athlete, CEO, doctor, retail manager or assembly line worker. A sudden inability to equate what one does with who one is can cause an individual to lose her sense of purpose and stability.
Instead of allowing clients to end up lost and heartbroken once they retire, advisors can help clients ease the transition by asking pointed questions, such as: “Are you going to let work define you, or find a way to define yourself outside of work?” and “What aspects of work are going to be the most difficult for you to replace?” By helping the client prepare for what can happen to them emotionally instead of just financially, advisors increase the value they provide to a client, improving the complete retirement experience instead of just the financial aspects.
5) Retirement Is A Oxymoron
A cruel reality of retirement is that it takes the very things people think they are leaving behind in order to make a successful transition. Specifically, work, goals, timelines and schedule. Advisors and clients alike have been led to believe it’s the ideal stage of life, where stress and worry are replaced with peace and joy. Where long walks on the beach and watching your children succeed in business and grandchildren graduate from Ivy League schools trump health issues and the loss of loved ones.
Many people create mental retirement thoughts and plans, but don’t take the time to share them with a spouse, family members and friends. This can create fertile ground for future disagreements, as well as disappointments when those mental expectations aren’t met. As financial professionals ,it’s important for us to stop painting retirement as perfect, stress free and without many of other life’s challenges.
It may seem better to avoid these conversations with clients, but we are gatekeepers and should help them see retirement as it will be, not as they hope it will be. We should help clients see that the best way to approach retirement is by using the skills that made them successful at work.
If retirement is like an iceberg, with 90 percent of what’s really happening taking place below the surface, then advisors today should take some lessons from the Titanic. To help clients avoid sinking once they decide to call it quits, remember that an amateur built the Ark but a large group of professionals built the Titanic. That means you should never be afraid to step outside of your suit-and-tie role in favor of getting real with your clients. If a client is worried about retirement, or missing the boat, remind them of the lucky few who missed the Titanic’s only voyage; other opportunities will come along. Finally, don’t let your clients start a voyage like the Titanic, which never found a port to settle into. Help them find their own safe haven sheltered from the storms. Take the extra time, energy and effort to help them see, understand, and plan for the things that no one tells them about retirement.