While older baby boomers are entering retirement, younger boomers are struggling to prepare themselves for life beyond work and are trying to gain control of their financial futures.

That is where financial advisors come in – to help pre-retirees create the right investment portfolio.

A survey released last month by Allianz Life Insurance Co. of North America found that the economic downturn was a “strong wake-up call for Americans in their late 40s” who although have more time until retirement, are more concerned about control and stability than older boomers. Younger boomers also are more likely to be receptive to working with a financial advisor, the study found, and over half want help planning for a stable and secure retirement.

The survey, which was conducted with Americans aged 44-75, revealed that 54% of 44 to 49 year olds reported feeling “totally unprepared” for retirement. Forty-seven percent of this younger group compared with 35% of older boomers expressed a need to take more control of their financial future, while 41% desire to attain more certainty and financial security and 26% want to reduce their financial vulnerability. Meanwhile, 84% reported that the safety of their money mattered more to them now than it had a few years ago.

“The economic downturn woke up many Americans to the challenges of securing retirement income, but this younger boomer segment seems to have taken the lesson even more seriously,” said Gary C. Bhojwani, president and CEO of Allianz Life.

The best bet, says Brent Burns, the President of Asset Dedication, a separate account manager specializing in pension fund-style investing for individuals, is a portfolio of individual bonds when planning for the income levels of pre-retirees, coupled with an equity, or growth, portfolio.

“It’s a challenging period for advisors,” admitted Burns, in a phone interview on Wednesday. “For the last 30 years they’ve been able to rely on the total return on bonds to drive income withdrawals because interest rates were falling.” Now rates have fallen so steeply that they have nowhere to go but up and those with bond funds will see their portfolios lose value. The secret, says Burns, is to be in individual bonds.

For many, bonds are seen as less risky than equities. While everyone seems to agree that risk should decline as investors near retirement, it’s the pace of that decline that advisors disagree on, explained Scott Kubie, Chief Investment Strategist at CLS Investments, one of the largest active money managers in the U.S. CLS Investments works with more than 1,500 financial advisors to manage their 40,000 individual clients’ portfolios and has more than $2 billion in assets under management.

“What the industry has not taken into account is that the nature of the risk is changing at the same time as the level of risk,” says Kubie.

As pre-retirees near retirement their ability to bounce back from a sharp decline in the market declines. What are buying opportunities for other investors become landmines for pre-retirees. For Kubie, protection is key. “It’s not only about liquidity and do you have enough money to save, but also how can we protect assets from a sharp downturn.”

Income, risk, and protecting assets are all critical topics for advisors to discuss with their clients. But remember investing can’t stop the moment a client retires. While some investors think that they need to get conservative in retirement, Kubie warns not to go overboard and remove all equities out of their portfolios. A balanced approach with a focus on growth is still important.

And lastly don’t forget about the emotional transition from employment to retirement. “The advisor is uniquely set up to help with that,” Kubie said.