8,000 days of retirement: Longevity brings expanded role for advisors

How do you ensure a high quality of life while living longer? With a little help from MIT AgeLab, financial advisors can play a key role—beyond finances—in helping their clients stay healthy and fulfilled.

Key Points

  • Advances in health care and general well-being have contributed to a significant increase in life expectancy. The average American is living 22 years after the age of 60. With these and other new retirement realities, how can you best advocate for your clients’ planning and future welfare?

Investors spend so much of their adult lives saving up for retirement that it can feel like crossing the finish line once they finally make it. The reality is that planning for what to do in retirement is just as important as getting there. That’s because retired people are much more susceptible to loneliness, boredom, and other factors that can decrease their quality of life—and sometime its duration. 

John Diehl, an expert who has spent his career focused on tactical strategies for retirement planning, says financial advisors can play a pivotal role in helping clients get ready for their "8,000 days of retirement." That’s no random number. It comes from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) AgeLab, which says life can be divided into four segments of 8,000 days, or about 22 years, each: learning, growing, maturing, and exploring. Diehl works with MIT AgeLab to help financial advisors and their clients understand how the demands on financial, physical, and social resources will likely change in retirement and how to plan for it. 

"Now that we've achieved what we’ve been trying to do forever—extending human life—we really don’t have any idea of what to do with that extended life period," Diehl said at a recent Schwab event. People are often so preoccupied with the first three life segments,  Diehl said, that their goal is just making it to the fourth. However, those 8,000 days will need to be purposefully filled to maintain a high quality of life. While most clients don’t know whether or how to plan for this, financial advisors are in a perfect position to help. 

Planning the fourth act

Diagram of life in 8,000 day segments

Source: Slide from John Diehl’s presentation

Longevity planning: An expanded role for the advisor

Financial advice has come a long way over the years, transitioning from transaction-focused support to financial planning, wealth preservation, and generational transfer. The next iteration of this evolution is a field that MIT AgeLab refers to as "longevity solutions advisory."

For most, retirement looks very different than it did just a decade ago. Work and retirement are no longer mutually exclusive for many retirees. In fact, working in some capacity is now one of the activities retirees cite most when asked what they plan to do in retirement. Retirees are generally more active and mobile. They take care of family members and are more flexible about where they live. They’re even more likely to get divorced, driven in part by the opportunity to reinvent themselves later in life.

As a result, older people are asking themselves some different questions:

  • What will I do in retirement?
  • What will retirement look like?
  • How do I remain productive and validated?
  • Who am I going to be taking care of?
  • Where are we going to live?
  • What causes will bring me purpose?

Changing priorities through the years

Source: Slide from John Diehl’s presentation

When it comes to finding the answers to these questions, clients will increasingly rely on their financial advisors for support, if they aren't already doing so. Those who don't know how to proactively address this new dimension of retirement planning risk losing clients or gaining new ones, especially as investors’ expectations for performance continue to climb. 

"You as an advisor are going to be asked about things far outside the boundaries of traditional investment advice," Diehl said. "If the value proposition of your firm is based on the way that you manage assets, how you construct portfolios, how you select securities, and so forth, it's falling on deaf ears at the consumer level."

Four phases of retirement

To capture the attention (and business) of people wrestling with post-retirement questions, financial advisors need to understand different client contexts as they advance into and through retirement. MIT AgeLab has found that retired clients can be grouped into one of four phases:

  1. The Honeymoon: Retirees continue to work in a scaled-back capacity or launch a new business and generally stay active and involved.
  2. The Big Decision: Work is phased out, and retirees increasingly focus on where they want to live and with whom they’re spending time.
  3. Navigating Longevity: Health tends to become a dominant issue for many, along with the medical and housing costs associated with maintaining their health.
  4. The Solo Journey: Widowhood is more common, as are feelings of boredom and loneliness.

Determining a client’s stage of life or retirement isn’t as simple as asking their age. Instead, it’s often a function of three intertwined resources: financial, physical, and social. For instance, younger clients with ample financial resources can easily fall into the third phase if their health is compromised. And widowers in an advanced stage of life can wind up back in the first phase if they are healthy and socially active. 

