One of the big philosophical questions that is often debated among people who sell annuities is a very basic one.
Why don’t people annuitize?
More specifically, given the economic arguments made in favor of putting money into an annuity, why has the industry had such a difficult time convincing Americans that it’s a good idea?
People have dubbed this quandary the “annuity puzzle.”
The proposed answers to this question vary. Costs, complexity of the products, bad reputation of the sellers and reluctance of people to hand over their money have all been bandied about as reasons why the annuity industry has struggled to make significant penetration with consumers. Yet, none of these definitively answer the question, which is why it remains a puzzle that the annuity industry continues to try and solve by creating better products, lowering fees and refining its message.
One could argue that a similar puzzle also confronts the financial planning industry as well. In other words: Why don’t people use financial planners? This question came into focus last month when the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards released a survey that found fewer people (28%) actually use a financial planner after the economic crisis of 2008 than before (29%). It’s an interesting and perhaps frustrating finding for the industry. If a once-in-a-generation economic crisis doesn’t convince more people to seek out financial planners to help manage their money, what will?
As with annuities, several theories have been thrown around to answer this question. People don’t want to pay advisory fees. They don’t trust advisors, especially after the Bernie Madoff scandal. They don’t believe an advisor can do any better with their money than they can. Or quite simply, people don’t have enough savings to actually put to work.
So say someone has just started his or her own registered investment advisory and is tasked with trying to build the firm’s client base in a generally unreceptive market. What should one do? The easiest path to growth is of course referrals. If you are providing value and proving your worth to your current clients, those clients will spread the word to family and friends.
Another growth strategy for an RIA is to narrow the focus of your target market. Concentrate not just on the people who can afford your services, but also on the people within this segment who would be most willing to actually use your services. So who are these people? The Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) Generational Financial Confidence Study, released last week, sheds some light on this. According to the survey, the greatest opportunity for financial planners is with the 35 million or so Generation Xers and younger boomers who do not currently have a financial advisor but would use one that gave them confidence about their retirement plan.
The MDRT survey also makes it clear that above everything else younger boomers seem to value trust. More than 85% of younger boomers (and Gen Xers) say it is harder to trust professionals they talk with about financial matters than five years ago. And roughly 35% of boomers with a plan still lack confidence about their futures. But those with a financial advisor tend are more trusting than those without one, and women trust advisors more than men.
So the bottom line is that RIAs looking to grow their practices would do well to tailor their growth strategy around a more receptive market. Younger boomers would be a good place to start. Maybe even take it a step further and focus on potential women clients. The MDRT suggests that advisors should really know their younger boomer clients. What makes them tick? What do they care about? Where do they lack confidence?
After all, if younger boomers care about trust more than anything else, the first step in building it is to know them.