One hundred years from now the headline for the times we are living in will not be “The Great Crash of 2008.” Our times will be remembered as a period when retirement liability was pushed from corporate balance sheets onto the individual, said Timothy Noonan, managing director at Russell Investments, during the keynote address at the Financial Behavior in Retirement Summit in Chicago on Monday.
The problem, Noonan explained, is that individuals don’t know what to do with it. And the wide availability of data in the media and on the Internet has not made the decision of how to plan for retirement any easier. “This idea of shifting the risk of retirement from pensions to 401(k)’s was sold to Americans under the cloak of choice,” said Noonan. “But choice without guidance leads to bad outcomes.”
It’s not that investors need more retirement products. It’s that individuals need good advice. And good advice is built on trust. “We need to reinforce that bridge of trust with our clients everyday,” he said. The challenge is to gain trust and give attention to as many clients as possible, while remaining profitable. The reality is that clients with more assets will demand more attention and advisors need to find that balance.
Noonan pointed out that investors misunderstand the purpose of investing: They believe investing is about getting rich, yet they lack the discipline to actually make money. The assumption is that pensions are more sophisticated than individuals. “Absolutely not true,” says Noonan. The advantages pension plans have over individuals is process: they are objective, disciplined, and thorough. And individuals can be too.
Individuals can create their own personal pension plan, which provide the highest possible standard of living with the lowest possible risk of ruin. What investors want are flexibility and the ability to have control over their plans. Complexity is not the answer. The answer is to make a financial plan that clients understand.
The data is terrifying: Only 53% of Americans who work with financial advisors have financial plans. That means that of those affluent enough to have an advisor, almost half don’t have plans. And of the 53% who have a plan, only half say they understand the plan. “It’s not only about producing more plans,” explained Noonan. “It’s about producing more plans that have the engagement of the clients and that they understand the plans.”