How to Tell Clients About Your Own Retirement

Advisors discuss what did and didn’t work when breaking this news, the role video played and other lessons learned..

By Laura Garfield
Laura Garfield
Laura Garfield

When you’ve poured your life into your career, retirement can be a monumental transition. Even if you’ve specialized in helping clients plan for and move into retirement, it’s different when it happens to you.

Lynne Wright, the founder of Wright Wealth Management of Raymond James, says it was “surprisingly challenging” to begin the transition out of the business she’d built and run for 30 years.

“It has been harder than I imagined. I advised clients to retire in their fifties and early sixties, and here I am pushing 70 and I’m still on that runway. It was hard for me to let go.”

— Lynne Wright

The thought of letting go of a business she had built from the ground up was, understandably, painful. Lynne struggled with the idea of clients working with her successors, a shift that was emotionally challenging.

However, through a carefully orchestrated three-year transition, Lynne began to accept and even embrace it. It was in the midst of that transition that she started planning how to share the news that she was leaving with her clients.

Delivering the news one-by-one

Financial advisor Dave Weissert was ahead of Lynne on the path to retirement. He was motivated to spend more time with his family and doing things he loved, and was ready to give up the daily responsibilities of his job. Dave started sharing the retirement news with his clients one-by-one, figuring they’d want to hear it straight from him.

“I wanted to just tell clients individually, either face-to-face or on the phone,” says Dave. “The one problem with that is we have so many clients that are either related or they work together.”

The news he carefully and personally delivered to a few clients spread like wildfire to many more. He remembers telling one couple and specifically asking them not to mention anything to their sister Betty. Of course, they did. Soon he was fielding calls from clients he hadn’t had a chance to tell. Eventually he recorded a personal video to explain his departure, but by the time he shared the video with clients, both local and out of state, pretty much everyone knew.

Additional Reading: Saying the Right Think in Down Markets

Dave said if he could do it over again, “I think in hindsight, maybe six months ago, I would’ve just sent the letter and the video all at once.”

The power of a retirement video

Many advisors rely on a letter to deliver the message. It solves the “news spread like wildfire” problem, but a letter can also seem impersonal. Especially if you’re using a template you’ve picked up from your broker-dealer or a wholesaler with a “resource” you can personalize.

Instead of a letter, Lynne decided she wanted her clients to hear it straight from her, all at once, with a video message that could bring her feelings about retiring to life.

The retirement video served as a powerful tool for Lynne to communicate her retirement plans to clients. It also allowed her to reach all her clients simultaneously and convey her trust in her successors, Amanda Bloomfield and Megan Davis.

Lynne’s message was heartfelt and emotional, showcasing her genuine love for her profession and her clients. You can watch her video here: https://www.raymondjames.com/wrightwealth/our-videos/retirement-video

What clients want to hear

While recording her video, Lynne choked back tears. In it, she tells clients, “I’ve always given you my full attention and my full heart, and this message is going to be no different. I’m not going to lie. I’ve recorded this a few times now to get a clean take because it’s been emotional for me.”

What Lynne said in her video might not be the same sentiment you want to convey in your message. If you’re trying to figure out how to put your news into words, consider research from an Invesco 2020 study about what clients really want to hear from their advisor:

  • Investors liked “transition” better than “retirement, handoff or succession.”
  • Investors want you to leave the door open for communication, rather than just signing off with a thank you.
  • “If there are any questions I can answer for you about this, please contact me by phone or email” was preferred over “Thank you so much for the years and the great memories.”

Use this moment to emphasize the client’s continuity in their relationship with your team. And take the chance to minimize the change this will have on your clients’ lives. You are ultimately transferring their trust to your successors, so deliver the message authentically and, like Lynne, don’t hesitate to get a little emotional if that’s how you’re feeling.

No matter how you deliver the message, be prepared for a mixed bag of responses from your clients. Lynne heard a lot of, “That’s great news! You’ve worked so hard, you deserve this!” and “You’ve helped me get to where I can retire, so I’m really happy for you.” But she also had one client tell her, “I would like to die before you retire.”

Eventually, even the most reluctant clients accepted the news. Rather than dying, Lynne’s worried client now happily calls Megan and Amanda for help. It just took time.

Lessons from Lynne’s retirement journey

Lynne’s retirement journey is a testament to the complexities of transitioning from a thriving career to retirement. Her experiences offer valuable insights for advisors contemplating retirement who are wondering how to break it to clients. Lynne’s story serves as an inspiring example of how to navigate the challenging but rewarding path to retirement done right. Her three takeaways are:

  1. Plan Ahead: Retirement planning, both financially and emotionally, requires careful preparation. Lynne’s three-year transition period highlights the importance of a well-thought-out plan.
  2. Effective Communication: Use various mediums to communicate your retirement plans to clients. A retirement video, like the one Lynne created, can be a powerful tool to reach all clients simultaneously and convey your message authentically.
  3. Embrace Change: Transitioning into retirement is a process that may require time and gradual adjustments. Be open to change and allow yourself the space to accept and embrace it.

Lynne officially moves from a reduced schedule into full retirement on December 31st, 2023. Her transition was more of a slow peeling off the Band-Aid, rather than ripping it away. It was a well-planned and subtle transition into her own post-work lifestyle after she spent her career planning the same for so many clients.You can watch her video here.

Laura Garfield is co-founder of Idea Decanter, a video marketing company that creates custom videos remotely for financial advisors (including Lynne and Dave). Laura’s team helps advisors plan marketing strategies that get results. To find out more about how to create videos remotely visit www.ideadecanter.com or email laura@ideadecanter.com.

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