Writing out retirement income plans is a great way for financial advisers to increase client satisfaction, gain more referrals and ultimately increase assets — yet few of them do it, according to a new study from Fidelity Investments.

Just 18% of pre-retirees who work with advisers have such a plan, according to the company’s Fidelity Investments Institutional Services Co., Inc. unit. That’s despite the fact that 81% of pre-retirees surveyed said they felt a detailed plan is important.

Why are advisers so behind the curve? One reason may be that writing a retirement income plan appears dauntingly complex, according to the study. Another may be that speed with which Americans’ retirement system has changed, suggests Larry Sinsimer, senior vice president and head of practice management with FIIS.

Specifically, future retirees, not their former employers, are now responsible for making sure their money lasts through their retirement, he notes.

“The baby boomer generation is very different even from people in the late 1980s or early ‘90s,” says Sinsimer. “We’re really coming into uncharted territory.”

For its study, Fidelity surveyed more than 500 financial advisers and 500 pre-retirees and retirees who work with financial advisers. The results indicate that advisers who provide comprehensive retirement income planning — specifically, written, detailed plans — generally receive higher satisfaction, referrals and, ultimately, higher concentrations of client assets.

Yet of those pre-retirees who work with advisers and have retirement income plans, just 53% have written, detailed plans, according to the study.

One reason is that it’s hard to know where to start, and as a result, many opt for less-formal planning processes, says Sinsimer. In the Fidelity survey, advisers said they may not provide written, detailed plans because of difficulty in getting clients to focus on the future. They also said they feel that in today’s economic environment, plans may quickly become obsolete.

The gap between what advisers are providing and what investors believe is important because nearly 3-million baby boomers are turning 65 this year.

The survey showed that investors who had written, detailed retirement income plans reported the highest levels of satisfaction with their advisers. Sixty-three percent of pre-retirees who reported having such plans said they were “very satisfied” with their advisers, and that percentage grew to 69% for retirees.

Investors who reported being “very satisfied” with how their adviser is handling their retirement income plans consolidated more assets with them. “Very satisfied” pre-retirees consolidated 72% of their savings and investments with their primary adviser, and “very satisfied” retirees consolidated 81% of their assets.

Meanwhile, 79% of pre-retirees and 83% of retirees who reported being “very satisfied” with their how their adviser is handling the development of their retirement income plans have referred business.

Fidelity’s survey also revealed that once retirees develop their income plans, they have the best intentions of following them: 80% of retirees said they would follow at least some of their plan.

But those good intentions face a number of possible pitfalls, according to advisers. Those include a “lack of alignment” between spouses on the goals and objectives of their retirement plan as well as on what’s required for success. Clients’ need to financial support to family members was another concern.

What’s more, clients are unwilling to tap certain assets, such as inheritances, due to a strong emotional attachment, according to advisers.

And they may be suffering from “number numbness” — having been barraged during the accumulation phase to focus on “the number,” investors may enter retirement looking at their savings as a pile of cash to share with family, rather than as their own source of lifetime income, according to Fidelity.

— Steve Garmhausen writes for Financial Planning, a SourceMedia publication.

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