When NOT Talking About Money IS Talking About Money
We all know the basic facts about Boomers and money. Most of them haven’t saved enough for retirement. While they will benefit from a large transfer of wealth when their senior parents die, they are already being taxed by adult children who are a long way from achieving financial independence themselves, and, like the rest of us, haven’t fully recovered from the Recession. While there are dozens of companies who say they want to help Boomers sort out these problems and plan for retirement, the Boomers aren’t buying. Our own research confirms what others have found: at least two-thirds of the Boomers who do receive some kind of financial advice don’t trust the person giving it.
For Baby Boomer women (who will generally be left managing and holding those family dollars), the situation is even worse. They don’t believe that anyone is even listening to them. And most of them don’t have plans to address retirement income, estate-planning or the likely need for assisted care.
If the conversation about financial planning isn’t happening between Boomers and their investment advisors, or bankers, or accountants, is it happening anywhere? Because if it is, that would be a good place for financial firms to start the process of listening and learning to engage Boomers in a meaningful way.
We’ve been thinking a lot about how this relates to the Boomer women who gather in our community. They bring almost every important topic unique to their stage of life to the site and gain support and advice from their peers in the process.
Those topics include fashion, sex, work, health, and their families. But it doesn’t usually include finances. At least not directly. There are more threads about issues like “comfortable but sexy shoes” or even “STDs after 50” than there are about saving for retirement. If it doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in finances, what does it mean?
Who wants to admit they’re not prepared?
If a majority of Boomers actually lacks a financial plan for their future, why do we think they’d want to admit it? Most of us know if we’re not prepared for an eventuality. We know we need to do something about it, but we certainly don’t want to admit that if it will make us look stupid in front of others.
The financial services industry has contributed to this problem with ads that illustrate consumers who seem to have all the answers. No one ever looks confused or uncertain, and the company behind the ad never admits that its most important service may be getting its customers to talk openly about their financial lives.
When you also consider that financial companies use terms that Boomers (at least younger Boomers) never really apply to their own lives -- words like “retirement” and “wealth management” -- you can see an industry that is both tone-deaf and insulting to the customers it needs most.
Every conversation is about money
Once we started looking at the conversations that are taking place between Boomers, we recognized that financial planning -- and the fears about failing to do financial planning -- is an unspoken theme behind many of them. How do most of us talk about topics that scare us? We talk around them, and tackle them indirectly.
We’ve recently observed a similar phenomenon around diabetes. The millions of Boomers who are pre-diabetic don’t want to talk about diabetes directly; instead, they join conversations about carbs, sugar and weight management as their preferred way to express anxiety about their more serious health risks.
When Boomer women discuss whether to end a long-term marriage, or whether to seek a job, or how to get adult children to leave the house, they are also talking about their financial future, and their fears of being unprepared for it. The only problem is that no professional is using this conversation to start giving them the answer.
Now that we’ve started looking at this issue in a new way, we see conversations about finances happening all over the place, and we wonder when a financial service firm will wise up and start talking to Boomers about money in the ways that they’re talking about it already.