What extreme longevity will mean for the advice industry

Clients potentially living to 120 has planning implications advisers would be wise to start thinking about

May 17, 2015 @ 12:01 am

By Liz Skinner

Researchers have found that pumping old mice full of young mice blood revives their aging organs and extends their lives. Now, scientists in California are testing the notion in humans.

Other researchers are tailoring genetic therapies to an individual's biological makeup and more effectively targeting cancer cells. This "personalized medicine' approach already has added years to the lives of lung cancer patients in clinical trials.

These and other medical break-throughs are forging a path to the treatment, cure and even prevention of diseases and conditions that plague the human body as it ages. In addition, private companies, individuals and research institutes are funding aging and disease research at record levels.

The result will be a giant leap in longevity — especially the wealthy.

Source: IHME data

Men and women will be living healthy lives of 110 and 120 years in the not-too-distant future. Most aging researchers won't pinpoint a year when these extended lives will be the norm, but some speculate that children born in the most recent decade are likely to face life as supercentenarians (living to 110 or older).

“There's going to be a huge expansion of the population who are over age 100,” said Richard Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health. “It used to be rare and warrant a special mention on the 'Today' show; now there are tens of thousands and it will soon be millions of people at that age level.”

Consequences

Much longer lives have serious societal consequences, including implications for planning that advisers would be wise to start thinking about now.

Extreme longevity would upend the traditional idea of saving for about 40 years to pay for the last 20. At a current average life expectancy of 78.8 years for those born in the United States between 2010 and 2015 (according to the United Nations), this is now the norm.

But it's untenable to think of anyone being able to save for 40 years to support their last 50 years, which isn't far off. Such a shift will require entirely new thinking about the order of events in our lives and financial models that can adapt.

Financial planners will have to add a new element of service: teaching our clients how to determine whether their current career is about to become obsolete.— Ric Edelman,  Financial adviser

Financial adviser Ric Edelman has thought about the consequences of extreme longevity for years, and he says that within 10 years, traditional planning models will be outdated.

The financial planning industry will need to think differently about life, which today follows a fairly linear series of events, starting with birth, then school, then work, then retirement and death, he said.

Instead, life will become more of a cyclical route that involves people having six, seven, even eight careers in their lifetime, with periods of education, training and recreation in between, he said. Careers will change regularly as technology continues to erase some professions and invent others.

(Related watch: 3 changes poised to shake up retirement income management)

Serial Careers

All this will require advisers to know a lot more about career planning.

“Financial planners will have to add a new element of service: teaching our clients how to determine whether their current career is about to become obsolete and helping them figure out which new career they should study,” Mr. Edelman said.

While having a half-dozen careers during a mostly healthy 120-year life sounds farfetched — not to mention exhausting — consider the pace of change and its impact.

About a million people today are creating iPhone applications for a product that didn't exist eight years ago.

Joe Coughlin, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab, said advisers already should be thinking about helping clients expect more from themselves in their later years.

He envisions a day when midlife sabbaticals before age 60 will be the norm to refresh oneself and perhaps attain some additional training to take on a new vocation.

“The truly valuable adviser is going to be the one with solutions to navigate old age,” Mr. Coughlin said.

Financial adviser Thomas West with Signature Estate and Investment Advisors said he expects advisers will need to expand their knowledge of planning through transitions. The business will require helping clients with financial planning before transitions, or having expertise in the job, health or life transition itself, he said.

That's good news for human advisers, since so-called robo-advisers, or digital advice providers, won't be able to guide families through such periods, he said.

(Related read: Companies go long by investing in longevity)

“I don't think anything other than human interaction can play in that space,” Mr. West said.

While most advisers aren't ready to create new financial planning models just yet, they see, with trepidation, the day approaching when it will be necessary.

Financial adviser Philip Lubinski of First Financial Strategies said “the math is a little scary” when he thinks about people living such long lives, especially because most pre-retirees “aren't accumulating enough now for a 25-year retirement.”

But he admits he's already seeing more clients changing careers at 60 than in the past.

I seem to have good hardware in me. I would be happy to live until 110 to 120, provided I remained healthy.— Dixon Hemphill

He's also discussed the concept with his 36-year-old son, who adjusted his mindset to the concept quickly. If the son is going to live to 120, he expects to actually lower his monthly retirement plan contributions because he'll have “a lot longer to save for my 30-year retirement.”

Overall, a positive outlook on superlongevity has an uphill battle with public opinion, probably because most know old age as it is today: often fraught with ill health and cognitive decline.

When people were asked whether they would want to use potential medical treatments that would slow aging and extend life, 56% said no thanks, while 38% said they'd want them, according to a Pew Research Center survey of about 2,000 adults in 2013.

But many people dream of a healthier old age and the potential to see future generations of their family grow up before their own eyes.

Dixon Hemphill, a 90-year-old Virginian who still runs 5K races, said he'd like to live long enough to see his nine grandchildren grow up and have careers. He attributes his long life to a good diet, a healthy attitude and a positive outlook on life.

“I seem to have good hardware in me,” he said. “I would be happy to live until 110 to 120, provided I remained healthy.”

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