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Twelve Steps to Ease Clients into a Happier Retirement

How to help your clients with the transition to retirement.

Keith couldn’t wait to retire. He planned to volunteer, golf every day, and travel with his wife. He teased friends who were still “chained to a desk” as he flaunted his coming freedom. 

Yet, two months after retirement, Keith found it hard to get out of bed or generate energy. He craved the excitement and purpose of the job. He dreaded meeting people who inevitably asked “So, what do you do?” No answer seemed sufficient, and especially not “Well, I’m retired now, but I used to…”  

Our society has long touted retirement as a measure of success. Financial professionals who help clients save and invest specifically for retirement easily assume the happiness of those who reach that long-awaited goal. Likewise, others speak of envy, telling them how lucky they are and how wonderful they should feel. Not so fast.

Remember, for instance, how much retirees leave behind: their reason for getting out of bed in the morning, their title and status, the accolades of the job, assurance of their productive value, the colleagues with whom they associated on a daily basis, their desk and familiar surroundings, and so much more. For many retirees, these losses are complicated by the fact that they had to leave the workforce sooner than they intended. Even those who retire according to plan can be caught off-guard by the intensity of the experience, which may trigger profound grief as they realize life will never be the same again. In other words, as with so many life transitions, there are many things for which retirees are grateful, but there are many others for which they are sad.

How can you help ease the retirement transition? Here are a few brief tips:

  1. Encourage clients in their 40s and 50s to begin a wish list of things they want to accomplish, places they want to visit, and things they want to learn. Help them start on a few now, and keep adding to the list over time. This keeps clients dreaming continuously, rather than waiting until retirement to achieve all their dreams.
  2. Involve both members of a client couple in discussions about retirement. Watch for differing expectations (i.e. he expects to retire to the cottage on the lake, while she expects they will finally sell the cottage and move to Arizona.) Work to help them get in sync.
  3. Golf, sailing, or any other enjoyable activities can get old fast if they are the only focus of life. Prompt clients to expand their thinking. If they want to volunteer, encourage spending an hour or two per week volunteering now until they find a good fit; this way they already have relationships and feel comfortable in that setting. Likewise, they can research community colleges and available options for classes they’d like to take when they retire. The transition is easier when clients retire “to” something interesting.
  4. Engage in an exercise with clients to help them determine what brings them the most satisfaction from their job. Is it security? Status? Variety? Meaningful purpose? As they define more specifically the personal needs filled by the job, they can begin imagining how to fill those same needs in alternate ways after retirement.
  5. Suggest to clients that retirement is a process, not an event. Recommend, for example, that they plan lunch or coffee a couple times a week for several months to personally thank colleagues. They may also take pictures of the office a month before retirement, then gradually take things down. As they do so, acknowledge the mixed emotions by asking what they look forward to, and what they will miss most.
  6. As the day nears, suggest that clients plan at least one activity a month that they look forward to—visiting adult children, a sports game, or a museum they haven't had time to explore. 
  7. On retirement day, send a card and include handwritten text of congratulations and support.
  8. Call two weeks later to check in. Ask what has been a pleasant surprise and what has been difficult.
  9. At one month, send a gift, e.g., a book, a donation in your client’s name, a gift certificate for taking a former colleague to lunch, an item that reflects the client’s new activities, or whatever you believe would be appropriate.
  10. Encourage clients to stay in close touch with a doctor during the transition, as one’s mood, immune system, and overall health are affected by major life changes. Especially watch for signs of depression like listlessness, sleeping too much, weight loss or gain, purposelessness, or inability to get out of bed.
  11. Invite the client onto your client advisory board. This provides status, recognition, and potential referrals while giving you valuable information about your practice.
  12. Remind clients that it may take a while before they feel comfortable in the new chapter. Each retirement is different, and no one can predict a particular person’s path. Yet, whatever this chapter holds, you are there for them through it all.

Each client’s retirement will be different due to wealth, age, activity level, health, family dynamics, and numerous other factors. Still, across the board, these tips distinguish you from other advisors in the field and build loyalty that lasts.

Amy Florian is the CEO of Corgenius, combining neuroscience and psychology to train financial professions in how to build strong relationships with clients through all the losses and transitions of life. 

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