10 Ideas for working more successfully with Boomer clients
by Marcia Mantell, RMA, NSSAMs. Mantell is the founder and president of Mantell Retirement Consulting, Inc., a retirement business development, marketing & communications, and training company supporting the financial services industry, advisors and their clients. She is author of “What’s the Deal with®… Retirement Planning for Women” and blogs at BoomerRetirementBriefs.com.
It seems as if there is a mile-wide set of differences between young financial advisors and the Baby Boomer generation. Every young financial advisor understands that to build a profitable, sustainable business, you go where the opportunity is: Baby Boomers. Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. They have amassed a tidy sum of money. Many will be recipients of wealth from their parents. And, so many enter retirement without a plan. According to the 2018 EBRI Retirement Confidence Survey, only 55% of workers who are 55 or older have tried to calculate how much money they will need to live comfortably in retirement. Boomers need financial advisors!
With an age gap that can easily span 30 or 40 years between a young advisor and a Boomer client, it’s no wonder young advisors and Baby Boomers can seem like oil and water. The two just can’t mix. Until you shake up the bottle, that is.
Boomers Will Work with Younger Financial Advisors
Brian Schmidt is a Certified Financial Planner at NFP in upstate New York. He’s 41. He started his practice ten years ago at age 31. Most of his clients are Boomers who have been with him for years. So why did aging, retiring Baby Boomers seek out a young financial advisor in his early 30s to help them figure out retirement income strategies?
“The key is to first listen to what they want. Then, ask lots of questions they probably haven’t thought about,” says Schmidt. “When you have both parts of the equation, you can focus on income for retirement. Never lead with an investment recommendation.”
Still, it can be a tough sell. It can be a hard sell to get Boomers comfortable working with a younger advisor. They may be hesitant and uncertain about all of the technology being used. They feel exposed. And, they may be concerned about how much knowledge and experience the advisor has.
Here are 10 pointers that just might make it a little easier to close the generational divide and have an opportunity for your business to boom with the Boomers.
1 – Understand how Boomers see themselves
Fiercely independent. Rule-breakers. Highly individual. These characteristics define the Boomer generation. Historical events such as President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the Vietnam War, the moon landing, and Woodstock anchor the collective memories of this generation.
They are called “Boomers” because after World War II, and later, the Korean War, more babies were born per year than at any other point in US history. The trend finally ended in 1964, when only 4 million babies were born. Boomers ushered in social trends such as women’s liberation, integrated public schools, and the computer. They moved up economically and socially. Many still hold fast to “traditional” family arrangements, but an equal number have blazed a path where there was no model: divorce, single parenting, raising grandchildren, acceptance of the LGBTQ community, and so much more.
Keep in mind that there is no single model to use when it comes to Boomers. They are a truly diverse generation. It can take some amount of time to figure out which characteristics and values define each Boomer client.
2 – Know and love their movies and music
The Boomers were the first generation to radically break into an entirely new music scene. “Rock n’ roll is here to stay” was quite a forecast back in the 1950s. A tremendous number of songs made popular throughout their impressionable teenage years still define this generation. If you don’t know these heavy hitters, time to create a playlist on Spotify that includes: Jailhouse Rock (Elvis), The Twist (Chubby Checker), Satisfaction (Rolling Stones), Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin), Respect (Aretha Franklin), American Pie (Don McLean), to name just a few.
When asked which movies influenced Boomers in their formative years, one young advisor answered “Gone with the Wind”. What’s wrong with that answer? The movie was released in 1939—seven years before the first Boomer was born! If he had answered “Rebel without a Cause” with James Dean, or “The Graduate” with Dustin Hoffman, or even the original “Rocky” or the wildly popular “Grease”, he’d have been spot on. These movies captured the essence and attitudes of a generation that have lasted. Boomers still think they are independent, rough-riding, and pushing-the-envelope in society. Help them feel that way when it comes to their money.
3 – Keep those references to TV shows top of mind
Boomers are the TV generation, growing up watching everything from Howdy Doody to the Brady Bunch, Lucy and Ricky to Sonny and Cher. It was the golden era of television and references back to their shows provides a link you can share with clients. Today, they are keen on various cable series and love Netflix. Binge watching has taken the TV generation to new heights.
