Middle-class clients traditionally first approach planners to evaluate pension options. Employees of utilities and telecom companies still get plump buyout offers, and often one of the 80 partners in the Hanson McClain Retirement Network is called upon for help. The potential clients aren't high net worth - the typical account is $400,000 - but a planner can serve many by studying one company's offer.

The network provides one-on-one training and workshops, online tools and access to unions in return for 20% of revenue from clients. Scott Hanson's own firm, in Sacramento, manages about $1.2 billion, with half coming from clients in this niche, his main source of growth.

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