New research from Cogent suggests that advisors aren’t talking to their clients often enough about retirement income products.
While investors are comfortable with annuities as accumulation vehicles, few are comfortable with, or knowledgeable about, annuitization, according to the Cambridge, Mass.-based consulting firm.
“The situation here is that [financial services companies] have done a really good job of selling accumulation vehicles and saying ‘Save with us,’ but they’re not doing a good job of saying ‘When you retire, we have solutions for you,” said Tony Ferreira, managing director at Cogent.
Brand strength of the companies offering retirement income solutions is strong. Both inside and outside of annuities, investors are well aware of providers. Industry giants such as Fidelity Investments and Bank of America Merrill Lynch [BAC], both of which have packaged retirement income services to sell to clients, are household names. But ask investors to talk about those products and they’re dumbfounded.
When asked, 961 retirees and pre-retirees with a minimum of $100,000 of investable assets cited 30 different firms, but no single firm was mentioned by more than 10% of the vote. Fidelity and Vanguard were the most frequently mentioned brands, by one out of every six respondents.
Other well-known brands, including Ameriprise, Charles Schwab [SCHw], Edward Jones, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney [MS] and Wells Fargo [WFC], were cited by 5% or fewer respondents regarding their retirement income products. Some 70% of respondents work with financial advisors.
One problem is how easily most investors are put off by retirement income solutions that tie up their money for years if not the rest of their lives.
“The study highlights most people’s reluctance of giving up access to principal,” said Christy White, a principal and co-founder of Cogent. “Some products use principal to increase payout, but people don’t like that,” even though it means more retirement income.
To overcome investors’ squeamishness about handing over the reins of their investments to a financial services firm, especially in light of the seemingly solid firms that have gone belly up in the past couple of years, Cogent recommends providers increase clients’ access to principal, or at least loosen surrender penalties, and allow clients more control over how the assets inside those products are allocated. And advisors need to start having more conversations with clients surrounding retirement income strategies.
“Many advisors are still in the accumulation mindset,” White said. “It’s not that their clients aren’t interested in retirement income products, but rather they just don’t know enough about them.”