If you are a member of the sales and marketing team at your [independent living or life plan] retirement community, did you know that you are in the retirement planning business? You may not think so because, for most people, the phrase “retirement planning” translates to “financial planning." But I would encourage you to broaden your scope of what retirement planning includes.
Surveys suggest that, in addition to financial concerns such as outliving their money, retirees also worry about things like serious health problems, being lonely, not having a purpose, and being a burden on family members. Ideally, a comprehensive “retirement plan” helps to avoid or minimize all these concerns. For example, what is your prospect’s plan for maintaining the healthiest life possible, keeping in mind all aspects of wellness, including social, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and more? What is the plan if, despite a healthy lifestyle, an unexpected health event takes place and your prospective residents require temporary or ongoing care? And what is the plan for limiting the impact on family members if this happens?
While a financial advisor can help manage things like asset allocation, tax-efficient investing, estate planning, retirement income and, increasingly, behavioral finance, a retirement plan should involve more than just these financial considerations. What many people do not realize is that where they live throughout their retirement years plays a huge role in the degree to which the concerns mentioned above effect life in retirement, particularly as mobility declines. Therefore, the discussion about housing is a critical part of any good retirement plan.
Finding Peace of Mind
Your role is to help your prospective residents understand this so they can effectively navigate all aspects of the retirement housing decision, based on what’s most important to them. Peace of mind isn’t based purely on financial planning. Indeed, someone could be ultra-wealthy and still face the negative effects of some of the other concerns described above.
The interesting thing is that in order to stay relevant and deliver value in the fast-evolving world of artificial intelligence, robo-advising, and other online financial advising models, many financial advisors are seeking to expand their roles beyond the traditional aspects of financial advising. With a rapidly aging population in the United States, some of these advisors are beginning to focus more heavily on providing guidance on senior living and closely related topics.
This trend highlights the value of your work and the opportunity you have. It also suggests that it is time for you to have a stronger voice in the retirement planning conversation. Yes, a comprehensive retirement plan should probably include a credible and experienced financial advisor. It probably includes an estate planning attorney as well. But it should also include you. Of course, this requires that your level of industry knowledge should go well beyond only what your community offers. It will require that you become a student of your industry.
Your Role as a Resource
While recognizing that your community may not always be the best fit for your prospective resident, your role is to be a resource. If you are not educating your prospects and helping them understand your role in their overall plan, they will seek information and guidance from someone else. In that case, you don’t know what type of information - or misinformation - they may be receiving. Keep in mind that your prospective residents do not want to be sold. They want to be informed. They want guidance. Your job is to help them understand what a comprehensive retirement plan really includes and to help them connect the dots between their concerns and the solutions your community provides.
Do you begin your meetings with prospective residents by letting them know that you are a resource and that your goal is to help guide them to the best decision for their future? Do you proactively offer to speak with their financial advisor so you can be a part of the planning team? If not, maybe you should.
If you truly serve as a resource, and not just a salesperson, then your role is every bit as important as the financial advisor’s role. To that end, a more accurate title than Sales Counselor, for example, may be something like Retirement and Lifestyle Planner.
In summary, people have never been more confused about their senior living options, and they are often unaware of the important role housing and services play in their retirement plans. This means the opportunity has never been better for you to step up in a big way as a valued member of your prospects' planning team. Ultimately, this will pay dividends for you in your career, while helping prospects to make confident decisions about their future.
Brad Breeding is the president and founder of myLifeSite, a CCRC comparison site and retirement resource for seniors. Founded in 2010, myLifeSite provides detailed, objective information and tools for consumers and their advisors. Brad is the author of What’s the Deal with Retirement Communities?, rated five stars overall on Amazon, and speaks regularly for retirement living providers, industry trade organizations, life-long learning classes, and other groups across the country.