Highlights from the Managing Retirement Income conference

The stock market’s decline has changed how individuals look at retirement income. They want more certainty. That was one of the themes I took away from the first day of the Managing Retirement Income Conference on Feb. 10. The conference was hosted in Boston by the Retirement Income Industry Association.

Some other takeaways
1. Retirees–and pre-retirees–are concerned about becoming a burden on others in retirement.
2. Advisors will have to change to accommodate Baby Boomers’ lifestyle and income needs. 
Desire for certainty vs. the cost of guarantees 
The desire for certainty means that individuals are becoming more willing to give up control of their investments in return for a guaranteed stream of income, said Robert Kerzner, president and CEO of LIMRA International.

Guarantees of principal or income were a theme of many product presentations at the conference. For example, Brian Perlman, partner, Mathew Greenwald & Associates, made a case for target date funds with a guaranteed minimum account balance (GMAB). He suggested that guarantees should go into effect five to 10 years prior to retirement. Perlman said a GMAB would reassure investors and make them comfortable about investing a higher percentage of their assets in equities, which is necessary to give them a better shot at meeting their retirement income needs.

The SunAmerica High Watermark Funds offer a GMAB, according to an audience member. They may be the only such funds currently on the market, though Perlman said more are in development. These funds came up again in a presentation on managed payout funds by Juan M. Ocampo, Trajectory Asset Management, subadvisor to the High Watermark Funds.

However, said Kerzner, demand for guarantees is ratcheting up just as the credit crunch and stock market decline are forcing insurance companies to reassess their risk tolerance and pricing. Synthetic annuities may be one solution, he added. Oppenheimer Chairman John Murphy, who also chairs the Investment Company Institute, said there’s a question of how much risk a provider wants to take and at what price. 
“I don’t want to be a burden” 
Financial services firms are obsessed with their products instead of meeting people’s needs, according to futurist Bruce Sterling. Old people say “I don’t want to be a burden,” not “I want a million dollars,” he added. Sterling recommended that financial professionals seek opportunities to provide “de-burdenizing” services.

Sterling posed a dilemma to the conference attendees. If you had to choose, would you rather have a really good financial advisor? Or would you rather have Google or Facebook or social networking?

Advisors must change
Many financial advisors could do a better job of communicating with their clients. According to LIMRA consumer survey research cited by Kernzer, only 15% of respondents had been in touch with their clients during the current crisis. Two-thirds of those consumers initiated the contact. 

Oppenheimer Funds is directing some of its marketing efforts to helping advisors talk to clients. Advisors want to know how to approach client reviews and start conversations with clients, said John Murphy. More communication will raise client confidence, he added.

Ann Connolly of Deloitte Consulting said that as retirement income provide more unbundled products, the role of the advisor will be critical. Individuals will look to their advisors to assemble the right package for them. But these products can be bewildering. Advisors will need modules of advice, new financial modeling tools, and consolidated retirement management accounts.