Forget retiring to a tony townhouse or a beach property in a warm climate. Clients are more concerned about having enough money for daily necessities, according to financial advisers polled by Sun Life Financial recently.A whopping 92% of advisers who responded to the Sun Life Financial study said their clients change their retirement income plans after retirement mainly to avoid running out of money, or to meet non-discretionary costs. More than one third, 34%, said clients adjust their plans to cover essentials, like unexpected healthcare costs. Just 21% said clients adjust plans to have more money for discretionary spending. Sun Life polled 477 financial advisers in March for the study.

Financial advisers know this means clients will be looking to them to fashion a plan to avert those potential cash shortfalls. Variable annuities, for all of the misgivings that financial advisers sometimes express about them, particularly on the independent side, are getting more attention as a potential solution.

Respondents described what steps annuity providers like Sun Life Financial would need to take in order to increase participation from clients. Lower fees, said 43% of respondents; 38% said provide more client education; and 38% make variable annuities simpler to understand.

Insurance companies were getting bogged down in the details of crafting annuity products for clients, said James Slotnick, associate director of advanced markets for Sun Life Financial.

“We have to do a better job of making it easy for advisors to talk to their clients,” Slotnick said.

Beyond that, 29% of respondents said variable annuities need to be a more commonly accepted investment; 28% said clients need to feel extraordinarily confident about the issuing company; and 22% of respondents said advisers need to receive better education about variable annuities.

Most advisers in the study, 76%, said clients 50 and older are concerned with having enough retirement income, more so than about stock market volatility. Also, 30% of adviser respondents said clients in that age group named outliving their retirement income as a main concern. Just 15% of respondents said losing money because of the stock market was a main client concern, and only 5% of respondents said their patrons were particularly worried about missing a market rally.

Yet clients who are attuned to the markets are out there. Slotnick argues that financial advisers should start talking about annuities to their clients, especially those who are particularly concerned about longevity, downturns that could erode their principal, and inflation.

“Ask them: Do you have a defined benefit plan? Some lucky clients will say yes,” Slotnick said. Among those who say no, Slotnick said advisers should ask, “Do you want one?”

Sun Life Financial built a couple of protections into its annuity selections. One locks in the value of gains during the accumulation phase, and another during the retirement phase, Slotnick said.

For advisers wondering how others in their field feel about variable annuities, the study found that 23% of financial advisers with less than 10 years of experience thought variable annuities involve high risk, compared with 13% of them with 10 years or more.

Also 76% of advisers said they are recommending variable annuities at least as often as they had been before the recession, while 38% said they are suggesting them more often, and 38% said they held steady with their recommendations.

Donna Mitchell writes for Financial Planning.


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