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Why Social Security Concerns Could Drive Clients Away from their Advisors

By Mrinalini Krishna May 15, 2019

Clients who currently work with an advisor or plan to work with an advisor would have no qualms about ditching their advisor for a new one in order to maximize Social Security benefits.

A recent poll found a majority of respondents saying they’re likely to switch advisors to find better advice on Social Security matters. The annual Nationwide Retirement Institute survey breaks clients into three categories: those who retired more than 10 years ago (long-term retirees), those who retired fewer than 10 years ago (recent retirees) and those who plan to retire over the next 10 years (future retirees).

According to the survey, nearly 76% of future retirees are extremely or somewhat likely to change their financial advisor to make the most of their Social Security benefits, while 66% of recent retirees and 59% of long-term retirees agreed.

“Social Security is a complex source of retirement income, often causing a disconnect between what consumers think their benefit will be compared to reality,” says Tina Ambrozy, president of sales and distribution at Nationwide, in a press release. “Preparing for retirement holistically by working with advisors and taking advantage of online tools can help older adults maximize benefits and achieve personal goals.”

Almost a third of the respondents in each category work with a financial advisor, according to the survey. Of those who work with an advisor, only 46% of future retirees, 52% of recent retirees and 40% of long-term retirees received advice on Social Security.

And advice clearly leads to results. The survey found that clients working with advisors saw 15% more in benefits, were less likely to draw benefits before full retirement age, were less likely to draw Social Security early due to health problems and were more able to do things they wanted to in retirement.

Though it’s a part of a larger retirement plan, some advisors say while talking to clients about Social Security benefits conversations should go beyond the simulations to crunch the numbers.

“It’s not so much the math that matters early versus later at a higher rate, but more their personal circumstances,” says Donald Barry, a Wichita, Kan.-based FT 400 advisor with broker-dealer Robert W. Baird. Barry says there are a lot of people who decide to retire but become restless to go back to work after some time.

He says that a lot of times when a client says they’re going to retire early and wants to start taking Social Security, the first thing he asks them to do is “Wait for a little while and make sure that you really are going to stay retired.”

According to the Nationwide survey, 38% of the future retirees, 51% of the recent retirees and 48% of the long-term retirees say Social Security benefits would be their primary source of retirement income. With that in mind, longevity risk — living longer than the money you have — comes even more sharply into focus.

“The average person out there is not what our average client looks like. Longevity risk is not actually a risk, it’s a fact,” Barry says, though he does clarify that most of his clients do not need Social Security as their main source of retirement income.

Barry does, however, talk to his clients about their health as a part of his review meetings.

One of the most common issues with Social Security is attempting to effectively take the distribution. “That’s where you get into health questions and the potential of going back to work,” says Barry. “I’ve got some clients that really don’t need the money and it makes it easier for them just to delay taking the [Social Security distribution] until they’re 70.”

Even the continued existence of Social Security in America worries a majority of clients. In particular, the 2019 OASDI Trustees Report sparked conversations about potential insolvency for the Social Security program. Over two-thirds (66%) of future retirees, 59% of recent retirees and 56% of long-term retirees worry that the Social Security program may run out of funding during their lifetime, according to the survey.

Advisors can help map out different scenarios to soothe nerves.

“I have some clients who say they’re worried that Social Security will go away and they say, ‘I only consider that as our best-case scenario, show me a scenario without Social Security, what would happen to me?’ They just want to plan for everything. They just want to make sure they’re going to be okay,” says Sylvia Guinan, an Essex, Conn.-based advisor with Wells Fargo Advisors.

The Nationwide survey was conducted by The Harris Poll. The poll surveyed 1,315 U.S. adults over the age of 50 who are retired or plan to retire in the next 10 years.