My industry is notorious for taking complex things and making them sound simple (this can be a good thing!) but the unfortunate side effect is that too many Americans never achieve the financial independence of their dreams because they are swimming in mixed information and over-simplification from financial salespeople who were not trained to act in their clients’ best interests.
Two weeks ago I wrote to you all about the important issue of personalization in retirement planning. My industry is notorious for taking complex things and making them sound simple (this can be a good thing!) but the unfortunate side effect is that too many Americans never achieve the financial independence of their dreams because they are swimming in mixed information and over-simplification from financial salespeople who were not trained to act in their clients’ best interests.
I have been a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) for almost 20 years and in that time I have gotten clear on a lot of things. One of them is our topic for today: Knowing What You Don’t Know. Some of the worst retirement planning out there is done on the assumption that what your life is like today is going to continue for the next two or even three decades. We would scoff at the idea of telling it to a 30-year-old, but somehow we find it normal to say to a 65-year-old. So many financial promises from financial products are based on the idea that retirement is a constant; an unmoving target filled with certainty. You and I know, of course, this is the farthest thing from true.
On the positive side, retirement is full of unexpected possibilities. Grandchildren to enjoy, family who move closer to home (yes, this does sometimes happen!) Chances to go on that dream trip to the Holy Land, or Italy or to take that slew of grandchildren to Disney World. You may find that great one-story home which allows you to comfortably downsize, shrink your monthly cost of money and time, and still live in the kind of home you’ll enjoy for years to come.
And, of course, we are foolish to ignore the harder realities of our golden years: health scares, living in the shadow of dementia, rising costs you didn’t anticipate, or the loss of a loved one earlier than you’d planned.
All of these things have financial implications. And here’s the crazy thing: we have no idea which one(s) will affect you, but we know that some of them will. That’s the magic of retirement planning. We can have absolute certainty that adversity is coming. We can have absolute confidence that there will be opportunities for joy and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. And we can know that we don’t know anything about what those will be or when they will come.
In certain circles this is called the “Wisdom of Ignorance” and can be one of the most powerful tools in the human playbook on how to stay humble, stay nimble and be ready for the future you cannot plan in advance. It turns out that such intellectual humility is central to the idea of retirement. Retirement (in part because of its multi-decade longevity) is a project of probabilities. By understanding the potential risks and opportunities in your unique retirement plan you can understand the chances you are taking.
That’s the job of our Decision Coaching process. Every Trilogy advisor hired as a DecisionCoach knows how to act as a fiduciary: where they take into consideration all of your aspirations and your potential risks, and pull them together into a probability plan of “What-If” scenarios. When used with our DecisionCenter plan, clients can see that their decisions have effect on their futures and then they can determine which risks they are comfortable with and which ones need further financial attention.
This allows retirement in a financial sense to be what it truly is in a human sense: a long series of decisions in one direction. How those decisions play out and what opportunities and obstacles come our way is a matter of chance and the unexpected. But we can know that we know that something will happen. And we can know that we don’t know what. This humble power of the Wisdom of Ignorance allows us to engage the possibilities of retirement without the illusion of over-simplicity. And when we do that, the possibilities may in fact be endless.