Financial services firms are broadening the scope of their retirement advice tools and planning a major push to help advisors understand them. That’s the key takeaway of an industry survey by Hearts & Wallets, a research firm that tracks retirement income trends.

The new tools give users get a better grasp of their retirement options, including when to take social security and how to achieve “tax optimization of withdrawals,” says Chris Brown, a partner of Hearts & Wallets. In the past, most of the retirement planning tools did little more than help users calculate “replacement rates,” or how much money they would need to have saved to replace a given percentage of their income. Today’s tools are more focused on helping users understand the tradeoffs of various retirement options.

What was considered “cutting edge three years ago is table stakes now,” says Brown.

The new tools also allow advisors to add modules that can help them with the complex social security and legacy planning issues and lifestyle goals of their clients.

The survey found that the development of retirement income offerings is a strategic priority for many more firms than two years ago. In 2012, 77% of firms rated retirement income capabilities as vitally or very important to strategic planning initiatives over the next one to three years, up from 57% in 2010.

Firms also reported making advisor education a major priority. Mutual fund manufacturers and annuity providers, in particular, plan to give advisors additional support to “get them up to speed on social security” and other retirement issues, said Brown.

The survey polled nearly two dozen financial services firms in the spring of 2012.

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