Skip the eye roll. This is not another admonition to chase the countless trillions rolling toward baby boomers’ heirs. This column is about who’s going to make billions managing that historic treasure.

In last month’s issue of Financial Advisor, I asked “Where Have All the Advisors Gone?” and offered the harsh observation that too many advisors are not actively engaging with their clients on issues of retirement and that as an industry we too often fail to answer the most basic questions nagging clients on the brink of leaving work. History reminds us that blowing off the baby boomer consumer, or any consumer nowadays, is a stupendously stupid move that allows competitors to line up for the opportunity. Ask General Motors, Sears or Kodak how that feels.

If you Google “intergenerational wealth transfer,” you’ll see eye-popping numbers of up to $68 trillion poised to slide from the boomers to their heirs. We’re still in the first inning of that age wave, having lost about 10% of the boomer population from the peak of 78 million.

As I said last month, “Don’t underestimate the potential of a trend that builds slowly and doesn’t feel obvious.” About 3.2 million people retired in 2020. That’s about 12,000 per business day, more than double the rate of 2019.

So there’s something building here. The clients feel it. They are asking those tough questions about whether they have enough to survive their longevity, about which Medicare options they should select and about how they are going to pay for healthcare. In response, they are getting hedged, qualified answers from advisors hampered by tools and policies not up to the task. Until we can answer definitively and not “it depends,” we are on marked time with this generation of retirees.

There’s another retirement issue growing quickly that can’t be solved by fintech or better emotional intelligence—advisor retirements. A colleague shared with me details about a major firm. The average client age is now 65—the boomer median—but the average advisor age is 61. That’s no bombshell news item to any of this magazine’s readers. But it’s clearly news to the clients. They might appreciate that you got them started investing for retirement (helped by the 12-year bull market), but who will take over from there when you’re gone?

Responsible advisors have worked up succession plans and are starting to move on them. One of my colleagues at the Next Chapter think tank is Marybeth Emson. She’s been listed as a top advisor by Forbes, and she, her son, her brother and her dad (Brian Kelly) now have a three-generation practice—a cool phenomenon we will see more of. But alas, formal succession plans like this one remain the exception, not the rule. We chastise clients for not having retirement plans like this, and then we fall into the same—largely emotional—trap. The shoemaker’s kids go barefoot.

I know. You have all this under control. When we read surveys and national research, we tend to think that it’s a problem for other advisors and somebody else’s clients.

My longtime colleague, Leo Pusateri of Pusateri Consulting and Training, describes pre-retirement advisors as “proud and plateaued.” They have their retirement date in plain sight, and many are going through the motions. If you ask them whether they want to adopt new automation or a CRM, they might say, “No thanks, I’m good.” If you ask them whether they want to blend environmental, social and governance investing into their clients’ portfolios—along with a strategy for protected lifetime income and credit, perhaps—they might say, “Nah. No time for that.” Ask them if they want to add tax-efficiency tools, answer healthcare questions or move into longevity planning, they’ll likely scoff and say, “Too complicated.”

This is the real trouble facing the advice industry: advisors who aren’t active and aren’t working on meaningful succession plans, and who therefore won’t provide the best available solutions. These are the advisors being pounded in the client surveys. And they feed the impression that we can’t—or won’t—address the burning questions from retirees like “How can I stay in my home?” and “How much do I need?” Leo poses another likely client question to an advisor, “How committed are you to helping me for the rest of my life?”

If these professionals are really proud and plateaued, the profession has never been more vulnerable. And robo-platforms are salivating over the potential disruption. More attentive human advisors are on the march as well. And just like those who launched the invasion of small cars, the new advisory winners will succeed by hearing the frustrations of the consumers. These winners will focus on relieving the clients’ anxiety, and they will be transparent and inclusive.

Smart advisors will spot three things that most advisors don’t always know are in play:

1. You have to engage the unengaged client spouses. Whether they are male or female, most significant family members should be included in the financial advisory solutions, the dialogue and the forward path.

2. You have to understand the role of clients’ personal real estate and how it will change over time in retirement. You also have to make sure all parties are on board with the path.

3. You must incorporate an income “floor” with benefits and protected lifetime income. This is the client’s safety net and foundation for financial wellness.

Imagine the spoils waiting for those advisors who hit these questions head on. Remember the number: there is $68 trillion of inherited wealth at play. That’s about 10 times the size of the entire managed account industry and 20 times the annuity market. There is also $40 trillion in residential real estate hidden in client balance sheets, and clients are waiting for advisors to transform those assets into income-producing options.

The incredible growth and economic success enjoyed by today’s financial advisors are almost impossible to comprehend and have made countless advisors and clients able to enjoy their retirement. Many would say their timing is incredible—and they would be correct. But it doesn’t take much imagination to see that the truly amazing time for financial advisors is just beginning.       

Steve Gresham is CEO of the Execution Project LLC, providing tools and training to advisors and their companies to meet the needs of a retiring age wave. He is also a senior education advisor to the Alliance for Lifetime Income and the former head of the private client group at Fidelity Investments. He is the author of The New Advisor for Life (Wiley). See more at