LAS VEGAS -- Being financially prepared for retirement consistently ranks at or near the top of investors' lists of priorities regardless of their age, ethnicity, income level or gender. But this basic albeit mundane goal was largely forgotten by fund managers, financial advisors and even investors themselves in the past decade as cheap loans and skyrocketing home prices distracted many from the big picture.
That's all changed now thanks to the bursting of the housing bubble -- a highly volatile and, as it turns out, often artificial distraction that made it easy for investors and their advisors to backburner their primary retirement goals when their shelter was doubling as a bottomless ATM -- as well as the outright fraud and neglect perpetrated by some of the world's largest banks and investment firms.
If first decade of the new millennium was defined by greed, mortgage-backed securities and banks that were too big to fail, the next decade, according to experts gathered here at the American Society for Pension Professionals and Actuaries' 401k Summit, will be one in which the financial advisors who do the best job preparing investors for retirement will be the toast of Wall Street and generate the most money for their own golden years.
But it won't come easy.
People are prone to procrastinate, put off and otherwise avoid anything that brings them short-term discomfort. Putting aside even a small percentage of their annual salary is something that many Americans just simply won't do despite all the warnings from the financial advisor brought in for the lunchtime spiel down at the plant.
"Most Americans will be attending their retirement party, but far too many of them are going to show up and discover that they haven't followed the right directions that would bring them to a state of retirement readiness," said Robert Cunningham, second vice president of MassMutual Financial Group's retirement services division. "This lack of preparation and awareness is coming to the forefront now."
According to Hewitt Associates, only 18% of employees who contribute to a defined contribution will have enough income to support their expenses and desired lifestyle in retirement.
While shortsightedness and ignorance on the part of investors is often to blame for this woeful preparation, advisors and their clients are also to blame. Rather than focusing on the percentage of plan participants who reach retirement readiness, many advisors and their firms instead highlight their lower fees and overall percentage returns.
"It's great to finally hear questions now about how our plan is going to help participants retire," Cunningham said. "Retirement income has become one of the most important ways for measuring your effectiveness. For many, it's become a differentiator. A plan sponsor will pay basis points if you can help more people meet retirement readiness."
For Baby Boomers, the reprioritization and specialization in retirement planning and income investing comes at a critical juncture. The number of people age 65 and older will increase 79% between now and 2030 -- an additional 75 million potential new clients and most aren't adequately prepared for retirement.
According to James Pupillo, a senior vice president at Graystone Consulting, targeting and effectively serving this growing and increasingly important group of investors requires rethinking the way in which traditional retirement plans are formulated and benchmarked.
"Some participants have the acumen to research and make investments themselves," he said. "But the majority of the population certainly needs some guidance."
Target date funds, one of the most popular go-to products for retirement preparation, are too broad in scope and do a poor job of taking into account each individual's risk tolerance, available assets and other factors that make a huge difference at the end of an investor's career, he said.
"Age alone isn't sufficient," he said. "If we're both 50 and I make 10-times more than you, there's no way the 2025 fund is going to be suitable for us both."
As of the end of last year, only 5,000 to 6,000 U.S. advisors are specializing in retirement income planning -- a number that's sure to increase as more Boomers shut it down and as more firms and client companies emphasis retirement readiness as a top priority.
"The failure in our education system has unfairly fallen on the people in this room," said Jim Brockelman, managing director of advisor 401k sales at Putnam Investments. "Without the foundation of basic financial planning knowledge and some serious education reform, [preparing most people for retirement] will be like moving a battleship in a bathtub."