BOSTON -- A doctoral candidate and his advisor from Texas Tech University won the Retirement Income Industry Association's first Thought Leadership Award, the association announced at its fall conference Tuesday.

The RIIA's Retirement Management Journal recognized Duncan Williams and his advisor, Michael Finke, for their paper outlining a new approach to withdrawal rates for retirement portfolios.

Williams is a doctoral candidate and graduate instructor in Texas Tech's personal financial planning department and associate professor Finke is coordinator of the division.

Most approaches to what's known as distribution planning focus on safe or sustainable withdrawal strategies for retirees, according to Williams and Finke. In their award-winning paper, they suggest that this more typical retirement portfolio distribution approach, one that assumes a client will live forever and solely aims to prevent income shortfalls, may not be ideal.

Instead, according to Williams and Finke, financial advisors might want to consider how satisfied a client will be with a given level of retirement spending over time, and weigh that against the client's risk aversion. Advisors might also want to factor in a client's non-portfolio based sources of income.

This approach, the paper states, "requires consideration of the tradeoff between spending too much and being forced to cut back in retirement, and spending too little and dying with funds unspent on vacations, medical procedures, second homes" and other finer things retirement money can buy.

The authors found, among other things, that optimal withdrawal rates go down the higher a client's risk aversion. However, optimal withdrawal rates go up for clients who have more non-portfolio income (Social Security, an annuity) along with their portfolio-based income.

The Texas Tech paper implies that retirement planners should really be using a formula for what RIIA's midday keynote speaker Bill Hunter of Merrill Lynch called "a return on life."

On Monday evening, RIIA announced winners of its 2011 Excellence in Communications Awards. These annual awards recognize outstanding advertising, marketing materials and research in the retirement income and planning area. The Retail Retirement Income Communications Award for new media went to Boston College's Center for Retirement Research, for "Curious Behaviors that Can Ruin Your Retirement," and the printed materials award went to Raymond James for "Achieving Success in the Retirement Income Market - Financial Advisor Guidebook."

Putnam Investments won the Defined Contributions Communications Award for Best Plan Participant for "Lifetime Income Analysis Tool." The Retirement Income Television Advertising Award winner was ING for "Life in Numbers." And the Retirement Income Client Education Award, sponsored by SourceMedia, publisher of Financial Planning, went to Pacific Life for "Building Retirement in a Challenging Economy."

Along with the communications awards, RIIA presented an award for Achievement in Applied Retirement Research to Richard Thaler, professor of behavioral science and economics at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business.