In March 2014, more than 200 seniors responded to our survey about their likes, needs, financial concerns, career outlook and asset base. What followed was a detailed picture of this market, growing larger every day with the rapid aging of the baby boomers. Here’s a peek inside the collective mind of the senior market, complete with their thoughts on selling, marketing and long-term financial goal setting.
1. The language you use is important.
Older person. Aging adult. Senior citizen. The debate over what to label the 65+ population has never been fiercer. Being 70 in 2014 is not what it was thirty years ago, or even at the start of the 21st century. Many of today’s seniors are still working; most are still intensely active. The baby boomers that are transitioning into this market are a diverse group, with varied needs and opinions, but they are united on one thing: They don’t ever want to be viewed as old.
Marketers of all stripes are struggling to solve this rhetorical riddle; if it’s estate planning or long-term care services you’re selling, it’s a trickier proposition still. Our survey respondents preferred the term “senior” by a fairly wide margin: 49 percent, compared to 38 percent that preferred “mature adult” and — wait for it — 0 percent that preferred “elderly.” An additional 13 percent of respondents wrote in their own preferred language, with selections ranging from “near-retiree” to “middle-aged” to those that would rather no single term was identified at all.
In a post-recession world, trust is an increasingly elusive asset, and senior clients value it highly. A whopping 64 percent named trust as the thing they most looked for in an advisor relationship, beating out other desirable qualities like experience (22%) and variety of products offered (4%). Write-in responses included “recommendations, advice, reassurance,” “safe money,” and the ambitious “all the above and more.”
So how do you earn trust? Steven McCarty, chairman of the National Ethics Association, suggests that complete transparency is necessary in today’s business world. To set yourself apart in a dramatic way and put prospects at ease, he suggests commissioning a thorough background check and communicating the results on all sales and marketing tools and online profiles, as well as during client meetings.
3. The No. 1 thing they don’t want is an overly aggressive salesperson.
Almost unanimously, respondents agreed that pushiness was a deal-breaker for an advisor relationship. Seventy-eight percent said that the No. 1 thing they look to avoid in an advisor was an aggressive salesperson. Disliked on a much smaller scale were advisors who were too expensive (11%), followed by individual write-in responses such as “dishonesty,” someone who works from “their own product agenda,” and those who were “too technical.”
All of this falls in line with the direction the industry is moving, which is increasingly holistic, less focused on individual products, and more likely to advise on a complex range of financial planning questions, from Social Security claiming strategies to retirement income planning to estate planning and long-term care.
4. They like working.
Seniors are still working, and not just because we’re coming out of a lengthy economic lull. Ninety-one percent of survey respondents said they were still employed; among them, 63 percent said the reason was that they liked working. Write-in responses confirmed this sentiment, with answers like “I am still having fun,” “I’m too young to retire and I like what I do,” and “Have a project I want to get out there, albeit may not happen.”
Some, of course, are still working due purely to financial necessity. Nineteen percent noted they had to postpone retirement to stay above water; an additional 4 percent were working to cover costs related to their parents and/or kids and grandkids — a reminder that the financial toll of being a caregiver is high.
5. Estate planning is a top priority.
Crafting a tailored estate plan is understood to be critical by a large segment of this demographic. Sixty-five percent of respondents have an estate plan in place already. Among the 35 percent that did not, just over a fifth are interested in creating one. The remaining 28 percent may need more information before they put in the time, but they’re a valuable market once persuaded: Nearly 25 percent of survey respondents had assets of a million or more.