'I don't talk numbers," Bank of Montreal consultant Amy D'Aprix says.
It's not what one would expect to hear from a consultant to a major bank. But as a gerontologist-social worker with a PhD and 25 years of experience working with seniors, Dr. D'Aprix's job isn't about money. Her focus is on retirement.
"BMO has financial expertise but they recognized they needed outside expertise on life issues to meet the needs of retiring boomers," she says. The bank brought on Dr. D'Aprix as a consultant two years ago. Now the bank is her only financial client.
"I work with the advisers to equip them to better work with clients on the emotional, psychological and social issues related to retirement," Dr. D'Aprix says.
With a giant wave of baby boomers beginning to cross the threshold into retirement - in 2009 they made up 40 per cent of Canada's working age population - the banks have realized they need specialized help.
"Dr. D'Aprix's expertise in the lifestyle aspects of retirement allow us to help our clients plan for retirement in very specific, realistic and actionable ways," says Caroline Dabu, head of retirement and financial planning strategy at BMO Financial Group.
Royal Bank has the benefit of a similar sensibility thanks to Lee Anne Davies, its head of retirement strategy, also a gerontologist. She uses her background to help advisers understand the aging process.
"Gerontology is the psychology, sociology and biology of aging and how that can be applied in different settings," she says.
People commonly have the impression that aging happens instantly, she says. "But we go through a whole process of aging that happens gradually for most of us and it changes our perception on things and how we wish to live," says Ms. Davies, who's been with RBC for five years. "I bring the perspective of the client to the table."
Boomer retirements are more complicated than those of any generation before them due to their life circumstances.
"In many cases, their parents are still alive," Dr. D'Aprix says. "So they're caring for their parents and planning their retirement at the same time. And then they may have a kid move back home who still needs their support."
Ms. Davies points to longevity as another factor that makes boomer retirements unique.
"Never before have we seen people living so long in retirement," she says. "And their parents often had ... pension plans from employers that made planning easier."
This convergence of issues requires sensitivity to non-financial realities. That's where Dr. D'Aprix and Ms. Davies come in.
In Dr. D'Aprix's case, she passes on her knowledge of the aging process in two ways.
The first is a coast-to-coast series of 90-minute workshops called Taking Charge of Your Retirement. "It's all about lifestyle and how you're going to live," she says. The workshop uses the analogy of a picture frame, where the picture is the retiree's life plan after work, and the frame, which supports those plans, represents the financial piece.
Dr. D'Aprix also spends her time coaching advisers on the psychological aspects of retirement: "I speak to them regularly on how to have life conversations with clients."
Often, people dream big about life after retirement. "They're thinking about things like travel," Dr. D'Aprix says. "I work with advisers to talk to the client about the day-to-day of retirement. It's their job to help clients think about all the issues that are going to affect retirement, not just financial issues."
At RBC, Ms. Davies has been involved in a process where the bank brings in specialists to provide a deeper understanding of a market segment.
Five years ago, the bank, with Ms. Davies's help, looked at the process of aging to help them meet the needs of boomers. From that exercise came a holistic program to help clients identify, plan and realize their retirement goals. The bank has since gone through the process a second time, most recently with a focus on clients already in retirement.
Understanding the aging process not only helps advisers connect emotionally with clients, it helps them develop an accurate financial forecast, Dr. D'Aprix says. "These social and emotional issues I'm training them to understand have financial implications."
For example, Ms. Davies adds, a person's health in retirement is both an emotional and financial issue. "We're not health professionals, but we need to understand that part of aging because it affects finances," she says. "If you're a business and you're not understanding how life issues impact finances, you're missing a huge part of this."
To get the business of boomers, banks need to be in tune with their needs, Ms. Davies says, or they risk losing business.
"They are huge influencers," she says.
"They are children of parents who are getting older and they are parents of young adults who are moving into their own financial years, and they're influencing both of those groups. To have boomers as clients is very key to our market share."
Aging by the numbers
19 per cent
Share of near-retirees, ages 45 to 59 in 2007, who expect their retirement income to be "barely adequate."
Number of seniors in 2001.
Number of seniors projected for 2041.
Source: Statistics Canada; 2006 census