Identify and Harness the Passion of Fifty-Somethings

The forgotten Generation X can play an important role to minimize risk in your client base.

By Gretchen Halpin
Gretchen Halpin
Gretchen Halpin

I have a friend who tells me that, as a boy, he was fascinated by martial arts. He read every related book in the public library of his small town, hoping to absorb the secrets of the ancient methods of self-defense. He tells me that the concept that most impressed him was the philosophy behind jujutsu—what we used to call “ju-jitsu.” In fact, it’s right there in the meaning of the word: “ju,” usually translated as “gentle” or “yielding”; and “jutsu,” which means “art” or “technique.”

In other words, the central principle of jujutsu is to use an opponent’s energy against them. Instead of using oppositional force, one channels the opponent’s force, using the “yielding art,” in order to gain the upper hand.

The same principle often applies in a business development setting. One of the axioms of effective selling is finding out what your customer wants, and then helping them get it. Rather than trying to argue or persuade, the salesperson collaborates with the customer to achieve the customer’s own goals.

Most financial advisors, whether you realize it or not, operate in much the same way. As fiduciaries who are bound to act in the client’s best interest, you invest tremendous energy in learning what your clients want: Their goals, dreams, ambitions and most cherished priorities. Then, you set about creating financial plans that can help the clients achieve their most important goals.

The forgotten Generation X can play an important role to minimize risk in your client base. Literally sandwiched between boomers, who are beginning to draw down their retirement savings, and millennials, who are still in the wealth building stage, Gen Xers can shore up the longevity of your client base for years to come.

“Gen Xers can shore up the longevity of your client base for years to come.”

This is a generation that has lived through latchkey parenting, social and cultural changes, and the Great Recession. Often seen as the middle child of generations, Gen Xers are self-sufficient, hardworking, and ambitious. They often see themselves as entrepreneurs and change makers. These characteristics have a very distinct impact on how Gen X thinks and feels about the road to retirement. Financial advisors should take note and incorporate the wants and needs of this important generation of investors.

What Do Fifty-Somethings Want?

As we consider our clients in their fifties — often, the peak earning years of the life cycle — it’s worth asking: What do they want? What are the passions that drive them, the dreams that propel them out of bed and out into the world each day? Because once you know their passions, you’ll know how to harness those passions to help them achieve success on their own terms. And once you do that, you’ll become a trusted and valued advisor for them, their friends and family members, and their associates who occupy a similar position in the life cycle.

Here are some important characteristics of Gen Xers:

1. New Worlds to Conquer. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, those born in the latter years of the baby boom (1957–64) will have held an average of just over 12 jobs during their earning years. These late baby boomers and Gen X, now in their mid-50s to early 60s, are not envisioning the stereotypical retirement of decades past — gold watch and rocking chair — when they enter retirement years. Instead, according to the American Institute for Economic Research, more older workers than ever are reporting successful transitions to new careers. After all, with life expectancies trending upward, it will be more and more usual, especially for healthy older individuals, to live 25, 30, or even 40 years beyond what we used to consider “retirement age.” For financial advisors and planners, this means that your fifty-something clients need a financial plan that takes into account the possibility of a new venture or new career that may carry them into their 60s, 70s, or later.

2. A Sense of Purpose. You don’t have to look far to notice that a growing body of research ties a strong sense of purpose to a longer, happier life. That purpose need not be related to career or earning concerns, by the way. A study of older Americans published by the Journal of the American Medical Association defined purpose as “a self-organizing life aim that stimulates goals, promotes healthy behaviors and gives meaning to life.” Not surprisingly, the study concluded that participants who reported a strong sense of purpose were at less risk of dying, even when adjusted for other factors such as demographics and overall health. By the time they reach their fifties, many individuals have accumulated sufficient wisdom, experience and resources to be able to walk away from the “hamster wheel” of the daily grind and do something that gives them genuine joy and meaning, whether that takes the form of founding a nonprofit to support a cherished value or starting a small business that has grown out of a beloved hobby. If you can link their financial plan to their passion for meaning, you’ll not only be providing incomparable value to your client; you might also be actively contributing to making the world a better place.

3. Re-Inventing Themselves. After a successful, 30-year career as a trial lawyer, Pete decided to go to Italy, take some classes in art, and spend the rest of his years making and selling pottery, paintings and sculpture. Carla retired as a top-tier corporate human resources officer and opened a farm-to-table restaurant in northern California. And Pete and Carla aren’t alone; in 2017, about 25% of new entrepreneurs were age 55 to 64, up from 15% in 1996. Noting this development, Notre Dame launched what it calls its Inspired Leadership Initiative, a program that allows “accomplished individuals who have completed their chosen careers” to spend a full academic year at the university, utilizing its resources as they prepare to “pivot to their next stage in life.” There are probably as many different ways for fifty-somethings to express the urge for self-renewal as there are people. But any financial plan geared for success needs to take into account this strong and growing trend.

“With fifty-somethings and everybody else, the more you can fold your planning and strategy into the passions that drive them, the more mutual and satisfying the outcomes you achieve together.”

Bringing It All Together

As a fiduciary advisor and planner, you’re accustomed to investing on behalf of your clients — and that includes more than their portfolios. You invest yourself, your time, your listening ear and your empathic imagination, all in the effort to know them better. Your objective is to help them achieve the kind of success that fits their definition. With fifty-somethings and everybody else, the more you can fold your planning and strategy into the passions that drive them, the more mutual and satisfying the outcomes you achieve together.

Gretchen Halpin is co-founder of Beyond AUM, a growth, marketing and technology agency that specializes in serving financial advisory firms. A strategic visionary with over 25 years of leadership and marketing experience, including a history of starting and growing successful companies, Halpin pioneers the strategy and growth initiatives that drive success across every aspect of business while ensuring that decisions are aligned with her clients’ overall mission.

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