CHICAGO -- Advisors’ value to clients is greater than ever, says Cathy Weatherford, the president and CEO of the Insured Retirement Institute. 

Over the last five years, advisors have adapted their practices to meet the changing needs of their clients -- talking more about retirement income and preparation -- and gained more product choices to meet specific client needs, Weatherford said at the IRI's annual Vision conference in Chicago.

That’s the good news. But there is still plenty to do, she says.  “Financial advice is going to become even more personal,” Weatherford says. “It's about the person, the client, not just about the money.”

Weatherford says more personal discussions are needed. “If there is anything advisors need to do better, it’s having much deeper, more meaningful, personal conversations with clients -- even including the people who are going to have power of attorney, who are going to oversee the estate,” she says. Increasing their own awareness of the implications of dementia, memory loss or cognitive impairment among clients is another crucial area for advisors, Weatherford notes.


Even difficult conversations must be a part of the planning process, she says. "No one wants to talk about how to address their need for long-term care -- but you really need to have that conversation." Decisions about long-term care, legacy planning and other health and lifestyle issues tied to old age “need to be incorporated into the plan,” she says.

Advisors also need to get up to speed on the needs of same-sex couple clients in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's recent DOMA ruling. “There is a significant opportunity for advisors to help and support couples that can now do joint retirement and financial planning where before they could not,” Weatherford says.

To aid in this effort, IRI on Monday announced a new research initiative focusing on the financial and retirement planning needs of same-sex couples.

Another challenge for advisors will be the needs of younger clients, from late boomers to Gen X and Y clients. According to recent research from IRI, older baby boomers are more prepared for retirement than their younger counterparts.

“The challenge is those [clients] that are further out, getting them to increase savings so they are ready,” Weatherford says. “In the context of the financial situation, you still have clients who have trepidation about being in the markets, who don't want to lose any money, who haven't gotten their sea legs back yet for risk.”

But even these segments represent an opportunity for planners, Weatherford says: “This is really the time of the financial advisor. With the expertise, knowledge and ability to communicate with clients, the value add is greater than ever.”

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