Whether it’s asset titling, Social Security benefits or estate planning, there are right and wrong ways for financial advisors to protect their female clients, according to Pui Kalyanamitra and Ryan Bertrand, two Transamerica retirement specialists.

The duo spoke on a panel yesterday at Financial Advisor magazine's annual Invest in Women conference, which brings together thought leaders who specialize in this mushrooming demographic to discuss the most effective ways to add value to these accounts.

Suzanne Siracuse, CEO and founder of her eponymous consulting service, launched the session by citing the “historic wealth transfer” that will take place over the next decade. “This will be a world that’s decidedly female as women outlive men. Plus women [are] now building wealth of their own,” she said. “This is an amazing opportunity for financial advisors, but it will take a truly holistic approach to support this demographic. Understanding these needs and leaning into them will be critical in attracting and keeping female clients.”

To better serve female clients, there are several areas that need specific attention, including Social Security, Medicare, estate planning, asset titling and taxes, the panel agreed.

“When you look at the challenges women face when planning for retirement, earning less and living longer, you realize that Social Security is a very important income source,” Kalyanamitra said, adding that it can be even more important that other assets because it’s inflation-adjusted. “The biggest question is does it make sense to delay the benefit to enhance it. For a woman who maybe didn’t make a lot of money over her lifetime, this is an opportunity to supply something meaningful for the rest of her life.”

Between the first year of taking Social Security early, which is age 62, to the last year, which is 70, there’s a 70% increase in the benefit. But always waiting is not the answer, she said. In cases where there’s a higher-earning partner, it could make the most sense to delay his or her start date to max that benefit out. “She collects, he delays,” Kalyanamitra said. “That way she gets something now and isn’t leaving money on the table.”

Typically, however, waiting will end up being in the client’s best interest because, after age 78, clients will start seeing the additional wealth accrue from the larger benefit they got for waiting. This is especially true for women, who have longer averrage lifespans than men. “At the very least, [how to handle Social Security] is an effective conversation starter for your female clients,” she said.

Advisors should view Medicare and healthcare costs together, as both are centered on life expectancy, Bertrand said, adding that “most every attribute in our retirement system has an element rooted in the spousal relationship. Except this one. These are individual benefits, and married clients have to enroll separately.”

Prior to one half of a couple accessing Medicare, a financial advisor should review differences in the coupe’s ages and employment status, he said. If both are on private insurance that came with the former employment of the spouse who is about to go on Medicare, the move could inadvertently end coverage for the other spouse.

“If you lose coverage because your spouse went on Medicare, you can get 36 months of COBRA coverage. But most people don’t because the employer is heavily subsidizing the employee,” Bertrand said. “They’ll want to look for their own policy to drive their premiums down.”

Another area where advisors can add a lot of value to their relationship with their clients is in estate planning, especially around the issue of gray divorce, he continued. “The demographics are pushing it,” he said. “If you look at divorce rates, they’ve been falling everywhere except among older people. Divorce for people 65 and older is three times what it used to be.”

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