MIAMI -- The combination of Baby Boomers heading into retirement and the arrival of Echo Boomers into savings programs is about to put financial advisors on the ride of their professional lives, according to the fourth-largest distributor of mutual funds in the United States.

''I truly believe that we've entered the greatest bull market in the history of advice and it will continue for decades to come,'' said Bill Dwyer, the president of national sales and marketing for LPL Financial at NICSA’s 30th Annual Conference and Expo.

The starting point is the generation of post-World War II Baby Boomers now heading into retirement.

In 1988, there were roughly 22 million Americans between the ages of 55 and 64. Those are the years when the amount of retirement funds in a household expand by 46 percent, Dwyer said.

By 2008, that was up to 33 million Americans and this will peak at 43 million in 2020.

That means the numbers of Americans in the key age bracket will be twice as large as in 1988. And … these individuals will have “three to four times the assets under their control than their parents did." “So the opportunity set for advisers will be enormous,’’ Dwyer said.

Following them are their offspring, the Echo Boomers, who are just starting to think about retirement.

And when they think about it, Dwyer said, they don’t plan on any pension plans. 

Three decades ago, for instance, 80 percent of retirement funds went into pension plans, aka, defined benefit plans. Then along came 401(K) plans, intended to supplement pensions.

Now, 72 percent go into “defined contribution” plans, where most of the money is put in by the account holders and an employer may or may not match all or part of that investment.

The Echo Boomers are putting their assets in into mutual funds and other instruments held in 401(K) and other such “defined contribution plans,’’ whose direction they control. That means they’ll want and need advice, Dwyer said.

They are possibly a bigger opportunity than their parents. These Echo Boomers are about 32 years in age, at this point, and save more than their parents, Dwyer said.

Which means the “boom in advice” will still be in full throat 32 years from now.

That in turn means that advisors will want to shift their activities to developing a wider customer base, where 75 percent of the assets they begin to advise comes from new relationships.

This can go counter to the advisor’s natural proclivities, he said. "Most of these people aren't marketers,’’ Dwyer said. “They're money managers for their clients.’’

For instance, LPL, which provides back office and marketing services to about 13,000 independent advisors, found that 86 percent of advisors report they get new accounts through referrals. But that study also found that 90 percent of advisors surveyed did not have a formal referral program, to promote creating a larger flow of referrals.

Dwyer said the opportunity can be great for advisors, because the number of advisors has been dropping, as the number of potential clients in this age bracket is increasing.

In 2010, there were 131,170 independent financial advisors in the United States, according to Cerulli Associates. That is up from 123,218 independent advisors in 2004.

The number of wirehouse advisors has dropped from 60,060 in 2004 to 50,742 in 2010, the most recent Cerulli census.

The overall number of advisors, however, fell 10,000 from 2009 to 2010, the firm reported.

Tom Steinert-Threlkeld writes for Securities Technology Monitor.