I believe there is an unwritten role for financial advisors.  Some figure it out sooner than others and some are more accepting of it than others.  As professionals, we ought to stand for much more than money.  Just as professional athletes and entertainers are thrust into the position of role models, we insert ourselves into the lifeblood of others when we agree to help manage their savings, insurance needs and family legacies. In doing so, we must recognize and maximize our position of influence.    

This dynamic reminds me of the story wherein two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room. One man’s bed was next to the room's only window. The other man had a bandage over his eyes following eye surgery. The men became friends and talked for hours on end. Much of their conversation centered on what the man in the bed by the window could see outside. The other patient began to live for all the activity and excitement he was told of the world outside. 

According to his friend, the window overlooked a well-manicured park with a lovely lake, benches, and a walking path with a lane for bikes. Ducks and swans played on the water while children fished and sailed their boats. Young lovers walked hand-in-hand and the city skyline glistened in the distance.  Whether it was a parade, a ball game or picnic, the man who couldn’t see loved to imagine the picturesque scenes as his friend described them.

Days turned into weeks and then months until one morning a nurse arrived to find the lifeless body of the man by the window.  His roommate was saddened by the loss and, after some time, asked to be moved next to the window. His vision was now partially restored and so the nurse was happy to make the transfer, after which he was left alone.

As he strained for his first look at the world outside he was amused, laughing out loud when he realized it faced only a blank wall and rooftops.

This story reveals valuable lessons that advisors can use to make the most of their power and ability to influence others in a meaningful way.

We Have The Window Seat
As advisors, we have a responsibility to not only help people save and invest for retirement but also help them create a successful life during it.  This is an important point because once we establish trust and demonstrate skill in managing their money and financial needs, the door opens to other, non-traditional topics that go beyond common questions we see and are trained to deal with such as whether to:
• Save for retirement or children's college expenses first.
• Take one pension option over another or use a qualified rollover.
• Pay off the house or invest their available funds.

I’m referring to more complicated matters such as a couple struggling with a moral dilemma between competing family responsibilities.  They have an aging parent in one state who likely has only has a few years left, but children and grandchildren in another with whom they desire to spend time with and be a part of  their lives.  In both cases, the next few years are going to be precious.  They’re not sure what to do and feel burdened by the mental and financial struggle of keeping both parties, as well as themselves, happy.

In another scenario, a client and personal friend craves financial success.  He desperately desires to grow both his company and net worth but can’t figure out why stress is causing him regular chest pains. Ironically, he can’t see the strain that a divorce and three-hour move north is putting on his personal relationships including his daughter, girlfriend and siblings -- personal relationships that are slipping away as he serves the master of money and fosters an isolated and lonely retirement plan.

Clients' moral dilemmas and personal challenges surely will become an increasing topic of conversation for more and more advisors as their sphere of influence increases and retirement planning becomes more complex.  Therefore, our industry needs to be prepared to offer clients words of encouragement, sympathy and experienceto help them weigh their options and consider alternatives. The fact is, we have built a level of trust and confidence with clients that makes them turn to us for help with others areas of their life. That means we need to help them see both the financial picture as well as the parade, the park benches the beautiful lake, and the city skyline throughout retirement and their relationships.

Retirement Is A Creative Process
I learned this lesson early in my career and it’s a major reason why I see retirement planning from a different perspective.  I was doing a financial plan for a couple whose goal was to travel extensively in retirement.  Right out of the gate, however, I was leery because of their lack of savings. She was retiring from an airline and he had just left the factory floor of an automotive company.  While both had pensions and Social Security payments that would help them maintain a decent percentage of their pre-retirement lifestyle, they’re personal savings suggested “staycations” were more likely than extended vacations.

However, just as the man by the window was able to make the most of the situation for he and his friend, so too were they able to outshine my planning logic. As an airline retiree, she and her husband could fly anywhere for $50 per ticket. Additionally, she lined up a part-time job with a popular hotel chain, and he had begun working one day a week for a car rental company. By their calculations, a typical $2,000 - $3,000 vacation would only cost them $400 - $500 dollars.

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