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Retirement and wealth planning strategies and skills

Stanis Benjamin

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Retirement is no longer an entitlement in many countries and has become a privilege only for a few. The average life expectancy is increasing, and many countries are changing pension and welfare systems, impacting retirement plans of people across the world. This session provides you with the right retirement and wealth planning strategies to meet the financial challenges that your clients may face in the years ahead. Learn about changes and challenges in the world that will impact your clients’ retirement choices, and how you can help clients avoid financial disasters from affecting their retirement plans and goals. Also learn how to create a simple retirement and wealth action plan for clients to implement immediately.

Before I begin, I must confess that I have been a participant in many sessions before I became a speaker. As in most sessions, some participants, like me, will walk in, take their seat, look at the speaker's face, and make predictions about how the session is going to go and how long the agony is going to last. Some of us will wonder what qualifications the speaker has to speak on the subject.

With a face like mine, there have always been problems with these predictions. So before you begin to make any predictions, let me give you a brief insight into my 54 years of existence without bringing you on a long historical tour.

I graduated at 16 from high school, passing only three out of seven subjects. I joined the Air Force at 17 and served seven years servicing fighter aircrafts and then a year servicing jumbo jets in civil aviation as an income earner.

This was followed by 13 years as a commission sales professional in the insurance business, starting as an agent and leaving as an agency manager with a small fortune in the form of a financial education.

For the last 16 years, I have been in the profession of speaking and training, hoping to build enough wealth for retirement while living on a shoestring budget.

What qualifies me to speak is that I spent some of those years as an idealist living with the illusion that by working hard and earning an income, I could retire comfortably, not realizing that the retirement and wealth accumulation goal can be a goalpost on the move if we do not have the right strategies and skills to meet the changes and challenges ahead.

Please remember that many of the ideas shared here have been spoken about and practiced by both successful and unsuccessful people. Some of the ideas have evolved over the years, helping many to accumulate the right amount of financial wisdom to retire comfortably.

The focus of this talk is on ideas and not numbers. It is to get your clients to consider your ideas to help them plan their retirement and develop wealth accumulation strategies. You will need to adapt some of the ideas according to the legal and financial situation in your own country.

The competitive environment and borderless nature of the financial industry today has resulted in the growth in the number of financial experts, gurus, and snake oil salespeople, all operating in the same environment promising all kinds of schemes and scams to extract hard-earned money and savings from people.

Unfortunately, the many who flock to those self-help, get-rich-quick, and retire-rich seminars have only helped these experts and gurus to accumulate huge amounts of cash and retire rich.

Back home, I have read of how some people have lost their retirement nest egg by taking their chances on investing in all forms of dubious investments.

The conclusion I made from all these experiences I read about is that people will flock anywhere and be willing to try anything just for the opportunity to retire rich. Instead of practicing financial discipline and developing long-term savings and investment habits, most hope to get lucky and take chances.

What I have noticed, which was even more interesting, is how some institutions got rich benefiting from both good and bad times by capitalizing on people's urgency to have quick cash to fund their retirement as they get closer to it.

Most people need advice on accumulating wealth or building their capital to fund their retirement. However, during their visit to these financial gurus, they were often sold an investment product. Unfortunately, this exposed them to greater risk, mainly because many of these retirees or future retirees lacked financial knowledge or financial intelligence for risky investments.

People who go to these financial gurus need the knowledge of how to build their wealth for their retirement, not how to invest, especially when they don't have enough capital to take risks.

They need to learn the techniques to safeguard their capital and grow their wealth. Interestingly, not one of these financial experts advising on investments are interested in sitting with someone who has no money. These professionals are only capable of investing capital that has already been accumulated; they are not able to teach people how to save. Many financial institutions have created numerous financial tools for investment, with rules that may take a lifetime to learn even for their own employees, let alone the rest of us.

They use all forms of media to sell these tools but rarely teach their customers the techniques to use these tools to get the best returns on investment. It is up to future retirees to learn the rules during their working lifetime to ensure the safety of their retirement capital and retirement income.

Unfortunately, for many during the learning process, they unknowingly or unnecessarily utilize accumulated savings intended for retirement and transfer away their savings, in the form of car loans, mortgages, and credit card payments, to maintain a lifestyle that may be unsustainable in the later years of their life as retirement closes in.

Many future retirees don't realize that, with limited savings for any diversification into investments, most will lose their savings during a financial crisis or some other form of economic setback. They may not have the financial capacity to take any loss of their capital or have additional financial resources to sustain their investments.

