The Retirement Bucket List: Coaching Clients Against Planning a Panacea

By Bert Doerhoff, CPA
Aura Wealth Management

Bert Doerhoff, CPA

Bert Doerhoff, CPA

We’ve all seen the pictures – the silver-haired couple walking on the beach at sunset, and retirees on big-ticket adventures, living the Life of Riley in their golden years. For as long as I can remember, financial services firms have used images like these to help prospects envision life after retirement, and to entice them to save for a future that includes once-in-a-lifetime adventures, dream homes and/or other big-ticket purchases.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal got me thinking about whether, as advisers, we’re doing our best at helping clients explore both the personal fulfillment, and the potential pitfalls, of a bucket-list-oriented retirement. Judging by the comments appearing with the article, some people are just fine swimming with sharks or skiing the Andes, thank you very much. And others say their bucket lists already include spending time with family or building relationships that matter. To each his own! But what discussions led to the decisions these people made?

While advisers are certainly not therapists, those of us who have a duty of care to look out for our clients’ best interests need to think beyond whether our clients are “set” financially for retirement. A holistic approach would include consideration of the client’s overall well-being. For example, when a client tells us her goals, we could encourage her to discuss how achieving that goal would make her feel, and why, rather than just crunching the numbers to see if she can afford it.

A conversation might look like this:

Client: “When I retire, I want to visit every national park in America – all 58 of them, and I want to have enough money to stay in the finest lodges and eat at the best restaurants, to truly experience the best each park has to offer.”

Adviser: “That’s a lot of parks! Why do you want to visit all of them?”

Client: “To say I’ve done it. I think it’s important to have goals in retirement.”

Adviser: “I agree. Is this your number one goal? Tell me more about it. Will you be traveling by yourself or with friends? How many parks do you want to see each year? What do you think you’ll enjoy the most about seeing the parks? What could be the downside of so much travel?

The point of these conversations is not to judge, or to steer the client in a certain direction; rather, it would be to help her think through the steps required to achieve her goal – both financially and emotionally. An added value could be to connect the client with someone who has taken on a similar goal, or to recommend reading that addresses some of the client’s ideals or concerns. As we consider alliances that help us serve our clients’ needs, maybe we should also think beyond having bankers, accountants and estate planners as partners, to including a life coach, or psychologist, on our teams.

While “leadership” doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all definition, advisers can demonstrate leadership by helping clients establish a clear vision and encouraging them to share that vision with the people who are important to them. For some, that vision could very well include hiking the Great Wall of China or communing with penguins in Antarctica, for reasons that support both their stated – and unstated – goals.

What conversations do you have with your clients around retirement?