Advisors, by nature, have to be good jugglers. Every client has unique needs, and it’s tough to divine details that result in the perfect plan.

Generational differences make the job harder. A younger advisor might have trouble relating to a client already in, or moving toward, retirement. And the reverse is also true. Fortunately, there normally aren’t too many age cohorts in play at any one time.

Unless you’re active in the business in 2008, in which case you’re living the Chinese curse: interesting times. A single advisor today can be faced with as many as four generations actively in the investments stream. He or she can be dealing with anyone from depression-and World War II-era retirees, to baby boomers, to Gen-Xers, and the echo baby boom known as Generation Y.


These generational differences manifest in a variety of ways—from people’s comfort with technology and beverage choices, to their ability to save. It further impacts their openness to different levels of risk and types of products or portfolio approaches.

Advisors are caught in the middle, not knowing whether to wear a suit or jeans to client meetings, and struggling to keep up with the needs and aspirations of four unique types of clients. “The key is identifying the needs and wants of each specific group and addressing those,” says Andrew Baechler, an investment advisor with PWL Capital in Ottawa. “I find Gen Y investors have an over-inflated expectation of what you can and cannot do for them. So a part of your job is to explain how markets work, and what they can expect.”

A retiree who’s been invested 50-to-60 years, on the other hand, is quite different. “It’s often, ‘Protect my capital,’ as opposed to, ‘Make me as much additional new wealth as possible,’ ” he says.

Advisors working with boomers, meanwhile, need to be good at dealing with divorce, and in some cases serial divorce. Boomers have the highest marital split rate and the practice has crippling financial impact—part of a client’s pension is lost in the settlement and, even though some may be earning high salaries, these people are slowly cleaning themselves out.

Add to that a tendency by a subgroup of wealthier boomer men to father children in their late 50s and early 60s. These guys will soon face the reality of having kids start university after they’re retired—or would like to be. “I had a guy who was 60 with a baby and I laid it on the line that he couldn’t retire until he was 80,” says Janet Freedman, president of Finance Matters Ltd. in Toronto. “That’s when I lost him as a client.”

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