As in some of the most recent financial crises, many have lost hard-earned money meant for their retirement. From Lehman Brothers to the Greek crisis, we have seen long queues of people trying to save their pension and retirement savings.

The global financial crisis has resulted in the retirement goalpost changing as a loss of investment or capital, which will result in people having to work longer to rebuild their retirement capital. Major losses experienced by some of the state-managed retirement and pension funds have resulted in many people having to delay their retirement as well as many coming out of retirement to work.

This situation often reminds me of the movie Minions. The Minions go in search of a leader aimlessly; they are looking for someone to lead them. We need to look within and take responsibility for our future by first having an awareness of the situation and next focusing on action that needs to be taken.

Actually, most people could easily and comfortably retire if only they had taken the advice of the friendly neighborhood financial advisor and started on a habit of saving and gaining financial intelligence and, as their savings progressed, moved into investment strategies.

Because of many bad experiences, the trust in us is no longer the same, and the perception of how we are seen as financial advisors advising on retirement and wealth accumulation will need to be worked on.

To help them, we must start changing their perceptions toward us as financial advisors. Most clients say no to your advice because without a complete picture of the situation, they are unable to make decisions, and it is safer to say no now and continue life as it is until such time that they have all the information. Often, we lose the opportunity to educate clients on the perils of not planning because we did not work to change their perception.

Until you ask a highly structured question that makes your prospects focus on something, they generally ignore details. In the same breath, by asking people structured questions on retirement and wealth planning, we are getting them to focus on the details, and from here we can move to helping them with planning.

Also, we help them know that sometimes we assume things without listening to specifics. The lesson here is to help them know that we may have to look at things in more than one way, and then we link this to any advice they have been given or thoughts they have with regard to retirement and wealth planning. This way we can help them look at different situations and aspects in retirement and wealth planning.

Doing this not only allows you to casually start the conversation and demonstrate to your clients your creativity, but also gives you the opportunity to ask questions to lead them to specifics you want to present. It also provides you with the opportunity to stretch the sales conversation into the different issues and strategies related to retirement planning and wealth accumulation.

The whole process of retirement and wealth accumulation planning starts with the process of collecting information, which involves identifying the personal financial situation, lifestyle, and interests of the individual.

Often, people feel that retirement is far off and that they have time. If they are not facing any financial challenges, they will not see the need to take immediate action. They do not realize the importance of time in the planning process that is enriched time (enriched by their skills and knowledge).

They also often ignore the power of compounding in the planning process because they cannot see the financial future as their focus is on their current financial situation. People who want to prepare themselves for retirement should start by identifying their goals and objectives. These are some of the considerations that you want to consider when preparing clients for a discussion on retirement and the wealth planning process. It is always important to have their goals and objectives clearly defined.

There is rapid globalization, so let's look at some of the challenges governments across the world face and how these and other challenges impact the financial future that future retirees will face.

Right up to the early 1980s, retirement was left technically in the hands of employers and government pension plans. Many were happily dependent and felt secure that everything would be taken care of by their employers and the government.

With rising costs, especially in health care, gradually the responsibility of looking after employees was pushed to the employees as a personal responsibility with mandatory contributions to state-managed retirement funds or Social Security or some form of compulsory contribution toward retirement.

Unfortunately, in the early years, most of the focus of these funds was only on accumulation with little focus on inflation and taxes, which started eroding the value of the accumulation. Some of these funds were placed in risky investments for better returns, resulting in what some have experienced in the last few years, that is, people losing their retirement savings or accumulated contributions.

This will be the situation for many. After working for several years, their situation may not have changed. Despite the fact they have been working, taxation and inflation may result in their capital not growing, and they may have to continue working.

If you don't plan your retirement, then you may end up spending your savings before you retire.

There are several challenges that most people fail to see as they head toward retirement. Many have a view of retirement as a period to travel and see the world without knowing how long their savings will last. Most people don't know how long they will live after retirement or how they will finance that period of retirement expenses. This should help remind us of both the importance of planning and the strategic use of limited resources.

Recent major events have shifted and transformed the economic situation across the world, impacting many managed retirement funds. In addition, the economic shift and transformation of health care brought about by technology has resulted in people living longer with millions caught in a retirement trap.

The problem facing baby boomers today, who have reached or are reaching retirement without any planning, is that many are still paying for their mortgages. Some are using their accumulated retirement fund to buy a house or pay for a mortgage. Many borrowed beyond what was available in their fund and are now facing a mortgage payment even after retirement, or they have a house but no cash. Many baby boomers have reached retirement in the last few years totally unprepared economically and are facing a financially uncertain future.

