Personality counts in retirement planning

This just in: you need a certain amount of money to retire comfortably. Experts caution this number varies widely person to person, and can be of unsettlingly-large magnitude.

Let's all thank the marketing geniuses at ING for these deep insights, courtesy of a new, eight-figure marketing push that attaches a bright orange dollar figure -- literally -- to nattily-attired Boomers populating the firm's new TV ads.

That flushing sound you hear is millions more marketing dollars going down the toilet, as yet another financial services supermarket gets ready, fires, then aims at the $10 trillion in assets controlled by Boomers moving toward retirement.

I don't object to aggressively marketing retirement products and financial counseling to Boomers. Quite the opposite. It's how wrong they're getting it that amazes me. It's always all about the numbers. Why isn't it about the people: their needs, their values, the fundamental, personal questions they should be considering to plan a fulfilling retirement?

Many of those questions, of course, involve money. But many, important others do not. And as far as I'm concerned, it's the non-financial questions that most people can understand and take motivation from, forming the bedrock of a truly persuasive marketing effort that talks to us, not past us.

Ask someone why they fired their financial planner, there's a good chance they'll say, "they never got to know me." If it was all about performance, save for some truly boneheaded planner behavior at the far left end of the bell curve, people wouldn't shop for a new planner like they do for a new car.

You don't have to be Vienna-trained to see how personality impacts planning. Why do some get right back on Expedia to plan their next trip before they've even unpacked from the last one, while others with the same financial resources fly "Seat Of Our Pants Airlines" every vacation? These kinds of behaviors are driven by fundamental, ingrained attitudes. And often, by past experiences that, once recognized, can provide powerful insights for future planning.

Trying to get a handle on a client's or prospect's personality -- in a way that pays more than just lip service to the idea -- is about the best way I can conjure to show you care. The planners who take the time to understand the traits that influence planning, maybe even take some training in it, will be the ones who not only get the Boomer retirement dollars, but keep them.

ING thinks it's saying "We take retirement planning personally" by sticking a different dollar figure on each person it parades across our TV screen. The idea it misses is how these people do -- or should -- arrive at their numbers. All anyone will take away from these new ads is some weird orange dollar signs, not the individuals to whose body parts those signs are oh-so-cleverly appended.

Randy Burnham is a Westport, CT-based clinical psychologist and co-founder of My Next Phase, a consulting firm expert in non-financial planning products and processes.

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