A year ago, my husband and I began the transition to retirement, downsizing to a gem of a small home in a pristine community in the Low Country of South Carolina, and planning to travel 60 to 90 days a year, taking our children and grandchildren along as much as possible.


Now we are hunkered down with one adult son working remotely from our home while another son, daughter-in-law and grandchild live an anxious existence in Manhattan. The pandemic immobilized us, and now the protests over social injustice and racism force us to face other ills and dangers in our society. The world has tilted out of balance, and so have we.

Where do we go from here, as individuals and families, as communities and as an industry? These times are uncertain, but I have a few thoughts about changes in consumer psychology and behavior, and ideas about how advisors can connect in new ways, on a new level, to support their clients.

Existential Threats And The Consumer Psyche
Today’s retirees, pre-retiree Gen Xers and millennials have had a trifecta of soul-shattering experiences in the last 30 years. Everyone remembers 9/11 and the feeling of omnipresent danger. Seven years later, we had the Great Recession, an implosion that made finances, already scary, terrifying. And now there’s Covid-19—an insidious, mutating virus that has made us think about horrible trade-offs like death tolls against economic priorities. Add to that the overboiling, divisive political climate, the racism, social inequality and protests made visceral in the media, and it is no wonder nearly a third of Americans in a recent survey by the University of Southern California and the Gates Foundation reported feeling depression and anxiety.

Today’s malaise is multidimensional and existential, and it is affecting people all over the world on different levels. Existential threats leave people disoriented and out of balance, raise questions about meaning and purpose, and underscore the lack of human control. Unlike economic blips or even wars with a beginning and an end, this kind of altered state is hard to pinpoint and harder to solve. While we will persevere and find some recovery, the trauma is likely to be imprinted in our cultural DNA for years to come. As advisors work with clients, the emotional factors they face may be as or more important than the pure financial considerations.

My advice: It is time to lead with your heart.

A Change In Plans
In most cases, the right financial prescription for clients in turbulence is to recommit to their plan, but in these troubled times a fresh look and perhaps an overhaul may make better sense. At the very least, it is time for an honest and emotionally connected conversation about important priorities:

1. Where and how to live: Take my own situation. We are empty nesters who had downsized, but this month we put an offer on a different, more expensive Low Country waterfront property in South Carolina large enough to house a dozen or more if our kids need shelter. We made a 180-degree shift in our original plans for living small and traveling around the world, because suddenly our priorities and values had changed. Our advisors listened, understood and supported the decision.

Our smaller house was sold to a couple in their late 40s who have decided to get the heck out of Chicago and have permission from their employers to work remotely from South Carolina. What was once debated as a flexible working arrangement has been tested and refined during the quarantine, with far-reaching implications for employers, employees, industries, regulators, financial markets, etc. This story will play out, but for the consumer mindset the possibility of working remotely makes less expensive suburbs, rural towns and smaller cities appealing.

The phrase “room to breathe” is now a literal priority. Helping clients think about possible lifestyle changes, and advising them on making transitions, is one way to strengthen your bond and add tremendous value.

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