For Generation X, their salaries are not keeping up with inflation, and lifestyle expectations and obligations have left them too little for any savings. They can no longer benefit from pension funds because most of them have disappeared or will be disappearing as the call for people to take personal responsibility gets louder. They are also having to pay a higher interest for mortgages and are getting lower interest on their savings to mandatory contributions, a double whammy.

The millennials, unfortunately, having borrowed money to fund their education and are struggling or will be struggling to pay off loans, leaving too little for savings or investments.

Some of these retirees and future retirees will face the burden of looking after not only themselves and their school-going children, but also their aging parents. Many will be experiencing the collapse of their personal financial security and may become a financial burden by living a longer life. The four-legged retirement stability chair that many depended on is no longer stable or as reliable.

The first leg, the trustworthy tin can that used to be first form of savings, lost its position in almost all homes.

The second leg, personal savings in banks, has not been able to keep up with inflation in a low interest rate climate. Bankers, having to meet the needs of the bank, started dipping into the personal savings of their clients by recommending all forms of investment tools, and most had no idea about the rules or techniques to get the best return on investment. The recent financial crisis in 2008 depleted the savings of many.

The third leg, a company or a state pension fund, is also gradually disappearing as mentioned earlier.

Finally, the fourth leg, the government-funded social security system and all other social help for retirees, is now facing the heavy burden of an aging population that is making withdrawals from the system. You can no longer work hard with the system taking care of you, as the system is now facing a challenge with a hugely aging population and not enough young people to support it. The system is now beginning to take a hands-off approach and pushing the individual to take personal responsibility.

In the face of all this, the retiree's financial stability chair is no longer stable or reliable. Many want to start on a financial diet to save up something for retirement just as they close in on their retirement age. It can be a challenge to go on a financial diet when there is not enough time to grow capital.

Financial dieting seldom works. We need a financial strategy that includes both the tools and techniques and an understanding of how to use them.

When I talk about a financial diet, it reminds me of burgers. Your financial burger consists of three layers.

First, you have your accumulated savings, that is, money that you are currently saving. To increase that faster, you need financial tools that will give you a better return on investments. However, that also means you will have to take on more risk, which with sufficient capital and financial intelligence, some may be able to do.

Next is the layer that is in between the burger, which is your lifestyle capital. It is the money you will need to maintain your current lifestyle. More exposure to the global environment will also mean that a higher level of capital is required, often leading to drawing from accumulated savings and gradually depleting the first layer.

The bottom layer is money that is intended to be used, I guess, as our social responsibility to keep the economy and government going, such as taxes, provident fund, pensions or Social Security, and mortgages. Use of each or any of these layers has an opportunity cost, which is how use of this capital can help us accumulate faster or get a better return on investment or just plainly reduce our cost of living.

We need to understand opportunity cost and also know that wealth accumulation strategies will be different from lifestyle money management and money management to pay for taxes and other government requirements.

The challenge that many future retirees face on a personal level may also be caused by governments raising the retirement age so that people will have to work longer, pay more taxes, and wait to get in the line to collect their Social Security or provident fund benefits.

It will also mean additional health and travel costs. In addition, because of better health care, most people will live longer than the previous generation, so the likelihood of living longer means a longer retirement period. Also, some may end up looking after their parents and children.

The better education provided today also means that many of their children will end up staying longer in the education system, draining the retirees' savings further. Going to work later also results in their getting married and having children later, all adding to the cost. The result of this, which is caused by the economic environment in a country, can mean that one may spend a whole lifetime struggling to pay bills and expenses.

Also, having smaller families results in less contribution from the rest of the family even if they are not studying. Unfortunately, in some countries, the good life shown on television has resulted in children wanting to travel first rather than work, stressing limited resources even further.

The financial life cycle shown in the slide means that many young people will start working later and may start off with debt because of their lifestyle choices, such as buying a car or having an education loan. [visual] Some will want to travel away from home to study, adding to the cost of attending a university.

Also, with its changing nature, most businesses will become less dependent on people and more so on technology, which will also lead to the loss of jobs. Those who are in their midforties and fifties will be caught in situations where they have only a limited skill set and will have been made redundant by technology. These people are not far off from retirement, and yet they may not have saved for it.

Furthermore, with more people retiring, the state systems will be overstretched as most countries in the early years had generous pensions systems, but are now facing greater withdrawals from state retirement funds and pension systems. Many governments will be forced to raise taxes to support their systems, and many countries will delay the mandatory retirement age to even later, with some countries considering removing the retirement age.

