As tens of millions of baby boomers enter their golden years, financial advisors are facing many more questions about retirement – so many more in in fact that Bank of America Merrill Lynch has appointed its first gerontologist.

Cynthia Hutchins, director of gerontology, will help advisors better assist their aging clients through training and educational seminars.  And, having worked as an advisor herself, she knows what advisors and their clients are up against.

The timing of her appointment comes as a demographic tidal wave is landing in advisors’ offices.  Not only are there more older Americans today than there were thirty years ago, they are also living longer lives – and, hopefully, enjoying longer retirements. 

About 80 million Americans, or slightly more than a quarter of the total population, were over the age of 55 in 2012, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.  And almost 20 million Americans, about 7% of the total population, were over the age of 75 in 2012.

“It’s the largest generation to retire en masse in history,” says Hutchins, who has a master’s in gerontology from the University of Southern California.

Many Americans not only have to plan for longer retirements than their parents or grandparents had, but they – and their financial advisors – have many additional costs to consider, Hutchins says.  Do they want to retire to a warmer climate or stay in the home they reside in now?  What do they want to do in retirement?

“From a financial planning aspect, if I want to travel the world, then there’s a cost for that.  That needs to be planned for,” Hutchins says.

And clients’ concerns are not just limited to traditional retirement issues, she says.  “They’re thinking multigenerational, both up and down,” Hutchins says.

Some clients may have elderly parents that need to be cared for. They may have adult children and grandchildren who need assistance too. Many Americans also have to consider what kind of inheritance they want to leave to their descendants; assets or life experiences?

More and more clients are looking to their financial advisors to help them balance these many needs and goals, Hutchins says. 

Of course, health care is also a major concern and often the biggest cost during retirement. Not only can it be difficult to determine how much to set aside for expected health costs while also achieving clients’ other goals, but many clients and some advisors find conversations about retirement planning uncomfortable because of the stress and uncertainty involved in planning for their later years, Hutchins says.

Even so, she adds, “It’s the duty of the financial planner to help them achieve those goals.”

In her role at Merrill Lynch, Hutchins will help train the company’s 15,000 advisors to better assist their clients with such age-related issues.  She will also publish research on issues related to aging such as health, finance, work and leisure.

In addition to her expertise in gerontology, Hutchins has been in the wealth management industry for 28 years making her uniquely qualified to work with advisors. For the past 15 years she's been at Merrill Lynch in the Washington, D.C., area, first as an advisor for seven years and then as a retirement specialist.

Hutchins says she’s been in the same position with aging clients that many advisors are in now. Although challenging, advisors need to tackle retirement issues if they want to help their clients plan appropriately, Hutchins says.  Doing so will leave both clients and advisors with peace of mind.


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