Financial advisors need to help clients surrender expectations that their retirements will resemble previous generations’.

There is no beating around the bush: The U.S. economy doesn’t offer the same bounty for today's retirees as it did for the generation born in the 20s and 30s. There are fewer defined-benefit pension plans, housing prices show less growth and the United States no longer dominates the world economy.

Veteran advisors must find creative ways to present those truths without chasing good clients away.

Craig Bartlett recognizes that either one of two diverging views of retirement occupy many people’s minds.

“I’ll sail my yacht around the world, or I have no chance anyhow so I shouldn’t take any steps whatsoever,” says Bartlett, vice president and division consulting manager for U.S. Bancorp Investments in Minneapolis.

He helps advisors work with clients to develop more realistic expectations for their retirement and “real steps” to reach their goals.

“Probably it isn’t going to be the yacht around the world, but it doesn’t have to be the canoe on cinder blocks in the backyard either,” Bartlett says.

For clients who appear more likely to have to settle for a canoe than a yacht, advisors should help them determine ways to measure if an asset accumulation plan will lead them toward eventually achieving a comfortable retirement, he says.

Doing that requires the advisor and client put together a comprehensive plan, he says.

If a prospective or existing client fails “to get on the same page” and accept realistic expectations, an advisor may opt to forgo or terminate the relationship, Bartlett says.

But Benjamin Birken meets fewer and fewer prospective clients who hold unrealistic views of retirement.

“I’m starting to wonder how many people have that view of retirement anyway, that sitting on a rocking chair whittling a piece of wood. Retirement doesn’t mean quitting life anymore,” says Birken, an advisor at Woodward Financial Advisors in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Most of his clients imagine generating income beyond their investment during retirement, recognizing that they might need more money because of increasing life expectancies, he says.

But they also recognize that they have more options than previous generations to earn money in more creative and previously unimaginable ways due to technology.

“They know they are going live longer and be healthier, but they have lived through two market crashes in the past 15 years so they have developed some level of prudence. They’ve had eye-opening experiences, and they recognize that everything doesn’t always necessarily sail smoothly,” Birken says.

Miriam Rozen is a staff writer for Texas Lawyer who writes about financial advisors.

This story is part of a 30-day series on retirement planning strategies.

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