Retirement Planning Marketing Suffers From The Blepfard Effect

Subscribe to The Financial Brand via email for FREE! and recently launched new, remarkably similar, sites [calculators? ads?] focused on retirement planning. ING’s site builds on the book by Lee Eisenberg, and asks site users six questions in order to calculate their “number.”

Wells Fargo’s Retire Secure Index is very similar, but also factors in current savings. Instead of calculating the “number”, it calculates the number of years the user can be comfortably retired for.

My take: It takes a lot more than six questions and thirty seconds to calculate your number. You need to spend days (if not weeks) sitting in a yoga-lotus position, meditating on your favorite mantra, and smoking hashish from a hookah to even BEGIN to divine what your number is.

The Number is a great book. If you’re over 40, you should read the book. If you’re under 40 and work in the financial services business, you should read the book. (That pretty much covers anybody reading this). If I took away anything from the book it’s this:

Your number isn’t a calculation, it’s a state of mind. Your number reflects your lifestyle, your outlook on life, the choices you make, your ego.

So as ads, the ING and Wells Fargo sites are interactive and engaging, and succeed on that level. But as serious content, they fail. To help understand why, I need to explain the blepfard effect.

Think back, for a moment, to when blepfards were introduced. Remember what they felt like in your hands? Remember what they felt like next to your skin?

Of course you don’t. Blepfards don’t exist. And because they don’t exist, trying to imagine what it’s like to hold it and feel it is a fruitless effort.

This is the blepfard effect: Asking people to imagine something, a situation, or a state of mind, that they can’t possibly imagine because they have no basis of experience to do so. Today’s retirement planning marketing efforts suffer from the blepfard effect.

Retirement planning marketers fail to understand a number of very important pieces of information about those of us saving (or investing) for retirement. We have no idea:

  1. How much money we’re going to need annually to live a lifestyle we can’t even begin to comprehend.
  2. How much money we’re going to need for health care.
  3. How long we’ll keep working if we’re more than ten years away from retiring.
  4. Whether or not we will work part-time after “retiring” to keep busy and generate additional income.

This new approach (“calculate your number”) joins the industry’s predominant approach (“achieve your dreams”) in the industry’s playbook for retirement planning marketing. But there’s a possible third approach — the behavioral, “here’s how you do it” approach — that financial firms are ignoring.

In the book , the authors describe a study in which one group of people was asked to visualize themselves enjoying a desirable future state. Another group was asked to visualize the things they needed to do to get to that desirable future state. The researchers then measured, over time, the actual behavioral changes in the two groups. Guess which group demonstrated the greater behavioral change? The second group.

The lesson here is that simply asking us to envision ourselves carefree, frolicking in the fields with our grandchildren is not sufficient to produce the behavioral changes it takes to save and invest for retirement. The big question, of course, is it sufficient to get someone to pick up the phone to call, or to come into the investor center to start the discussion?

Financial firms need to provide prospects and clients with more concrete, action-oriented details about retirement saving and investing — not just planning. I know that some of you will think I’m mincing words here, but I don’t think so. Planning is passive, saving/investing is active. Sitting at some little desk at some investor center is retirement planning — but it’s not the behavior required to accomplish or achieve the plan. How about a little more details on that, financial services firms?

How about letting us know how pre-retiree clients’ portfolios are allocated (not just 80% bonds, 20% stocks), what types of funds they’re invested in, and how and why different customers do different things with their portfolios (although I’m fearful that the cookie-cutter approach of some firms won’t enable them to produce this)?

How about telling us what retirees actually spend on healthcare and what percent of our “number” will be required for health care? Or what retirees spend annually to maintain whatever lifestyle they’re maintaining? And what kind of lifestyles are we talking about in the first place?

Until I get some answers to these questions, retirement and retirement planning is nothing but one big, soft, furry blepfard.

Technorati Tags: Marketing, Financial Services, Retirement Planning, ING, Wells Fargo

Ron ShevlinRon Shevlin is Director of Research at . Check out more of his ideas and research on Cornerstone's And don't forget to follow him on Twitter at

This article was originally published on March 19, 2008. All content © 2018 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.

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