Tool Examiner: Retirement: Thinking it Through

This “Tool Examiner” article looks at the Retirement: Thinking it Through tool.

Research has shown that “degree of thinking about retirement” is the most powerful predictor of taking retirement planning action steps. The purpose of M.Q.’s Retirement: Thinking it Through tool is to stimulate thinking about retirement and to assess feelings and attitudes about that stage of life. As your clients begin to think more and more about their retirement years, they will begin to visualize the lifestyle that will be satisfying and fulfilling for them. The clearer and sharper that picture becomes, the easier it will be to take the steps required to move toward that image.

Exercise 1 of Retirement: Thinking it Through is designed in a “fixed response” format. Clients can quickly read the short, one sentence statements and check either the yes or no box to express their opinions to you. This exercise is a great way to “take the temperature” of a client in regard to retirement. His or her responses will indicate level of emotional and financial preparedness for retirement as well as personal concerns and expectations.

Exercise 2 of Retirement: Thinking it Through is designed in an “open-ended response” format. This style of assessment requires the client to be more reflective before replying and to communicate his/her thoughts in writing. It is very common for individuals to have ambivalent feelings about retirement, and this exercise will help your clients to become more of aware of both the positive and negative feelings they have and to express them to you.

In Communicating with Clients: A Guide for Financial Professionals, authors Charles Pulvino, James Lee, and Cynthia Forman refer to an individual’s frame of reference as a “Representational Map.” They explain that as people grow and develop, their life experiences and reactions are woven into a personal representation of the world. These maps are unique to each person and will have a tremendous influence on how they view, design, and manage their retirement years. By understanding your clients’ maps regarding retirement, you will have a better basis for communicating with them. In addition, you will be better equipped to help each client plan and prepare for his/her unique version of a satisfying and fulfilling retirement experience.

After your client has completed this exercise, ask him/her questions such as:  “What did you learn from completing this exercise?” and “What experiences have shaped your feelings and attitudes about retirement?” In addition, select a few of the statements and ask him or her to elaborate on their responses. Also be sure to discuss your clients’ responses to Exercise 2 in which they stated what they most looked forward to in retirement and what they are most concerned about. Simple comments such as, “That’s interesting” or “Tell me more about that” will encourage your clients to elaborate more on their responses. Whatever you can do to address and alleviate their concerns and to build on and secure what they most look forward to, will pave the way for an “emotional buy-in” to your planning process and the implementation of your recommendations.

Make notes of key points that surface in your conversation about Retirement: Thinking it Through. These notes should be used to guide future meetings, goal setting, and actions steps. If you are meeting with a couple, give each individual a copy of Retirement: Thinking it Through and ask them to complete their worksheets independently. Discuss similarities and differences in their responses to increase awareness, understanding, and communication between the spouses/partners.

Retirement: Thinking it Through is a supplemental tool that can be introduced to your clients early in the financial planning process or as a component of your quarterly or annual review meeting schedule. It is important to use this tool with younger clients as well as those nearing retirement. It is never too early to encourage individuals to start thinking about their feelings and attitudes about retirement and to start visualizing what they want that stage of life to mean and to be for them. Emotional and financial preparation is critical to a successful retirement experience, and the earlier one starts, the better!

Note: The Retirement: Thinking it Through tool is included in Money Quotient Licensing Levels 2, 3 & 4. For information about becoming an M.Q. Licensee, please e-mail “Tool Examiner” articles take an in-depth look at a specific tool from within the Money Quotient suite of Financial Life Planning® materials, and provide tips and techniques for successfully using the tool with clients.

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