4 – Realize you’re working with 2 subsegments, not one big group
It’s easy to think about “Boomers” as one homogeneous group. In fact, you are working with two distinct sub-segments. The influences of the older boomers are not a part of the younger Boomers’ collective memories. Make sure to align your references and connections with the right age for each Boomer client.
5 – Traditional roles are still in play
Sure, Boomers were the first group of kids to really push the envelope and rally against their parents’ norms. But today, most acknowledge they are more “traditional” than they thought they would be. This is particularly evident with married couples.
Schmidt confirms that it’s typical to work within “traditional” spouse roles: “Most wives in the Boomer generation have a high confidence in their husband’s financial decision-making. This often means she takes a back seat and is quiet during our planning and update meetings.”
6 – Recognize your prospect or client is your parent…and, no parent wants to take advice from their kids!
It can be tough to swallow the advice from a young advisor. After all, the younger person has never walked a mile in their shoes. Find ways to better relate to your older clients: Bring in examples of what your parents are doing. Perhaps set up a round-table session of several Boomer clients. Provide the group with topics to discuss, then sit back and listen to their point of view. You can steer the conversation and periodically shed new light on the topics they may not fully understand.
7 – Use paper and pens
Technology can be scary for many Boomer clients. Everything is hidden in a black box. What clients really want to know is how their paycheck is going to work and how they are going to pay their bills. Young advisors are generally quite adept at using any number of tools and tech to get to the answers. Schmidt uses eMoney for his planning sessions. “It’s a robus, two-way facing tool. My clients like to know they have access, but most won’t use it. It’s up to me to talk to my clients through the results from the technology.”
Using tools that provide simple output reports in one or two pages is critical. Boomers want to walk out of your meeting with paper in hand. They need to take notes. It’s what they are most comfortable with and how they remember the conversation and the decisions you’ve asked them to make.
8 – Slow down! Boomers can’t keep up with the speed of youth
Your clients are plenty smart. They simply cannot process information as quickly as they once did. And, while most are loath to admit it, they are losing their hearing and many need reading glasses. Recommendation: slow down the conversation. Prepare well in advance so you can stay focused, on point, and talk about the most important information first. Answer “yes” or “no” questions with a “yes” or “no”. Too many explanations get lost in the conversation and can derail the meeting. Pause between pages and topics so your client can organize their thoughts and formulate questions or comments.
9 – Adapt your language
Every generation is fascinated with creating its own vocabulary. But, it certainly loses something in translation. “Sick” means one thing to the Boomers (flushed, feverish, flu) and quite another to the younger generation. “Groovy” is still recognizable and fun, even though outdated. “Swag” used to mean stolen goods, not one’s groovy style as it is used today. And, of course, there is “dope.” None of your Boomer client’s retirement plans can be “dope.” That’s what the hippies were taking or smoking back in the day.
10 – Have fun with your Boomer clients
One of the most effective ways to work successfully with older clients is to embrace your differences with humor. Find places to “correct” yourself when using today’s vocab that didn’t register with a client or to laugh at the misuse of today’s terminology when clients ask if they should look something up on “the google.” You’ll endear yourself to Boomer clients by asking them about their career and family stories and the ups and downs of creating their wealth. They love to share their personal history and you can use the stories as reference points in future conversations.
Oil and Water Can Be a Winning Combination
Schmidt points out that working with clients of a different generation isn’t all that complicated. You are building a relationship, helping them manage income (not assets), and looking for points of connection. You simply need to take the time to know your folks, which is different from “Know Your Client” – – that’s for suitability. I mean, really get to know your folks and look at the world from their point of view and their history. Then, use the technology behind the scenes to answer their questions and give them a short paper report to take home.”
The reality is that Boomers need fresh approaches and ideas for managing longevity and other retirement risks. They need the technical skills and level of adeptness that younger advisors bring to the table. And, they need the product and investment expertise from those who really understand the modern world and global economies.
Oil and water can mix when young advisors take their expertise and new-fangled technologies and wrap the information in a paper package with language their older clients can connect to. ◊