Now, as a financial advisor with HTLF Investment Services at the Dubuque Bank & Trust in Iowa, he's doing the same thing. "The first thing I do when I get a new client is go over their Social Security account and tell them what they can expect to get from Social Security," he says. "I explain to them that this is their retirement base, and yet I'm still sometimes surprised at the number of people who don't know what they can expect to receive from it."
The idea of becoming a financial advisor came late in Butler's Social Security career. He would conduct pre-retirement seminars for companies and explain various scenarios if people retired at 62 as compared to, say, 70. He also worked with registered reps who were talking to their own clients about retirement and they would sometimes ask him to be a featured speaker.
But eventually he felt that talking about it wasn't enough. "I found that I could tell people all about the workings of Social Security, and what it could do for them and their families, but that was it. All I could do was inform. As an advisor, I figured I'd be able to actually do things for people."
So when an opportunity came to take early retirement at age 50, he jumped. "I left on a Friday, and on Monday, I started working as a rep."
He began his new career as a bank-based advisor at Security State Bank in Cascade, Iowa, a little town of just 1,800. Later, he moved to Dubuque Bank & Trust, part of the Heartland Financial Bank Group, where he is the only advisor at the branch.
His boss has him periodically give Social Security seminars not just for customers, but also for reps at other banks in the Heartland Financial system as well as bank employees. "He feels it is so important a part of a financial plan that everyone should know how it works," says Butler.
Butler has, in a sense, never left Social Security. "When a client comes to me for the first time," he says, "I tell them my Social Security Administration background, and it right away gives them a certain comfort level, and lends credibility to what I have to tell them. I can see them relax immediately when I mention my Social Security experience. Putting that on the table, they're more willing to listen to what I have to say about their investments, or college funding for children or grandchildren."
Only One Leg Doing Its Job
Butler often uses the old analogy of the retirement stool with three legs when talking with clients. Then comes the surprise: "Social Security is the only leg of that stool that is doing its job for you."
He says that many of his clients come in worried that Social Security is going to go away. "I try to explain that they should worry much less about Social Security and work on the other two legs - their pension or 401(k), and their other savings and earnings," both of which, he points out, have usually taken some big hits.
He becomes passionate when discussing advisors who try to sow fear among potential clients about the system. "I don't think that investment reps should be telling people that Social Security is at risk. Putting the fear of Social Security into clients in order to get them to invest more is unprincipled in my view," he says.
Indeed, when he started his advisory career 13 years ago, he was disturbed to hear financial advisors telling clients, 'Well, you know Social Security isn't going to be around here when you need it.'"
Butler often explains to clients that Social Security is not going away. "I tell them every year as far back as you want to look, Congress has tinkered with Social Security, and they'll tinker with it again. But even today, with the kind of long-term problems that they are talking about, they are only going to end up having to make a change of maybe 2.2% in the program."