Having completed my fourth Half Ironman a few weeks ago, I have been reflecting on what I have learned.
From the very start, I’ve been surprised how often endurance sports training is compared to more typical athletic activities. I enjoyed sports in high school and have enjoyed the three activities associated with triathlons for years, often training for road runs or Masters swimming events. However, endurance sports training is very different.
During the off-season, we spend a lot of time engaging in non-strenuous activities. Without a coach or self-education, I never would have guessed the importance of lower-heart-rate training for athletes competing at their top performance. It would be easy to think I know how to train because I have years of experience, but I would have gone about it wrong.
Passion for Details
Similarly, when financial advisors educate individuals on retirement readiness, their approach often reflects the way they have been training themselves for years — with a lot of data and details about how to get ready for retirement. Many advisors enjoy the numbers, analysis, and details that they are exposed to every day. Their love for this is part of what makes them good at what they do — and they do it all day long. However, when bringing information to clients (or plan participants), advisors struggle to step back from the details of being an advisor in order to help engage the client.
I believe this is a primary factor in why advisors often bring too much information to their client meetings. The details are not only what they know, but also what they enjoy. In part, this is what makes them good advisors, but that very passion may inhibit their ability to engage others.
Lack of Engagement
One big factor in Americans’ unpreparedness for retirement is their lack of engagement in retirement planning. This is illustrated in cartoons in local newspapers and even Super Bowl commercials. One of my favorites is the 2018 E-Trade commercial that includes the jingle, “I’m 85 and I want to go home!” (You can find it online.) It’s funny — yet at the same time, it’s not. Many people are not retiring well.
I recently listened to a national podcast discussing this problem. I was stunned to hear how one of the panelists thought new, virtual technology was going to solve the engagement problem. The reality is that if clients are not engaged in retirement planning when we meet in person, virtual technology is not going to solve the problem.
Simple Is Refreshing
I also recently participated in a podcast with 403(b) advisor Richard Nevin, who summed up what I think most advisors forget: “For our clients, simple is refreshing.” People do not mind complications related to the things that they are passionate about. For example, I like to jump into the details of endurance sports training, but don’t ask me to explain the intricacies of baseball. An outsider may think it’s all simply sports and not understand how I am not interested in all sports. But from my point of view, they are vastly different.
To keep things simple, the key focus is how your clients can successfully retire. How long will their money last in retirement if they do not make any changes? What is your recommended contribution level? How will that affect their take-home pay? How might any outside assets affect their situation? These questions all focus on areas that clients find more engaging than fees, funds asset allocation, etc. — mere details related to the client’s primary goal of retiring well.
When someone is not engaged in a topic, starting with details is the quickest way to disengage them, even with the latest technology. If advisors do not know how to leave behind their passion for numbers and details, they may never have the chance to engage their clients.
The Bottom Line
Helping people get engaged in their retirement planning is much easier than you might think—you just have to keep it really simple. Maybe that is hard. It is different from many advisors’ passions. But getting clients motivated about retirement when they are young, well before age 85, can become a passion as well.
Edward Dressel is President of RetireReady Solutions.