Financial advice for clients who want to live longer in retirement


A 77-year-old client told Surya Kolluri one day over lunch that he had plans to reach 123, which would make him the longest-lived human being on record. 

“Here’s what I’m eating. Here’s my physical regimen, my financial advisor’s taking care of my money. What do you think?” said the client, a retired school superintendent. 

“I said, ‘What’s your socialization plan?’ And he was totally stumped,” said Kolluri, now the head of TIAA Institute at TIAA, which sponsors research related to longevity literacy, lifetime income and retirement, among other topics. Kolluri previously spent many years at Bank of America.

“He said, ‘I’m an introvert. What do you mean, a socialization plan?'” 

Kolluri shared the anecdote on stage Thursday to a room of financial advisors in New York during a professional development conference this week for high net worth advisors held by the Investments & Wealth Institute. The room hung onto his words as he paced the stage, dramatically raising and lowering his voice. 

Despite the jargon of such a phrase, the idea behind helping clients create a “socialization plan” is simple: humans with strong social bonds live longer. So the advisor who helps a client and their family members plan for a longer life, not just for hitting certain retirement goals, stands to make a lot more money. 

Advisors swear to him that “once they open that door, clients want to spend more time with them than less,” Kolluri said, referring to longevity-related planning conversations.

With a massive intergenerational transfer of wealth underway, and research firm Cerulli Associates estimating that $84 trillion will be passed down over the next roughly two decades, it’s in an advisor’s best interest to not only demonstrate care for clients to live longer, but also earn loyalty points with heirs who stand to inherit huge sums. 

Health is wealth 
In the case of the retired superintendent, Kolluri suggested that the man join a club to stay socially engaged. 

“‘What are your interests? Are you a book reader? Are you a bicyclist? Are you a hiker? And can you join [such] clubs?'” he asked the man, assigning him ‘homework’ to create a plan for staying socially active. The client took Kolluri very seriously, he said. 

Isolation kills, he said, citing research that found loneliness for adults had a health impact the equivalent of “smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.” By contrast, regular social contact helps reduce hypertension and enhances cognition, delaying the onset of debilitating diseases and dementia, he said. A study he cited found that retirees who still belonged to two social groups had a much lower mortality rate within six years than those who lost such memberships. 

Kolluri said that certain advice had become well-known in mainstream America for helping to promote longer lives, such as eating the Mediterranean diet or walking 10,000 steps a day, but things like adequate sleep and a strong social life were still not valued enough for the benefit they provide in helping clients maintain what is most cherished to them in retirement — which he said was health, above all else, followed by family. 

READ MORE: Work is the new retirement, even for the rich

Kolluri pointed to research showing that clients’ most feared disabling condition of later life was Alzheimer’s or dementia, followed by cancer or a contagious disease (such as COVID-19 or influenza) and the top reasons for their fears were being a burden on their family, loss of personal freedom and loss of dignity. 

“Many of our clients are CEOs that own businesses. Right? Important people,” Kolluri said. Those individuals in particular have spent a lifetime being accustomed to independence. 

Kolluri recalled the story of his own father, a retired 87-year-old Princeton professor, who refused for years to give up his car keys. Kolluri and his brother finally persuaded their father to do so recently. 

“And he’s not happy. He still grumbles, ‘how do I get to the doctor?’ Use Uber. ‘How do I use Uber?'” 

Becoming a ‘life coach
It can be hard to have these difficult conversations, so clients are often relieved and grateful when advisors bring them up, Kolluri said. 

“When I do Alzheimer’s topics with clients at client events, clients are thankful to the advisor who [brought] the topic up because they say, ‘I’ve been trying to bring this up with mom and dad, but couldn’t.'” In his current role at TIAA Kolluri does not work with clients, though.

One problem with not acknowledging the elephant in the room is that increasingly senile adults are more likely to succumb to fraud — the size of elder fraud in America being somewhere from $3 billion to $30 billion, Kolluri said, and likely an underestimate because of embarrassment among victims who don’t always admit to being scammed. It’s part of an advisor’s role “to protect our clients that could be subject to this disease.” 

Jason Feldman, a private wealth advisor at UBS who attended the conference, said that he found the presentation “valuable” in his work with wealthy clients, given that “longevity is obviously a growing field of interest.” 

READ MORE: The death question: How to talk to clients about their life expectancy

“I try to be a life coach to clients,” Feldman said. “In my head, I’m doing conversations with clients as I’m watching a session like this … I’m like, ‘OK, who can I talk to about this or that?'” 

Most of his clients are not worried about money, Feldman said. But as they head toward retirement, he tries to ask what does worry them. 

“They would know that you care about more than just the money if you’re asking certain questions” about their parents’ health, for instance, or if a family member is suffering from dementia, he said of clients. “Maybe we’re talking about, if they’re not retired yet, or just starting retirement, what’s their plan — not about just the money, but to keep themselves active?” 



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