2023 PLAN Forum Lays Foundation For Today’s Financial Planning To Be Tomorrow’s Longevity Planning Industry
by Adam Felts
People are living longer and that longer life is introducing new complexities. Those challenges certainly involve finance, but they also require a new type of advice to enable people to successfully navigate longevity.
MIT AgeLab is collaborating with the financial services and advice industry to transform today’s engagement practices to address planning for the complexity of longevity rather than money alone. This shift, along with an increasingly demanding and sophisticated base of consumers, is pushing the advice profession toward deeper conversations, a wider range of expertise in topics related to aging, and new attention to the client experience.
These changes were explored at the MIT AgeLab’s 2023 PLAN Forum, titled “Advice Meets Experience: Exciting and Delighting the New Longevity Client.” The daylong event convened leaders across the financial services industry to hear the AgeLab’s perspective on longevity planning, as well as to share knowledge and practice to learn from experts from adjacent fields in aging services.
The goal of the forum, said AgeLab Director Joseph Coughlin, was to “kick off a new industry,” one that focuses on helping people navigate the many challenges and uncertainties of longer life. The financial advice industry is uniquely positioned to take up the mantle of this role. But innovation will need to happen in multiple areas for the next-generation advisor to be a reality.
The event featured a surprising keynote speaker:Donna McNamara, Vice President, Global Luxury & Leisure Sales at Marriott International, whose career has involved closely managing brand of the Ritz Carlton, famous for its emphasis on the guest experience. Ms. McNamara highlighted the importance of personal connection and relationships in how the Ritz cultivates its aura of luxury service. The hotel’s focus on guest experience and emotion has lessons for the financial advisor, who may tend to hew toward rationality and efficiency instead. Dr. Coughlin reminded the audience that advisors are not just being compared against each other by their prospective clients, but against the wider world: “Clients are benchmarking you against their last experience,” he said, and that includes what they find at places like the Ritz Carlton.
In addition to Ms. McNamara, the forum also featured the voices of experts from other key industries: Carol Chiang, an aging in place specialist, Audrey Zabin, an aging life care manager, and Elise Selinger, (and MIT AgeLab & Department of Urban Studies & Planning alum) a senior housing professional.
Each of them outlined their professional expertise and how they fit into a framework of longevity planning. For advisors who want to maximize their usefulness to aging clients, being able to engage in conversations and provide guidance across domains is critical. At the same time, however, having true expertise in every field isn’t feasible. "I do not want any of you to become social workers; rather. I want you to build longevity teams and practices,” said Dr. Coughlin. As Ms. Chiang said, the key for advisors is to be able to know just enough to be able to take the client to the next step—to be able to say, “This is the person you need to talk to,” and to make a key referral to an expert.
The Forum also included tangible items to help participants think about the advisory client journey and how to expand their practice toward holistic longevity planning. A series of eight-foot-tall boards catalogued the nine steps of the client journey—from the first encounter with the advisor’s website to exiting the advisor’s office—and invited participants to describe how they themselves curate experiences for their clients. The Forum also introduced participants to the AgeLab’s “Provocatives,” objects and related processes to make the ambiguity of retirement tangible to people. A stack of large white blocks emblazoned with longevity-related questions evoked the spirit of purposeful play and suggested the potential for physical objects to catalyze deeper and richer conversations.
The 2023 PLAN Forum was the first of its kind, Dr. Coughlin said. The AgeLab is now planning the 2024 PLAN Forum as an annual nexus of knowledge sharing and innovation for the advice industry.