This will be a double whammy for future retirees. Not only may their pensions be affected, but many people may face the wrath of additional government taxes before they can even build their nest egg for retirement. Unless and until we talk about these challenges, most will not see the urgency for retirement planning and manage money for accumulation. When a discussion of the challenges and an objective evaluation of an individual's future financial situation is made clearer based on all these challenges, the discussion of wealth accumulation and retirement planning priorities becomes easier.

Future retirees will need a guaranteed lifetime and investment income to be able to sustain their retirement lifestyle. A new wave of financial advisors who have an understanding of all these challenges will be required to help the future retirees.

We need to show them that we are not working in opposition to their goals and priorities but instead want to work side by side to help them reach their retirement and wealth accumulation goals. Most importantly, in the rapidly changing marketplace where an investment can disappear with the stroke of a key, it's important that they not only diversify their investment portfolio but also have the readiness and flexibility to respond effectively to the changing environment.

The initial conversation is to understand that the goals they have for their loved ones are as important as the goals they have for themselves. Because, in many families, there is a deep desire to make sacrifices for the family, which impacts or disrupts their planned retirement and wealth accumulation goals.

Often the retirement savings is sacrificed for their children's education, and most will choose to live with the hope that their children will look after them when they retire. Sometimes, this thought can result in disappointment as in the case of many small families.

Before you start any detailed planning, start with their current situation. Get an understanding of their situation and let them see their situation for themselves before you draw them a roadmap on how you are going to help them achieve their goals.

Also, it is important to understand a person's risk tolerance. These days, many financial institutions do risk-profiling questionnaires and surveys with their customers to try to understand the risk appetite of the individual. People should know their risk tolerance in the context of their financial objectives and interests; unfortunately, these questionnaires may help identify the person's risk appetite, but may not necessarily tell that person's risk capacity.

The ability to take a high risk could be because they may have increased financial knowledge, thus making them feel that they have a high risk appetite, but risk capacity is another issue.

So having clients' information can help you advise them on their wealth accumulation strategies.

My own personal experience started when I invested our savings in companies I knew very little about. The stock market was red hot. The day I entered the stock market, I guess I brought about the crash. I kept putting money into stocks, hoping the value would go up in the coming days. The only thing that took place in the following weeks and months was crisis after crisis, and the end result, as most of you know by now, was a bruised ego and a restart of our savings process.

Not everyone will be fortunate enough to have time to start a rebuilding process, as losing time also means that losing the opportunity of compounding returns on investment.

While the desire to retire comfortably is on everybody's mind, the action required is not taken until such time that people feel it is necessary. Often, it is when they are closer to retirement that they begin to look for ways to grow their money, losing the precious time for savings and investment.

Our failure to take action on the things that need to get done early, such as setting savings aside, is often the cause of financial failure. People don't fail because of financial reasons, they fail because they did not take action for their financial future.

There is plenty of wisdom and information out there from both government and private institutions that ask people to start early, but often the call goes unheard. Your retirement lifestyle will always be dictated by how much savings and how you invest during your working years.

As we prepare for our financial future and the desire to fulfill our wealth and retirement goals, adopting the SMART approach to retirement and wealth planning will be necessary and useful.

While the SMART approach gives us a step to achieving our financials goals, one cannot change results by focusing on results. To change results for a better financial future, you need to change behaviors that produce results.

Start working to correct behaviors that result in wasteful consumption and a lifestyle that depletes your savings and capital. As we prepare to change our behaviors to change our results, we also need to have strategies to fulfill our goals and objectives. This final activity is designed to help you develop your own wealth accumulation and retirement planning checklist.

As in all situations in life, not all ideas will appeal to everyone in their planning process or wealth accumulation approach. As such, the idea is for you to personalize your checklist and then develop the approach that best suits your situation.

As you go forward in your sales career, remember that it's not how much money you make that is going to determine your financial success and future lifestyle. Rather, it is what you do with what you have earned that leaves a mark on the people around you.

Our habits determine who we are and who we become. It is not luck that makes people wealthy, but it is how people respond to the situation that changes results and their financial future. I believe that this is the best time for financial advisors to help redefine the financial future of future retirees. You will be the game changer of the future.

Corry Collins

Stanis Benjamin, of Singapore, is the founder of the Centre for Communication and Sales Training. He has been coaching sales teams from the financial services sector for more than 25 years.


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