What kind of retiree is your client?

By Susan Goldberg | July 21, 2016 | Last updated on July 21, 2016
4 min read

Financial planners, says psychologist Nancy K. Schlossberg, are generally the point of first contact when people begin to contemplate retirement. For that reason, they’re in a prime position to help guide clients through not only the financial aspects of a retirement plan, but also the psychological ones.

And that’s crucial, says the retired University of Maryland professor: People need a clear sense of what will motivate (or stall) them on the psychological transition to retirement. “Otherwise, the money doesn’t have a context.”

Av Lieberman agrees. “Too often, financial planners talk about money without talking about a client’s goals and objectives.” That’s backwards, says the president of the Waterloo, Ont.–based Retirement Education Centre. “If you don’t plan around goals and objectives, how do you know how much money is enough?”

Both experts firmly believe that understanding retirement’s psychological underpinnings is vital to its success. The bottom line needs to matter, but a retiree’s psychological portfolio is just as important as that person’s stock portfolio. As one retired CEO with access to a generous pension, an office and an assistant told Schlossberg, “Retirement is hollow. I don’t have a purpose anymore.”

Read: Go beyond the numbers of retirement planning

To that end, both experts encourage those approaching retirement, and those advising them, to take stock of personal assets.

Lieberman’s company works with a variety of organizations to guide employees through a “lifestyle transition planning process” that helps them identify clear and realistic goals for themselves leading up to retirement. In seminars and workshops, participants ponder six key questions: How do I spend my time? What do I really like to do? What’s going to keep me motivated? Do I want a second career? Do I want to work part-time? How will my family be affected?

Schlossberg, an expert in the study of transition, was surprised to find out just how difficult her own transition to retirement was. In retrospect, she says, it shouldn’t have been surprising. Like any major transition, she says, finding your retirement path requires “a fair amount of floundering and searching.” She coped in part by delving into the familiar world of research and writing. For her first book on retirement, she spoke to 100 retirees, from former CEOs to blue-collar workers, to try to figure out why and how some people cope well — or not. In the process, she identified six different “retirement personalities.”

Not surprisingly, Schlossberg herself is a Continuer, identifying with and continuing some aspects of her professional life. In her case, she stopped teaching but continued researching and writing. Other retirement types include the Adventurer, who sees retirement as an opportunity to make big changes in life: getting (another) degree, starting a new career, opening up that B&B or long-awaited hobby farm. The Involved Spectator, while no longer actively involved in her previous work, compensates by exposing herself to the people, ideas and activities that made that work rewarding: think an art museum director who still visits museums.

There’s also the Easy Glider, who can easily separate from his past working life, likes to choose activities that appeal in the moment, and isn’t bothered by not having an agenda. As one retiree told Schlossberg, “Right now, I’m into sloth. I worked really hard, and I just want to relax.”

All these types have pros and cons, and most retirees can expect to shift from one type to another over the course of post-work life. For example, an Easy Glider could easily morph into a Retreater, someone who doesn’t have the energy or motivation to participate much in life beyond daily routines. That retreat might be a necessary break, but unless a Retreater figures out how to veer off from that path, it could be a dead end. And almost all retirees are Searchers at some point or another: trying to find their niche in the post-work world.

Financial planners, say both experts, could take it upon themselves to help their clients dig deeper into retirement planning than simply aiming for the standard 60% to 70% of pre-retirement income. Working with clients to help them answer key questions or identify their retirement “type,” financial planners can develop specific, personalized plans. For example, a client with a deep interest in history may want to travel to museums or go back to university to get another degree —and his retirement plan should reflect those personal and financial goals. Another client may really enjoy her work but feel tired of the day-to-day pressures of the job: a solution may be to scale back on the management side of things and work part-time, which may mean she needs to save less.

Schlossberg is fairly certain that her newest book, which will come out in the fall, will also be her last. “Not because of my age,” says the 87-year-old, “but because I think I have said everything that I need to say, and I no longer have the infrastructure to do that kind of research that books require. So, I will be on a new path. I’ll be a Searcher again. I’m going to relax, and I know that I’m going to do some floundering.”

And that’s okay. With a clear purpose, and the financial means to support that purpose, she knows she’ll be just fine.

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Susan Goldberg

Susan is an award-winning freelance writer and editor based in Thunder Bay, Ont. She has been writing about personal finance for more than 20 years.