As boomers transition from the accumulation to distribution phase of their financial lives, many RIAs find themselves engaged in a strategic planning process as they decide how to reshape their business models to serve clients in this new stage. For many financial planners, it remains a work in progress.
Joe Duran, the chief executive officer of United Capital Financial Partners, based in Newport Beach, Calif., believes that the shift of the boomers from accumulation to distribution will create a profound change in the financial advisor industry.
In fact, he said that it is a generation that is so large and so influential that the industry can’t help but move as the boomers move. After all, the boomers are largely responsible for the growth of the fee-based advisory business that has become very rich during the boomers’ accumulation phase. As boomers began to move into their 30s and 40s and make money, Duran noted, they also began to move away from the stock brokers that their parents used. They turned to Fidelity and Schwab and similar firms.
But the “golden age of fee-based advisory” ended around 2007, Duran said. In 2010 the markets are down 20% over the last 10 years and your advisor is down 10%, “which is considered great. The measure for success for fee-based advisors is outperforming the market.”
So what lies ahead for the financial planning industry? According to Duran, we are now entering the “golden era of true wealth counseling.” For the next 10 to 15 years the measurement for an advisor’s success is no longer going to be how he or she outperforms the market. It’s going to be how the advisor helps clients “make good decisions about their entire financial life,” Duran said.
United Capital has launched a new platform, called “advice 3.0,” that is aimed at helping its advisors adapt to the advice-driven model of financial planning. “[Financial advice] is going to be much less about quantitative analysis and analytics and more about psychology,” Duran said. “That is what’s going to thrive in the next generation.”
To get at the psychology of boomers, advisors are going to have to first understand their goals and aspirations, Duran said. This means determining where their clients fit today. Advisors also have to ask boomers about all of their off-balance liabilities. How do you want your life to unfold? When do you want to retire? When do you want to put your kids in college? It’s all about the major life changes.
“Boomers don’t have very linier life paths,” Duran said.
Advisors will then have to understand what their clients’ current funded state is. They will have to engage in honest, sometimes difficult conversations about whether or not a client can reach his goal on the current path.
“We earn our fees by telling a client he can’t get to where he wants without making changes,” Duran said. “We earn fees by being arbiters of truth. We have to ask clients what compromises their willing to make to have at least three-quarters likelihood of meeting their goals.”
These changes could mean working longer or saving more. It’s all about pulling different levers to make retirement work, Duran said. “Investments are not the only lever you have,” he added.
Duran said the reception from clients to the new wealth counseling approach has been overwhelmingly positive for United Capital, which has 28 offices across the country and $12 billion client assets under management. He believes his firm is on the front lines of a shift that the entire industry is going to have to make.
“If advisors don’t make the change the same thing will happen to them that happened to people who didn’t shift from commission to fee-based,” he said. “They will not survive.”