Retirement planning comes with a number of complex calculations and variables. Some are easier to quantify and explain than others.

Since retirement is often portrayed as this picture-perfect time of life where everything falls into place, it’s more important than ever for financial professionals to employ new ideas, methods and calculations to explain to clients how they will make the transition both financially and personally.

Here, I have adapted a popular brain teaser. This illustrates the ways advisors can use a simple picture to explain retirement planning and make it much more personal.

Can You Solve This Problem?
Take a moment to look closely at this picture and identify the total in the last column.

What Is Your Answer?
I have shared this picture with a variety of groups and on social media and am always amazed by the variety of answers. Let me go over some common answers and why this picture is so valuable to the future of retirement planning.

Some of the most common answers are 12, 19, 20, 30, 43, 46, 48, 60, 80 and 112, to name a few.

But they are all wrong and illustrate a major flaw in the way people approach some situations, including retirement. First and foremost, what most people miss is the fact that in row one there are a pair of shoes and in row three a pair of ribbons. When you get to the final row, there is only one shoe and one ribbon, which decreases the value of each.

Additionally, you may not have noticed that in the final row, the third step in the equation uses not addition but multiplication. It’s a subtle change but has a major impact on the answer you get.

Lastly, you may have missed that the person in the last row is different from those in the previous two rows. The figure is wearing a pair of shoes and holding two ribbons.

That miss is important because it replicates what can happen with traditional retirement planning. Many advisors don’t look closely at the person first, they just jump into the normal math and, as a result, they can set their clients up to fail in the ultimate test of life after work.

The harsh reality is, in order to get the right answer we can’t just do straight, left-to-right math because people, our clients, are the most important part of the equation. Thus, the financial services industry needs to shift its focus from a straightforward dollar-and-cents approach to one that takes a deeper dive into the individual, couples and families first.

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