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More Than Math: Helping Clients Find Purpose In Planning

When Laurie Adams convinced her husband to retire early in 1997, she thought it would be a great idea. She and her son would see him more often, and he would be free to pursue other endeavors that the high demands of his hospitality industry job wouldn’t allow him to do.

Adams, a financial planner at Country Financial in Peoria Heights, Ill., soon realized that she was wrong.

“I quickly realized that retiring from something was not a good enough plan,” Adams said.

Her husband formerly managed 250 people, but he now placed his managerial demands on just two people — his wife and son. In addition to losing the high demands of his former role, Adams’s husband lost his social circle.

“Everyone he knew was still working, and he worked too many hours to have a social network outside of work,” Adams said.

The eye-opening experiences of helping her husband transition into retiree life prompted Adams to start focusing on the non-math aspects of retirement with her clients to ensure they really are retirement-ready.

The Research

While teaching retirement planning at St. Ambrose University, Adams spent hours poring over research on retirement and teaching her class how those findings would impact their clients’ experiences.

“Most people had the idea that retirement was a period of slowing down,” Adams said.

She pointed to the four different retiree personality types found in the Re-visioning Retirement study by aging expert Ken Dychtwald. Those types are:

» The Live For Todays — All about new experiences; haven’t done a good job of saving for retirement.

» The Sick And Tireds — Those who were forced into retirement due to health or downsizing; they had the least amount of time to prepare for retirement.

» The Today’s Traditionalists — Living the traditional idea of retirement as a time of “slowing down.”

» The Ageless Explorers — Same attributes as Live For Todays, but planned financially and emotionally; can reinvent themselves throughout retirement.

After reviewing these personality types, Adams concluded that clients who are the most successful in retirement are the ones who planned the longest.

“Meaning they retired to something rather than from something,” Adams said.

It All Starts With A Notebook

So how can advisors help ensure their clients are successful in retirement? Adams recommends a notebook and three lists. The notebook idea comes from author and retirement expert Mitch Anthony, who suggested in the early 2000s that holistic planning would become an integral part of the non-math portion of retirement planning.

Using the names Dick and Jane for example, the three lists should detail what each one wants their life to look like in retirement.

  • List 1: Things Dick will do alone in retirement.
  • List 2: Things Jane will do alone in retirement.
  • List 3: Things Dick and Jane will do together in retirement. 

“That is a huge conversation starter with clients,” Adams said. “Usually, when you start discussing retirement with a couple, one of them looks uncomfortable. A lot of the time, the one who looks uncomfortable is the spouse who has been staying at home. They’ve seen how their friends’ lives changed when their spouses retired.”

Adams saw first-hand how her husband changed once he retired. “For the first six months, all he did was sleep and worry,” Adams said. “I was just trying to save him from that job, but I saw how retiring from something is a really bad idea.”

Because of her personal experience, Adams understood the uncomfortable spouse at the other end of the table. Without a social network and plan of things to do and see in retirement, no amount of money or financial planning could alleviate the worry.

Eventually, as her husband began to pursue new interests and career paths, the worry started to dissipate, Adams said. But, she recognizes that it could have been avoided altogether if her husband had planned for retirement in the first place.

“Really working on the non-math part of it is an important part of retirement planning,” Adams said.
Money should be treated as a utility, not as an end-all, when it comes to retirement planning, said Dennis Nolte of Oviedo, Fla., a former therapist turned financial planner.

“I tend to address the relational aspects of clients’ lives,” Nolte said. “Purpose is front and center.”
Helping people find their purpose is key to developing a well-rounded life in retirement, and the reason why Adams employs Mitch Anthony’s notebook idea.

As more of the industry begins to move in that direction, Adams said it is important for advisors to talk about their clients’ vision for retirement early and often, make sure they share the same vision and discuss how to mesh their individual personalities into a plan that alleviates the stress for both individuals.

Nolte couldn’t agree more, adding that personal development is crucial for success in retirement.

“Many folks don’t have a personal mission statement or consider retirement a new career,” Nolte said. “Those clients who have been networking outside of work (family, community, church, boards, even part-time employment/consulting) are much more prepared and happy in retirement.”

The “financial therapist,” as his clients affectionately call him, shares with them a Wall Street Journal article quoting the Roman orator Cicero to guide pre-retirees in their quest for purpose in retirement.

“How wonderful it is for the soul when — after so many struggles with lust, ambition, strife, quarreling and other passions — these battles are at last ended and it can return, as they say, to live within itself,” Cicero offered.

Adams may not be a former therapist, but she jokes that her approach is reminiscent of counseling — especially with retirement-age couples. Adams said failure to share the same vision for retirement has led to a spike in divorce rates in retirement-age couples. In fact, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center report, divorce rates among adults 50 and older have tripled since the 1990s, which is why Adams puts so much emphasis on each individual knowing what they want from retirement before they get there.

“It’s very important to get that conversation out there now, so they can work it out while they are still working,” she said.

Adams encourages advisors to have their clients create a list and ask, “How’s the list going?”


Maslow Meets Retirement

“The hierarchy [Abraham] Maslow offered was: physical survival, safety, love, esteem and self-actualization.

“For the purposes of a financial/life discussion, I have taken the liberty of renaming and juxtaposing two categories: love and esteem. In the Hierarchy of Financial Needs, love becomes “gifting.” Maslow defined love as having to do with belonging — to a spouse, a family a community or a group — and gifting is most often the material expression of love.

“What Maslow called esteem I have called freedom. Maslow was referring to the self-esteem that results from doing things well and being recognized for it. In the Income for Life model, this is categorized under “freedom money” because unless people have the freedom to do what they want with their occupational lives, they will be missing the esteem and satisfaction that come from doing what they’re best at.”

— Mitch Anthony

From ‘Determine Your Hierarchy of Needs for Retirement,’ Nextavenue.org

Cassie has an extensive background in magazine writing, editing and design. Follow her on Twitter @INNCassieM. [email protected].


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