Advisors seeking to help older Americans prepare financially for their retirement should remember to keep one tip in mind: avoid using the word “retirement.”

Many pre- and post-retirees want to continue to work and are turned off by advisors who assume they plan to quit working entirely. That’s one of the main takeaways of a new study by research firm Hearts & Wallets. The study found that older investors differ in how they want to balance work and leisure and that the language advisors use is important to winning them over.

Many people 55 to 65 years old are not in a “pre-retirement mindset” and are interested in working to grow their assets, Chris Brown, a principal of Hearts & Wallets, said in a telephone interview. If advisors start talking to them about retirement income, they’re “going to balk,” he said. 

The study identified three major groups of older Americans: the “full-steam aheads” who plan to work at least part-time to avoid mental deterioration and keep their options open; the “balancers” who view part-time work as an insurance policy for the future and a way to earn spending money; and the “leisure pacers” who plan to stop working or already have.

Advisors should adjust their language and marketing communications to reflect the preferences of their audience, according to the report. For example, advisors courting the “full-steam aheads” should show that they understand that their potential clients will continue working. And if they wish to woo “balancers” with a heap of money stashed away, they shouldn’t try talking them into retirement because they see working as an insurance policy against hard times, said Brown.

“Not all pre- and post-retirees have the same goals. Flexibility in messaging, financial plans and retirement income calculators are important to attract these customers,” Laura Varas, a principal of Hearts & Wallets, said in a statement.

Language is especially important when positioning retirement income offerings, according to the research. For example, many older Americans link “retirement income” to entitlements, which would cause them to “tune out the offering before they even know what it’s about,” the study said.  Phrases older investors like to hear include “filling the gap,” “income stream,” and even “a kiss in the mail,” a phrase coined by a radio personality in Boston to mean a pension check in the mail.

That said, advisors should realize that capturing new accounts and assets via retirement income services will not be easy as many older investors have established relationships with financial advisors, many of which go back to the time when they were in their 40s and 50s. Older Americans are also reluctant to consolidate assets with one firm, according to the research.

“A lot of clients are hesitant to put all their assets with one advisor …  in light of Bernie Madoff,” said Brown.

According to the research, pre- and post-retirees often utilize components of several techniques to manage their finances in retirement, including establishing a guaranteed income floor and breaking up assets into time-based buckets. They found a single technique to be too limiting.

Another interesting tidbit revolved around their views of retirement income calculators. Many older Americans found them helpful, but some viewed them as rigged, prompting investors to put more money into funds than is necessary.

The report, entitled “Shining a Light on Pre- and Post-Retirees: What 3 Different Retirement Lifestyles Reveal about Language, Attitudes and Experiences with Advice and Retirement Income,” is the latest in the firm’s “Explore” series on retirement-related issues. The report is based on nine focus groups involving a total of 72 investors with a minimum of $500,000 in total household investable assets.

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