There are roughly 76 million baby boomers out there heading toward retirement.
Seventy-six million — just utter that number by itself and most advisors would probably know what you’re talking about. Its significance has been branded into our subconscious. Some numbers need no elaboration.
But what do we really know about that 76 million?
After all, an advisor can’t just snap his fingers and expect 76 million boomers to bum rush his office. The ability to market and serve boomers means connecting with them on a fairly deep level. It’s like that with all client segments, of course, but a big difference between baby boomers and other markets, is that, well, there are 76 million of them. It’s probably hard enough to understand what your kids like, much less 76 million strangers.
“They are so different than any other generation,” said Michael Sullivan, the co-founder of Charlotte, N.C.-based 50-Plus Communications Consulting, which specializes in financial and marketing sales to baby boomers. “I know we say that about every generation, but this one is remarkably different.”
There are certain demographic data points that are pretty well known by now, but as Sullivan said, have important financial planning implications. For one, boomers have a higher divorce rate than any other generation. Care giving—for children, grandchildren and elderly parents—is a “monster issue,” said Sullivan, who along with Dick Ross co-authored the book, “101 Easy Ways to Increase Business with Boomerplus Clients.”
There are also personality quirks to keep in mind, Sullivan said. Many boomers tend to think they can handle everything on their own. And a lot of times they think they are smarter than their advisors. Many boomers may choose not to use an advisor because they would rather manage their own finances.
“They think they rule the world, and have for some time, because there are so many of them,” Sullivan said with a laugh.
This independent nature, which many boomers adopted when they were young, is now guiding them to retirement. Autonomy — or the ability to age in place — is part of a five-point value system that Sullivan applies to boomers. The others: Connectivity to family and friends; altruism, or the desire to give back to causes or charities which are important to them; and personal growth, whether it’s mentally or spiritually; and revitalization—through hobbies, travel or other activities.
So what does this mean to advisors?
According to Sullivan, it provides financial planners a means for connecting with their clients.
Do you volunteer? Do you serve on a board? Do you share a hobby? Let your clients know. Let them know you’re a regular person, a good person. Authenticity counts, especially among boomers.
“In these kinds of times you have to be honest and you have to be real,” Sullivan said.
“These kinds of times” refers to a period in which many people, not just boomers, are still on edge about finances. In fact, he recently hosted a teleseminar called, “Is the Boom Still Left in Boomers?”
For many, it isn’t.
And with the crash has come an erosion of trust. The way advisors speak to their clients is more important than ever, Sullivan said. One thing boomers dislike hearing from their advisors is a sentence that begins with, “You ought to be…” It’s better instead to take an anecdotal approach when dispensing investment advice. Say something like, “There are people I work with like yourself and let me tell you about this one couple I know and how things worked for them.”
Boomers are in transition. They are divorcing, remarrying, and some are starting new careers, but as they age, Sullivan said, they also begin to process things differently. They start relying more heavily on the right side of the brain, which appreciates a nice anecdote more than being told what to do.
“Stories connect with the right side of the brain and [clients] understand what you’re talking about,” he said. “Help them understand the complexities of investments and give them something to anchor it to.”