So the first question financial advisors should ask when engaging a client in this aspect of planning is where they see themselves. What phase of retirement do they think they’re in? Advisors and clients can have different views about this. When those assumptions are not aligned, neither are the advisors' recommended strategies. Advisors also need to address common misperceptions about retirement. For instance, a client might be expecting to receive help from their adult children, only to find out their children are in greater need of financial support than they are.

Are you sure you want to bank on that?

Diagram showing that 61% of parents provide financial help to their adult children.

Source: Slide from John Diehl's presentation

Making the right connections

Conversations like these are only the start. As with any financial planning discussion, engagement is often followed by a decision. But since longevity planning is new terrain for financial advisors, many may not have the resources in house to support those decisions. 

Therefore, advisors should develop both a basic understanding of where those resources are located and how to connect their clients with them. For instance, a financial advisor who is schooled in medical benefits in retirement may be more likely to retain a client at risk of moving to a competitor. Every financial advisory practice should have trusted external resources they can recommend to support their clients across different non-investing dimensions, including medical, legal, and real estate. 

The key is to be proactive in offering this kind of help, which could be as simple as sharing a newspaper article, Diehl said. "It's about being able to call a client and say, 'You know what? I thought of you today,'" he said. That kind of engagement shows the advisor is eager to help and actively seeking solutions.

At other times, the client may just need to hear how other people in their situation approached the same problem. Diehl recommends bringing a few clients together in a casual setting so that those who have worked through similar challenges—such as downsizing, taking care of loved ones, or their own physical challenges—can share their experiences with those just starting to grapple with them. The litmus test for advisors' success won’t be just investment performance but how well they can help clients address life-stage concerns by sharing pertinent information and lessons learned. 

Longevity solutions put into practice

Achieving a high quality of life in retirement is more than simply having enough money. Many factors can enhance or diminish the life clients want to lead. Four stand out: health, housing, mobility, and social networks. While not exclusive or relevant to every client, these are great starting places for financial advisors for adding longevity solutions to their practice.

Issue Context Tips for advisors
Health Health is the number one factor influencing quality of life in retirement. The mortality rate for people suffering from a broken hip, for instance, is 50% for those over age 70 because it can lead to isolation, depression, a sedentary lifestyle, and the ills that follow.  •    Check in often with retired clients about their health, particularly those in the Solo Journey phase.
•    Educate yourself about medical benefits such as Medicare.
•    Develop a list of trusted resources or partners who specialize in medical services or advice.
Housing Americans are staying in their homes as long as they can, putting off assisted living until later in life. That may require renovations to accommodate new needs as they age.  •    Consider it your priority to keep clients as independent as they can be for as long as they want to be.
•    Talk to them about how long they want to stay in their current housing situation and how to make it a practical possibility.
•    Put them in touch with relocation and real estate resources if they’re looking to downsize or move closer to family members.
Mobility Transportation is critical for many of the activities retired people intend to pursue and for enhancing their quality of life. People who have lost the ability to drive are far more likely to suffer from depression and to need the support of a long-term-care community.  •    Talk to your clients about how they plan to access the things that bring them joy.
•    Educate them about alternative forms of transportation, such as ride-sharing services.
Social networks Many retirees are affected on a personal level when they leave the workforce because work was their default social network. Replacing those relationships in retirement requires effort and planning. •    Make the social setting part of the planning conversation by asking how they expect to fill their days in retirement and then lining up the financial resources to support it. 
•    Share stories of other clients and what they did to expand their social networks in retirement.

At this point in the evolution of financial advice, clients are looking for much more than building and preserving their wealth. Increasingly, they are looking for solutions that help them sort through not only the financial implications of retirement but other, more personal dimensions as well. And if they aren't asking, it's time for advisors to take it upon themselves to help clients get started.

"Ask yourself what kind of advice they'll be seeking going forward," Diehl said. "It's the advisor that can paint the picture, educate them, and connect them to the resources that will win in the end."

We hope these ideas inspire you to think about new ways to serve your clients when it comes to retirement planning. 

If you're thinking about becoming an independent advisor, consider a custodian that invests in your success. Contact us to learn more about the benefits of a custodial relationship with Schwab.


Based on John Diehl’s presentation, MIT AgeLab/8,000 Days of Retirement: A Phase of Life Waiting to be Invented.

The information provided here is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered an individualized recommendation or personalized investment advice. 

Data contained herein from third-party providers is obtained from what are considered reliable sources. However, its accuracy, completeness, or reliability cannot be guaranteed.