Scott Lebin is not a fan of the word "retirement." To the 71-year-old president of Lebin Financial Planning, in Geneva, Ill., the term too often suggests "that we stop doing, we stop living and just kick up our feet. I think that's a faulty premise."
Lebin has been an advisor for nearly 30 years. He taught high school for 21 years before that. And although some in his position would be eyeing the door at this point, he has no plans to slow down. "I love what I’m doing," he says. "I've loved the practice of financial planning for the last 28 years and I don't see it as work. I plan on doing this for the next 10 years, because I'm fortunate enough to enjoy what I’m doing. "
The shift toward longevity
While Lebin's views on the concept of retirement are partly philosophical, they also contain a practical component. "I tell clients that the longer we work, the less saved money we need to have in order to account for longevity," he says.
The concept of retirement sprung up in the wake of WWII, he notes, when older workers were encouraged to leave the workforce in order to create jobs for soldiers returning home. But much has changed in the intervening years. "[Longevity] wasn't as significant a problem then, because if you were 65, you planned on living 5 to 7 more years, and then you were going to be gone. People didn't live much past 72. Now, I tell every client that I'm planning for them to live until 100."
His clients often question this approach, Lebin concedes. "They'll say, 'But my dad died young, or my mom died young.' And I ask them, 'Well, what kind of medicine did your mom and dad have? Did they have open heart surgery then? Did they have cholesterol medication then? Did they even look at cholesterol then?' We're living in different times and your potential to live longer due to modern medicine is huge. It's just huge."
One step at a time
When clients first come into his office, Lebin says they are often overwhelmed. They tell him, "This is so confusing to me. I see this on television; I hear this on the radio; I read this on Internet. I don't know what to do." Lebin asks them to take a deep breath and slow down. "It's not that complex," he assures them. "We're going to be here to assist you. Let's talk through this."
Early in his career, advisors were taught to create fear in clients in order to motivate them, but Lebin says that's no longer the case. "We're now trying to create a sense of calm, a sense of logic and understanding, so they can make their own decisions."
Advisors should never recommend something that their clients can't understand, he says. "It's their money and it shouldn’t be a case of 'he told me to do it.' I see it as a partnership between us, and I don't want to be responsible for them saying, 'Well, you told me I didn't have to understand. That you know all.' Because I don’t know all."
He cautions against arrogance and recommends that advisors remain "very humble about the privilege we have of working with people." The fact that they are willing to share their assets and let advisors help manage their money is "a tremendous responsibility that they're giving us," Lebin says. "Unfortunately, some people in our profession have not taken that very seriously, but I would say that the majority of us do."
A big part of that responsibility lies in helping clients understand that everything can change in a moment, Lebin says. "You can walk into a doctor's appointment and your whole world is upside down by the time you leave. You can go out in your car and 10 minutes later, someone hits you and nothing's ever the same. But we look at it very positively. We try to create peace of mind by going through all those things that might happen so we're prepared for them."
A lifelong journey
Before becoming a financial planner, Lebin taught theater, communication and English, all part of what he describes as "a progression of lifelong learning." Among other things, he says his time as a high school teacher helped him learn to meet deadlines and approach relationships more creatively. "You have to deal with a lot of different personalities, and you quickly come to understand that there's no one right answer for anything. You have to accept people for who they are and try to get them to the next stage. And that takes a lot of questioning and introspection."
At Lebin's practice, they continually ask clients questions in an effort to discover "how and why they formed the opinions, attitudes and lifestyles that they have." No matter what they uncover, Lebin says they focus on the positive. "We are where we are, and there's no right or wrong," he says. "This is the journey we've been on. What can we do now that will help you accomplish your goals? On the last day of your life as you look back, what would you like to have accomplished that you haven't already done? What would you like to have people say about you and the way you've lived your life?"
Relationships that last
Many of Lebin's clients have been with him for decades. Together, they've experienced life's many ups and downs. And as happens in any long-term relationship, he's watched them change with the passage of years. "They're much more vulnerable now than they were when they were younger. They often feel freer, because they've allowed themselves to become more open to other ideas, to other ways of looking at things. A lot of them have mellowed as they've gotten older."
Lebin thinks Americans need to discover ways to "use the talents and the wisdom of the senior population to have dynamic interchange with younger and middle-aged people growing up and set some role model standards for them. I think that's very important."
While many cultures value the wisdom of seniors and consider them as a vital part of the family and community, Lebin says the U.S. has too often pushed them aside, "because we need to have stuff for the younger people to do."
He recalls that his grandmother, who lived to age 100, "always seemed so far ahead of her time. She had just seen so much in life, and she came to realize that many things that happen are not as important as we all think. We often take ourselves too seriously. Seniors understand everything in the perspective of a long life. "
Advisors who work with older clients must slow down and take the time to listen, according to Lebin. "You've got to remember that their families are busy. They don't sit there and spend a lot of time listening to them. I think when they come in to us, it's an opportunity for us to give them a chance to voice their concerns, to know they're being listened to and that we understand."
Lebin also stresses the importance of valuing seniors' opinions and helping them find their comfort zone. As an example, he says his father, who grew up in during the Great Depression, always needed a significant amount of cash on hand for his own peace of mind. "He put very little of his money into the market," Lebin says. And I never tried to change his way of thinking about it, but accepted him for what he had gone through. And he did fine. You can't say, 'No, you're wrong. This is a different time.' Because for him, that was his life lesson and you couldn't change it. You had figure out how to work with his own history and where he came from. And I think that's true of all of us."
A matter of perspective
Lebin and Bobbi, his wife of 49 years, travel frequently. They recently went on a six-week cruise, visiting nine countries, including China, Japan, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. "It was magnificent because you realize that in this world, there's such an extreme between the haves and the have-nots," he says. "And even the have-nots still have smiles on their faces. They still play games. We have to be careful of categorizing things as good and bad. It's just different, that's all."
In recent years, Lebin has found himself increasingly drawn to photography and has documented his travels with thousands of photos. He says people sometimes tell him that he doesn't get to see as much because he's always taking pictures. He views it another way. "You see things that other people never see, because you're looking at things from a different perspective. You see details and patterns in things. You see facial expression and families with little children. It's a miraculous thing when you come back and it reminds you of what you really captured there."
Over the years, Lebin has learned the importance of staying engaged in life and "giving back to other people, to our communities, to the charities we work with. I tell younger people, when you donate your time and money, you will find that good things will happen to you. Don't always expect an immediate pay-off in terms of dollars or cents."
During his recent trip to China, Lebin's eye was continually drawn to a fellow member of his tour group. "She climbed the Great Wall; she was doing anything anybody else did and she was 88 years of age. Tiny little lady, just going full bore. I looked at that and said, as long as you're breathing, you keep living."