A man walks into the woods and stumbles across a sleeping bear…
Speaking at the 2014 Retirement Conference in Chicago, Michael Green, SVP with Ameriprise Financial, posed that scenario to the audience and finished the sentence for us by asking the obvious question—what does the man do?
Well, according to Green and any zoologist worth his salt, it depends. The ambiguity of that answer didn’t deter audience members from providing their own responses.
“Raise your arms and scream at the top of your lungs,” shouted a man who looked a bit like a bear himself.
“Curl up in a ball and play dead,” whispered a bookish woman sitting on the front row.
A comedian from the back of the room shouted, “Run faster than the slowest member of your group!”
All of those actions might save your life; and all of them might get you killed. When a reader posed that question on the National Park Service website, the NPS offered a cryptic response, at least one that failed to offer a certainty that us urbanites wandering in the wilderness would like to accept as dogma. “There is no easy answer,” the NPS wrote. “Like people, bears react differently to each situation.”
Smarter than your average bear
Consumers, according to Green, should be treated like bears. No, advisors shouldn’t shout or curl up or run away from clients, but they should realize that each client and each client meeting is unique and should be treated as such.
Green brought up the topic of “dollar-cost averaging” to prove his point of talking jargon to clients. Green said, “the next time you talk to your mom (or wife) ask her about dollar-cost averaging” and wait for the response.
Women, according to Green, are the primary decision makers these days—period. They have been the CEOs of the home and now they have added family CFO to their list of titles, and advisors need to know this; they need to embrace it.
“Our solution as to the right way to reach our market is not working,” says Green. “We can’t keep doing things the old ways and expect the same results. In the past, you had old white men advisors talking to old white men clients. Then the old man dies.”
In this brave new world, the aging advisor now turns to the wife, who, for all these years, has brought the men cookies and tea while they talked shop. Does he know how to talk shop with her or does he watch her eyes glaze over after he utters the dreaded phrase, “dollar-cost averaging?”
The human touch
For Gladys (our widow from the previous section) and most consumers, retirement planning is about behavior and emotions; it’s not about academic correctness, according to Green.
“In our surveys, we want to focus on the respondents who check the box that says they are ‘extremely satisfied.’ We want to know what works with consumers and then repeat that behavior.”
Adults primarily learn in three ways—through what we hear, see and touch, said Green, with touch representing 50 percent of how we learn. Why make things complex when they can be simple? For Green, instead of droning on about retirement probability, have the client run their finger across the graph, have them stop on the point of risk vs. reward where they feel comfortable.
Green looked over his audience for one final point. “Y’know, there’s a lot of math behind how an iPad works, but do you care about it? You just want it to work. You don’t care how it works. That’s what consumers are like.”