'Financial Gerontology' Joins Boomer Advice Army


Matt Ackermann
Volume 170, Number 195 -- Tuesday, October 11, 2005

 

An army of advisers, brokers, and wealth managers is lining up to serve the wave of baby boomers expected to retire in the next few years.

Now joining the ranks are a growing number of "financial gerontologists," specialists in facilitating wealth management for retirees. In the past year and a half, 100 people have been registered in the specialty by the American Institute of Financial Gerontology.

John N. Migliaccio, the president of the Deerfield Beach, Fla., institute, said financial gerontology examines "the intersection of aging and money."

"This is not the study of old money," he said. "This is the study of how people need to manage money now, and for their future, and their children and their grandchildren. There is a whole host of issues that comes along with aging and finances."

But just what is a financial gerontologist? Industry observers and spokesmen at seven of 10 large banks said they do not know.

Mr. Migliaccio says a financial gerontologist uses biology, psychology, sociology, and demographics to understand the wealth-span issues and aspirations of people who are aging and their families -- a description that may do little to clarify the picture.

Maureen Mohyde, who has been a gerontologist at Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. for 12 years -- and a financial gerontologist for six -- said the latter designation denotes the study of aging and how financial concerns affect people as they grow older. She said she applies what she knows about financial services and the aging population to help Hartford reach out to its older customers with appropriate solutions.

For example, she has used her expertise as a financial gerontologist to train people in Hartford's call centers to work better with aging customers. "The people we have in the call centers tend to skew younger, and the annuity buyers are older," she said. "We are working to help the older people and younger people to understand each other."

A high percentage of people older than 50 have hearing impairments, for example, she said. So she combed through the sales script to flag words that are hard for people with impaired hearing to make out.

"By keeping the sentences short and concise we have a greater chance for success," Ms. Mohyde said. "If there is less frustration, there is a better chance to have a long-term relationship."

Thomas W. Hines, a senior vice president at Northern Trust Co. in Chicago and manager of its financial consulting group, recognized the term "financial gerontology," and he agreed that advisers need as much training as possible to help their customers. Though he has no financial gerontologists on staff, he said that successful financial planners need "a high level of emotional intelligence to focus on soft issues rather than just black-and-white financial issues."

"It is a balancing act," he added. "People are getting lost in the alphabet soup that follows people's names on their business cards these days."

Geoffrey Bobroff, an analyst at Bobroff Consulting in East Greenwich, R.I., said so many designations and distinctions exist that it is easy to lose track. "It isn't about the letter after your name but rather what an adviser can do for your portfolio," he said.

"The light still is under a basket," Mr. Migliaccio acknowledged, regarding financial gerontology. The American Institute of Financial Gerontology was founded in 1988 by the American Society on Aging and Widener University in Chester, Pa. The institute gives courses on aging and administers a final exam to aspiring financial gerontologists.

The classes focus on how financial products fit as people age, Mr. Migliaccio said.

Brokers, advisers, wealth managers, financial planners, elder-law attorneys, and insurance brokers are taking the course to gain the institute's designation, he said. There are 120 financial gerontologists nationwide, he said, a total that has doubled in the past two years and, he expects, will "double and more" in the next two years. Companies such as MetLife Inc. and MONY Financial Services, which was bought last year by AXA Financial Inc., are very interested in the institute and its gerontology course, he said.

Ms. Mohyde is Hartford's director of corporate gerontology, with a staff of six gerontologists, and has been a gerontologist for 25 years. She said she was drawn to take the institute's course and add "financial" to her gerontology credentials because of the part finances play in the lives of people as they age.

"There are two major issues later in life that are major themes for all people -- health and financial wellness," she said. "Separately, I know these issues, but I knew it was essential to know both sides together."

 

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