I guess it’s a trilogy now. Clients, advisors and financial companies.

In my day job working on “retirement” and in my space here at Financial Advisor, I’ve been challenging advisors about their readiness—and willingness—to engage with the historic wave of retiring baby boomers now rolling off the workforce at 12,000 per day. These are the most valuable clients ever and are coming in quantities no one has ever seen before. And yet …

Readiness is a problem. We can’t easily answer some of the burning questions posed by retirees, such as: “How much will I need?” “How much will I pay for healthcare?” And those questions should be simple, say the clients.

Willingness is becoming a bigger issue. Advisors are chasing their own retirements, after all. Many of them complain about the stress caused by the complexity and regulatory oversight of their work.

When the buyers and sellers of anything are unhappy, the invisible hand of the free market balls up into a fist and punches that industry in the face. Detroit’s Big Three automakers owned 90% of the domestic market share at their peak. Now it’s half that level. It’s still a big business. But it’s very different from the one that produced big, four-door sedans and station wagons. There are now 23 other companies making cars for U.S. drivers.

The disruptions created in autos, beer, shopping, media and electronics are all well documented, but they were mostly underappreciated in the moment. Profits from the existing order of things too often inhibit companies’ innovation. People should have been thinking about reinvesting those profits in product and service improvements.

The advice industry is no different. Our priorities are too often set by fluctuating markets. The current 12-year bull market in stocks has spoiled a generation of once-scrappy leaders by rewarding their inaction with higher AUM fees.

To reboot our collective industry engine, a group of more than 30 industry leaders built Next Chapter—a think tank/take action team focused on retirement. It’s sponsored by the Execution Project (my firm), Financial Advisor and the Money Management Institute, and serves 180 companies and 200,000-plus advisors.

Over the course of the past year, Next Chapter has parsed 16 different aspects of retirement and wealth management, asked clients what we could do to improve in these areas and asked advisors what would make their lives easier. In the end, we consolidated the topics into six study groups, each aimed at a specific project to kick-start the flywheel of improvement.

Here’s where we think the gains can be made:

1. We need better integration and adoption of digital tools and resources.
We found that only half of advisors actively use client relationship management programs. Can that be so? We also found that 20% (or less) use full financial planning. What?

We decided to catalog the tools we are working with to establish the return on investment for each. That should help us focus on the most important capabilities.

2. We need to focus on client communication: financial literacy, empathy and emotional intelligence.
A study by the Investments & Wealth Institute has shown that way too few advisors connect with their clients’ unengaged female spouses, despite the emerging wisdom that the “future is female.”

We must remember that baby boomers are on a new path when they retire, and it’s unfamiliar to them. Our first step is to define their journey. Think of it the way you would AAA’s TripTik travel planner. Better communication means you must lay out the journey for clients and show them the key stops along the way.

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