Most financial advisors focus primarily on the pre-retirement phase of clients’ lives. That approach makes sense because that’s when clients are accumulating wealth. Nonetheless, it’s possible to build a thriving business after clients stop working in the retirement income planning market. Retirement Advisor spoke with several advisors who are succeeding in this market.
Lessons from the downturn
During the financial crisis in 2007 and 2008, clients’ primary focus was on investment market returns and the bear market’s emotional toll, says Steve Plewes, CLU, ChFC with Advisors Financial Group in Bethesda, Maryland. When the markets started to recover and Plewes had time to review his files, he realized that during the turmoil his firm hadn’t done much traditional financial planning during the crisis years. That opened his eyes, he says. “It really occurred to me that for most of my career I had focused on accumulation planning, traditional accumulation planning,” he says. “All of a sudden what we were talking to people about was distribution. They just wanted to know where the money was going to come from for them to live on. So, after what was a very difficult time for everyone during the downturn, especially people like myself who derived their revenue from fees based on asset management, I realized that this was the silver lining in the cloud: there’s practically an endless demand for people now who want to position themselves for retirement.”
At that point Plewes decided to “reconfigure” his business and focus more on retirement income planning. It was a logical decision—he estimates that well over 60 percent of his clients are retired or very close to it. The first step was to increase his and his staff’s technical knowledge in topics like Social Security. Although they were reasonably knowledgeable, they began to learn the system’s intricacies and strategies for maximizing benefits. Plewes and his team also revisited the various types of annuities and their potential use in creating guaranteed income.
The firm also adapted its technology and started working with The Income for Life Model ® from Wealth2k®, which Plewes says uses a traditional bucket approach to managing retirement assets and income. The firm uses the SocialSecurityTiming.com site to illustrate claiming strategies plus Advicent software and MoneyGudePro® for cash flow modeling. Plewes also cites the influence of Tom Hegna’s “Paychecks and Playchecks” approach on his work.
These changes have paid off. Clients recognize Advisor Financial Group’s retirement income planning expertise and their referrals have become a key source of new business. His firm has almost doubled its business in the past five years, says Plewes, which helped overcome the drop-off in asset management fees. “Our business jumped up quite a bit in terms of activity and in terms of assets that we were acquiring,” he says. “The bad news was that the value of the assets that we already managed declined fairly significantly along with everyone else’s. Revenue-wise the impact (from retirement income planning) didn’t come right away but in terms of taking on clients and making a shift in terms of our business focus, (it) was very impactful right from the beginning.”
Becoming a media presence
Nowadays advisors can choose from multiple professional education programs that focus exclusively on retirement income planning. But that wasn’t true ten years ago, says Phil Rousseaux, RICP with Everest Wealth Management in Towson, Maryland, who estimates that 75 to 85 percent of his clients are in or very close to retirement. In the early 2000s Rousseaux decided to add retirement income planning to his services but acquiring the knowledge and skills to serve that market involved “learning on the job,” he says. He attended workshops and events sponsored by the Million Dollar Roundtable (MDRT) and other organizations in an effort to piece together a coherent body of knowledge. Rousseaux subsequently earned the Retirement Income Certified Professional® (RICP®) designation from The American College and he now requires his staff members to earn the RICP, as well.
Rousseaux’s marketing efforts have evolved over the years. He started with dinner seminars but hasn’t hosted one in several years. He now uses mass media--radio and television--to position Everest Wealth Management as the go-to retirement income specialists in his area. The firm was one of the first financial advisory businesses to host a weekly radio show, says Rousseaux. The shows focus on the reasons why consumers need a retirement income specialist versus a generalist. “We may talk about current events but by far we focus on retirement income (and) that’s really all we talk about on our show,” he says. “It may be a different show every week but it’s the same story, if that makes sense: We’re always preaching the same gospel of retirement income planning.”
Everest Wealth Management expanded its media footprint about two-and-a-half years ago by starting a retirement income planning television show. Attracting clients through media exposure has paid off, says Rousseaux, and the firm is adding 100 to 200 new client relationships each year. Getting those results takes time and commitment, he cautions: “It’s not something you can go start and (quickly) get the results and you have it. It’s taken lots of capital investment, lots of hard work, lots of repeated branding and advertising to get to where we are today.”
A natural evolution
Roughly 85 percent of Shane Sullivan, CFP’s clients at Valhaven Wealth in Austin, Texas are in or close to retirement, but that wasn’t a market he targeted initially. When he started in financial services in 1996 Sullivan lived and work in a small town that couldn’t support a narrow practice focus. Instead, he says, his older clients started retiring and he found himself dealing with their need for retirement income. He used his memberships in the Financial Planning Association (FPA) and the Retirement Income Industry Association (RIIA) as useful resources for developing his professional skills.
Sullivan is another proponent of radio marketing. He hosts a weekly Saturday morning show called Retire, Set, Go that focuses exclusively on retirement topics. The show’s value extends beyond airtime, though, says Sullivan. He takes different segments from the shows and distributes them to clients and prospects by email and social media. Those subsequent exposures leverage the shows’ content, highlight Sullivan’s credibility as a retirement income expert and generate leads and referrals. He has hired Chandler, Arizona-based Infusionsoft to manage and nurture the leads generated by the radio show and other marketing efforts.
Catching the eye
Curtis Cloke, CLTC, LUTCF is involved with retirement income planning on several levels. He owns Two Rivers Insurance Services in Burlington, Iowa; teaches retirement income planning to other advisers; and he’s helped develop retirement income distribution software. Cloke started in financial services in 1997 and began working more in retirement income planning as his older business-owner clients started retiring. Today roughly 30 percent of his clients are retired or close to that date.
Cloke has had a “very robust marketing platform” for more than 15 years that includes television, radio, print and billboards. The ads don’t focus on the firm’s name or brand so much as on a question, however. “For example, if you were to drive into our community today there are billboards that face you on the freeways coming in virtually all directions that ask a simple question: Retirement RIOT, what’s your number?” he says. “While that’s not necessarily intuitive it does strike a conversation normally any place I go with somebody that knows who I am but they really don’t know what that means. And, they say, what the heck is the Retirement RIOT?”
The acronym describes his firm’s approach to retirement income planning, Cloke says: retirement income on time and on target with precision. “It’s possible to actually do that and that’s how we’ve developed our process,” he explains. “So it’s creating a tagline that really provides a content or a statement that says what a client wants.”
This strategy is producing the desired business results. Cloke reports that a prospect calling his office today for an appointment probably would have to wait three to four weeks to get in. “Our problem is we just don’t have enough (people) on our team to actually facilitate and scale the number of calls that we get,” he says.
Of course, it takes more than a catch ad slogan to sustain a business. Cloke believes that addressing the emotional aspects of clients’ retirement is crucial in developing a connection. He does this by working with prospects at the beginning of the relationship to help them identify their major fears and risks. People appreciate this approach, Cloke maintains, and it produces impressive results. “We have about a 97 percent closing ratio,” he says. “I know it sounds almost too good to be true. We’ve experienced this for more than 5 years and what that means to us is that (when) a new client we’ve never worked with crosses the threshold of our doorway for the first time, within six months of engaging the process I just described, they will engage some or all of our advice within 6 months of that relationship introduction.”