How and Why an RIA Added a Retirement Coach

The financial advisory industry has neglected the mental health side of retirement for far too long, says this RIA.

By Dorothy Hinchcliff

In the opinion of advisor Tony Hixon, the financial advisory industry has neglected the mental health side of retirement for far too long.

His firm, Hixon Zuercher Capital Management, took a step recently to change that: It hired a certified retirement coach. Hixon Zuercher is an RIA with $300 million in AUM that provides comprehensive wealth management to about 320 families in northwest Ohio and virtually throughout the country.

“The investment of time and expense to offer this service to clients isn’t for the faint of heart,” Hixon acknowledged. “But it’s the right thing to do.”

That’s because Hixon believes fiduciaries such as himself should care about all aspects of a client’s financial journey. That includes helping clients navigate the mental transition from their careers to what’s next. “Allowing them to drift listlessly into their retirement years, and the anxiety and depression that can result, can easily be avoided with proper coaching,” he maintains.

“Typically, a financial advisor is very good at numbers and detailed financial planning. This is very appropriate when designing a comprehensive wealth management plan,” Hixon noted. “But we wanted someone who could assist our clients from a non-financial standpoint. Something a numbers person might not be the best at. That’s why we chose to hire a specialized individual with proper experience and credentialing to fill the role of life coach for our firm.”

Hixon knows firsthand how crucial this kind of retirement advice can be for people. On March 22, 2011, his mother, Pam Hixon, took her own life as a result of a retirement gone bad.

“She had done the necessary work of checking all the financial boxes, but didn’t do the necessary work of figuring out what would keep her life purposeful and meaningful in her retirement years,” said Hixon. He later wrote a book, “Retirement Stepping Stones,” describing what he experienced and explaining how the tragedy changed his approach to running his advisory firm.

Shifting the Planning Process

In one of the many ways the firm has been actively trying to honor the legacy of his mom, it shifted its financial planning process beyond the numbers to include intentional coaching. But life coaching was an informal part of that process until the firm hired Scott Miller, a Certified Professional Retirement Coach.

Miller played a key role when Hixon and his business partner, Adam Zuercher, were looking for feedback before making the decision to start their firm almost 20 years ago. “We launched our firm in 2002 and Scott became a client shortly thereafter,” Hixon recalled. “We began to plan for the day he would exit his dental practice and transition into retirement. Scott’s desire for retirement was to retire from dentistry and retire to something else. Scott’s passions and skill set lent itself to life coaching.”

Hixon Zuercher offers two ways that clients can take advantage of Miller’s coaching services:

• Refocus Coaching Workshops: Workshops include groups of six to eight people coming together to gain tools and skills to assess and develop their values, emotional health, social connections, and physical health. There are two sessions a week apart that last about 2.5 hours and involve discussion and collaboration to achieve a Retirement Summary Plan that gives them steps toward a more purposeful and balanced retirement. The workshops cost clients $149 per person or $249 for a couple.

• Private Coaching: Through this service, Miller works one-on-one or with couples over a series of one-hour sessions. These sessions are focused on a tailored approach of helping the client gain clarity for the second half of their life and can involve anywhere from three to six sessions. Private coaching also involves some accountability, which means the firm follows up with clients to gently push them along. The cost is $150 per one-hour session and on average, clients participate in three to five sessions.

Through the sessions, clients gain insight on identity, purpose, working vs. leisure, time management, second careers, physical health, social connections, stress management, and building a “curious” list.

Some clients are concerned about leaving work and the possibility of feeling aimless and adrift afterward, Hixon said. Miller has helped several clients think through what “work” looks like in their second half of life.

Another common issue is how a retiree can connect with others. Miller has worked with clients to find organizations and volunteer work that they can be involved in based on their passions, interests, and skills.

Besides transitioning to retirement himself, Miller also held positions in his local church and school district that involved teaching others leadership skills.

“He’s uniquely skilled to help others see all their options and serves as an objective person who looks at a situation and identifies several paths and possibilities, encouraging them to take the next step,” Hixon said. “And now he is taking people from their careers to the next step of finding significance and meaning in the second half of their lives.”

Dorothy Hinchcliff is CEO of Rethinking65. She helped start Financial Advisor magazine and served as its executive editor. She was also the architect of FA’s Invest in Women conference.

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