While working on this month’s cover story on why clients fail in retirement, I was frankly amazed when several leading advisors told me they didn’t have clients who failed in retirement.

Some of these advisors ran large firms with 500 or 1,000 clients or more. And in their view, not one of 500 individuals had a very difficult time during the last third or quarter of their life, except maybe with health issues.

What world are they living in? The notion that not a single individual of among 500 people or more would not ecounter serious problems during the last third or quarter of their lives is ludicrous.

In one way or another, many advisors seem to think if a client fails in retirement it’s their fault. This view of their role in the world possesses a certain grandiose and delusional aspect to it, implying that advisors have the power to exert greater control over outcomes than they do.

There is no need to exaggerate the significance of what financial advisors do because achieving financial independence in a world where individuals are left to fend for themselves is important enough. Clients of financial advisors tend to fall into that small subset of Americans who actually have some control over their own destiny.

The idea for this article came from Greg Sullivan of Sullivan Bruyette Speros & Blayney in McLean, Va., and Dan Moisand of Moisand, Fitzgerald & Tamayo in Melbourne, Fla. Greg participated in a panel that I moderated at our annual retirement symposium in Las Vegas in April. It was easy to tell from the audience that this subject resonated with advisors. So thank you Greg and Dan for having the guts to talk about it.

Simply put, there are many factors in people’s lives over which financial advisors have no control. Just as a cardiologist can’t force a client to stop having daily meals at Mickey D’s or smoking two packs of Camels a day, advisors can tell a client that supporting adult children will wreck their retirement, but they can’t stop the client from writing monthly checks.

Speaking of issues advisors need to worry about, this month both Ric Edelman and Bill Bachrach address the issue of longevity. The good news is people are living longer and the day when centenarians are no long exceptions that people marvel at may be  closer than most of us think.

Ric observes that if people start living longer, looking at one’s life span from a traditional linear perspective may not serve clients well since they’ll be forced to change jobs more often over a long time period. Bill points out that most traditional retirement planning software programs only go up to 99 years old.

Advisors aren’t the only ones who will need to rethink their assumptions.

Evan Simonoff
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