Life spans are growing. Retirements often last 30 years or more. Not that long ago retirement was simple – at least for most. Full-time careers concluded with a workplace pension, the added support of public pensions like CPP, plus some savings and investment income to top the whole thing off. That was then. This is now. And it’s different.

How Different?

So different, in fact, that if trends in the US are anything to go by, a new subspecialty of financial planners are beginning to emerge. Their primary role is to address and help their clients navigate the multiple stages of old age.

A money management expert by the name of Cynthia Hutchins is pathfinding this new approach to financial planning, and it’s likely to gain traction in Canada soon. The precipitating incident for Ms. Hutchins concerned the lifespan of her grandmother, who lived to the ripe old age of 96.

“She lived 41 years in retirement,” Ms. Hutchins was quoted as saying in an article about the issue carried in The New York Times, “and it hit me that had she known she had 41 years, she would have planned totally differently.”

That deeply personal insight led to a significant career shift in the professional life of Ms. Hutchins (61) who now works for a major U.S. investment firm as a specialist in “financial gerontology.”

Financial Gerontology

“Financial gerontology” is a term that’s new to us at Everything Retirement, but it’s a big, breakthrough idea that’s getting bigger by the day. In terms of the areas this new financial discipline covers – and to simplify things somewhat – financial gerontology can be broken down as follows:

  • How to simultaneously finance children’s college education and parents’ in-home care
  • When to bring in adult children or other family members to collaborate on financial decisions
  • How to recognize if a long-term client is being financially exploited or experiencing cognitive changes that are influencing their decision-making

The New York Times article continues: “Ms. Hutchins was named to the newly created role in 2014, shortly after obtaining her master’s degree from the University of Southern California’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. At the time, Merrill Lynch (which had not yet merged with Bank of America) was the first major bank to employ a financial gerontologist and is still the only major one to use that title.”

There remains some ambiguity about the precise definition of “financial gerontologist” – gerontology being a multidisciplinary field that includes the social and psychological implications of aging and longevity.

And there appeared to be some initial resistance to the idea among a few old school financial professionals in the United States—those who were more comfortable with spreadsheets than people. “We originally got a lot of push back,” Ms. Hutchins was quoted as saying. “The typical response was: ‘I’m an investments person. I’m not a psychologist. I’m not going to do those things.’”

That said, the writing is on the wall.

As retirements steadily lengthen – retirements spanning 40 years are not uncommon now – the whole category of financial planning for seniors is coming under intense scrutiny.

A More Holistic Approach to Financial Planning

Look at it this way. When treating the elderly, doctors know to look beyond a patient’s vital signs into social factors – access to support groups, adequate food, transportation to appointments – in determining the best course of treatment.

Financial planners with an aging clientele will have to do the same. It’s one thing to claim competency in, for example, estate and trust planning and legacy creation – the typical service offering most investment professionals typically provide.

But it’s something else again to offer a more holistic approach to such potentially difficult issues as long-term care, health and end-of-life plans. The financial services sector deserves credit for making efforts to evolve along with the reality of older clients’ lives, at least according to Paul Irving, chairman of the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging.

The New York Times piece went on to quote him as saying: “The financial services industry has been struggling with this, in a good way,” Mr. Irving said. “I’d like to see other domains struggle in the same kind of way.”

The issue amounts to this. We live in a world where, all-too-often, the one-size-fits-all nature of many commercial financial products fails to account for the variability in people’s lives. This is when working with a dedicated expert pays off—instead of selling products, they find solutions. We believe our partners at Coastal Community Credit Union, Coastal Community Private Wealth Group and Interior Savings do just that: find effective, highly personalized solutions. And thanks to financial gerontologists like Hutchins, we’re sure to see advancements in the years to come.