Coaching clients to a successful retirement

By Susan Yellin | May 22 2012 01:51PM

It was the untimely passing of his father only 18 months into retirement that eventually led Rick Atkinson, then just 24, into the realm of pre-retirement planning.

“My father left his job, which was his social circle, and when he retired he was dead in 18 months. At the time I wondered what would kill such a vibrant man in such a short time period.”

So over the next 35-plus years as a human resources management specialist with such organizations as the Ontario government, Imperial Oil and Magna International, Mr. Atkinson observed hundreds of people who retired. He noted that the successful ones had planned out their retirement well in advance and the key was that they considered more than just having enough money.

Generally, the unsuccessful ones were those who saw retirement as some sort of Nirvana – where they could finally leave the job and the boss they had endured for years. For them, the retirement honeymoon was short and unfulfilling, says Mr. Atkinson.

Strong relationships
Now the founder and president of RA Retirement Advisors, and author of Don’t Just Retire – Live It, Love It!, he is working with financial advisors to help their clients realize their retirement goals that include more than the financial perspective, all the while building an increasingly strong relationship with clients.

While on the speaking circuit following the publication of his book in 2009, Mr. Atkinson heard a lot of anecdotal information, much of it having to do with financial advice. “And what I was hearing was not at all pretty,” he said.

He ran a brief survey with his audiences for five months and discovered that clients said that while their advisors talked to them about retirement products, they didn’t talk about retirement issues. “About 10 per cent of advisors get it and a lot of them add value to their relationship with clients. But about 90 per cent don’t get it and just want to push product.”

Mr. Atkinson recently hooked up with Gillian Stovel Rivers, an Assante financial advisor who runs a family-centred financial firm in Burlington, ON and Dr. Paul
Ziemer, a chiropractor from Stoney Creek, ON, to start a bootcamp for clients keen on learning more about the so-called softer side of retirement. They call it the 5 Great Adventures.

The Adventures deal with five separate aspects: wealth, health, fun, social life and “life capital” – that is, the ability to share what they have learned with others.

“Each of us said that we had seen people start in retirement and did a good job, but for some reason, they fell off the wagon. They lose their direction, they lose their purpose and we wanted to understand what was happening. One of the things we found is that what’s missing is continual coaching,” he said. “Like going to the gym, we need someone to inspire us, tell us when we’re making a mistake and kind of acting like the little angel and devil on your shoulder.”

Currently, Ms. Stovel Rivers is the financial coach, Dr. Ziemer is the health-related coach (mental, spiritual and physical health, diet and nutrition), while Mr. Atkinson has taken on the “accountability” coach lead, advising clients to meet with their advisors, but also including discussions on relationships with family, how retirees are spending their time and how to find a retirement mentor to keep them on track.

The three are currently beta testing 5 Great Adventures with clients, with the goal of training advisors to becoming better-informed financial coaches for their own clients.
Doing so would provide big payback for both clients and advisors, said Mr. Atkinson.

5 Great Adventures comes at a time when Boomers in particular are looking for advice – but not just financial advice. Some aging boomers feel they have no control over their lives – whether it’s health, work or even their kids returning home. Many also are distrustful about financial institutions and the media as they read ongoing headlines upsetting their dreams, he said. But with proper ongoing coaching, clients can explore and realize the best of retirement, he said.

Advisors who take the time to educate clients on all aspects of retirement, including holding client bootcamps and workshops, sending out books and articles on subjects important to their aging clientele and providing true-life examples of what’s worked and what hasn’t worked for others, will make them more trustworthy in the eyes of their clients. That means they will not only retain their current clients, but also get referrals. On top of that, said Mr. Atkinson, advisors feel more like they are making a difference to the lives of their clients.

Aside from 5 Great Adventures, Mr. Atkinson holds client seminars for women, some of them widowed – many who find the world of financial planning puzzling. “Some women who had left financial matters to their husbands are now angry that they didn’t go with their husbands to meet their financial planner and now don’t know what to do.”

Reap the rewards
There’s a lot more handholding when it comes to seniors in particular, and advisors, he suggested, would do well to understand this and reap the rewards that come with this kind of insight.
In the meantime, Mr. Atkinson, who is officially retired in Toronto and happily married to his wife Christine, is writing a second book. Still untitled, he said the book will centre more on core retirement issues, including lifestyle. In addition to all this, he is an often-heard speaker at some conferences.

Asked if his busy life is aimed at leading by example, Mr. Atkinson laughed. “I’ve been told that, but when you find your passion you just keep on going. Retirement is all in how you define it.”

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