ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Advisors who don't want to lose business to robo advice platforms better start talking to clients about longevity and other issues they can relate to.

"Clients want to have a conversation about the realistic demands of living longer," said Frank McAleer, director of Raymond James' Retirement Solutions. McAleer spoke about longevity planning and the importance of helping clients address the physical and mental hurdles of old age in a presentation at the Raymond James Financial Institutions Division Symposium here on Tuesday.

This type of conversation can help build the kind of relationship with clients that advisors need to ward off competition from automated or "robo" advisors that provide asset allocation and portfolio rebalancing at a very low cost, if not for free.

Robo "disruptors," such as Betterment and Wealthfront, charge 30 basis points for automated online advice, far less than the average 1.18% fee that traditional advisors charge for a fee-based account.  Why, the new challengers ask, pay triple for a live advisor.

To justify the higher cost, advisors need to provide services that go beyond what's been commoditized, McAleer said. If they're merely providing asset allocation, portfolio rebalancing, and risk tolerance assessments, they're "in the danger zone," he warned. "Fee transparency driven by the emergence of robo advisors will become the trigger that exposes advisors who do nothing more than provide investment services as a commodity and who will be priced out of the marketplace," McAleer said, quoting Fox Financial Planning Network.

Talking about housing, transportation and healthcare—three key issues in old age—is one way advisors can become indispensable to clients. "No robo can sit and have a conversation about this," McAleer said.

Housing and transportation are particularly important to clients as they lose their mobility and agility to do simple everyday household tasks.  As a conversation starter, advisors might want to talk about a parent or family member unable to do a simple chore, such as replacing light bulbs, and ask clients if they think they'd be able to do such a routine chore in their old age on their own.

If they're living in a home with high ceilings, it's unlikely they'd be able to do so and might want to consider remodeling their home, McAleer said.

The point, he went on, is "getting people to open up," something that's hard to do if advisors limit their conversations to topics such as market volatility, cash flow and investments.  "It's hard to get on the same page [with your clients] when you're talking about investments that are complicated," he said.

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