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Navigating Non-Financial Retirement Concerns

February 23, 2018

This time we hear from Julianne Andrews, a principal at Atlanta Financial Associates in Atlanta, Ga., about her experience with a couple who were in conflict over retirement timing.

A few years ago I had a meeting with a client couple who were not on the same page regarding the timing of their retirement. The husband was a physician who had worked long hours for many years and while he loved his work he was really ready to retire. As they neared his planned date of retirement he contacted me about meeting to address his wife’s concerns about whether or not they had the financial resources to retire.

Based on the worries she expressed in earlier meetings about whether they’d be able to maintain their standard of living in retirement, my initial inclination was to do a bunch of projections and show her that they had plenty of money. But during the meeting I got the sense that my projections weren’t making her feel any better. She should’ve been thrilled to hear that they were in great financial shape but she clearly wasn’t any less anxious. I realized there must be something else going on and that I could show her all the projections in the world but they wouldn’t help if they didn’t address her true concern.

As our conversation progressed, the wife also began talking about her health concerns and fears that an unexpected health event could derail their retirement plans. This prompted more discussion about the non-financial aspects of retirement. Her other fears began to surface as I worked to get her to express what was really bothering her. She wondered, for example, if her husband was going to want to travel or spend time with their son and his family in Los Angeles. If he planned a trip and she wasn’t able to go along because of her work, was that going to cause a problem for their relationship?

After our meeting I realized this situation was not unique. There are always non-financial concerns about retirement. What the wife really needed was a conversation about how she was trying to embark on a second career and what it would be like for her to be ramping up her work time while her husband was cutting down on his.

My two business partners also had similar situations come up with clients and as we discussed these situations, we realized we weren’t equipped to navigate concerns about health or family relationships. Those issues were outside the scope of our expertise. However, we could put together something to help couples identify their non-financial concerns and provide a forum for them to talk about them.

We ended up partnering with our broker-dealer to develop a one-day workshop that addressed the non-financial aspects of retiring. Before couples attend the workshop, we have both individuals in a couple fill out an assessment that includes a brief section on finances followed by questions about health, family relationships and plans about where they want to live.

Once the date was set for this first workshop, I contacted the couple I’d been working with to encourage them to attend. They attended together and had some good conversations about the wife’s concerns. Ultimately they were able to come to an agreement on how they would handle the role reversal of him working less while she was working more.

As financial advisors we tend to be focused on money. If someone says they’re worried about money we say, "Okay, great, let’s talk about the money." But that’s not always the real issue; there are often underlying concerns that are non-financial. And if you don’t bring those underlying issues out into the open, even the best financial plans in the world won’t make your clients feel confident about the future. Advisors aren’t therapists or doctors but they can be a key partner in helping couples realize there are issues they need to discuss.