Money Isn't the Only Focus for Retirement Advice
This time we hear from Amy Jo Lauber, owner of Lauber Financial Planning in Rockville, Md. She recounts how several untimely deaths inspired her to reflect on what clients really need in retirement planning.
I was about seven years into my career when I witnessed a shocking event that started me on the path I’m on today. I was working as the local representative for our county’s government-employee 401(k) at the time, and my accounts included our local highway department.
Several of my clients were highway department workers who were offered early retirement, and about 10 of them accepted the offer. But within a year of retiring, half of them passed away unexpectedly – one from an aneurysm and the others from heart trouble. These were people I had worked with for years, helping them save for what they’d hoped would be the time of their lives. And they ended up dying before they could enjoy it.
I was shocked and concerned about what had happened. I started to do some detective work and discovered that once they stopped working, these guys had become couch potatoes. They had essentially burnt themselves out to fund their retirements, neglecting the rest of their lives in the process — most of them didn’t have any hobbies or other interests. They had enough money to fund their post-retirement lives but without any outlet for their time and energy, they didn’t have lives to fund.
I knew my role as a financial planner didn’t include healthcare but I started bringing a big basket of fruit whenever I visited my clients at that particular highway department. I also began asking them about their stress levels, if they were taking time to relax, and what they did for a hobby. Being rugged, manly men they looked at me as if to say, “Oh brother, are you kidding me?” But over time, they began to cooperate.
The way we approached retirement planning together also began to change. Instead of assuming they needed to maximize their savings — which would mean working as hard as possible and acquiring as much overtime pay as they could — we started looking at how much money they really needed. I’d ask them whether they needed to work as much as they did. I tried to get them to understand that ultimately they needed to think about the big picture of their lives and not just focus on money.
Eventually the county did not renew the contract with that company and my contact with this group of men discontinued. But the experience had a profound impact on me.
I went on to work at a bank’s trust department and spent a few years at a boutique financial services firm. Over the years I often questioned clients about how they planned to spend their time in retirement. If I got a blank stare I would probe further, suggesting possibilities like, “Do you want to travel? Is there a hobby you’d like to take up? Do you think you’d like to work doing something different?” Even if there was an uncomfortable silence after my suggestions, I wouldn’t take it as a negative indicator. Instead, I would be patient and wait for the client to gather his or her thoughts.
My questioning a client’s plans for retirement made some of my colleagues uncomfortable — they had been trained not to make clients uncomfortable. The topic is a lot more top of mind in today’s industry than it was back then. It took me awhile, but I eventually realized that to provide clients with the kind of advice and help I had to offer, I needed to start my own practice. So, seven years ago I went out on my own. Now that I have my own practice, working with clients to define and plan an active retirement is a very important part of my mission.