Retirement Planning

Retirement Looks Different for Everyone

The question of what would happen to pure financial planning if the requirements for quality life planning were added to the discussion, is answered day in and day out for the clients served by Shane Westhoelter.

As CEO and founder of Gateway Financial Advisors, Westhoelter wanted his Walnut Creek, Calif.-based firm to provide “something unique” in the financial services industry: the opportunity for a client’s definition of a quality life to be just as important as the choices made among stocks, bonds and investment strategies.

“Our clients are people who want to do holistic planning,” Westhoelter explains. “They want to sit down and do financial planning from an overall approach that takes the ‘what if’ out of their life.”

In referring to the big “what if” questions – Westhoelter is talking about issues such as what happens to spouses, or the transference of accumulated wealth to the next generation, as well as the question of what happens if clients outlive their financial resources. His self-described job is to target their retirement investments so that the latter does not occur, and to implement strategies that mitigate tax consequences when the time arrives for the next generation to inherit any financial rewards being passed down.

Success in this endeavor requires a combination of patience with the stock market along with tactical investment planning that can be quickly implemented.

He knows his clients are living longer, more active lives. Based on that, he encourages clients to continue working until they are 80, 85, or even 90 years of age if they wish. He isn’t convinced that age 65 is the automatic, golden retirement age anymore.

“Retirement is not necessarily this set age as we have been taught or trained to believe,” Westhoelter explained. “I have clients who ask me why they have to retire if they have the ability to work at age 80 or 85. They ask, ‘Is there anything set in stone that says I have to quit doing what I love to do?’ I tell them, no. If you are doing the job you have a passion for and have the quality of life that you want to live – then by all means keep working.”

America is in the midst of a paradigm shift in the way we view retirement. Some of it was brought about by massive losses experienced during the Great Recession. There are older Americans who have no choice but to continue earning wages. Some are simply too healthy and vigorous to hang up their working years. For others, it is a combination of both.

Based on what clients indicates as their current status, Westhoelter designs individualized plans that include highly tactical, earnings-driven investments for those who are 10 to 15 years away from retirement, attempting to maximize whatever accumulation can occur. For those closer to retirement, he designs a much more conservative investment strategy, focused on wealth preservation.

Having been in the financial services industry since 1998, Westhoelter knows the market is cyclic, and knows that throwing a blanket investment policy over all his clients will only smother them.
“We don’t have a set philosophy that we adhere to necessarily, long term. We look at the trends and watch where they are going,” he noted.

Another trend he’s watching is the implementation of social media within his industry.

Westhoelter and his firm has hooked up all of today’s basic social media tools –  Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. He and his associates use meeting software on a regular basis to spare clients a trip to the firm’s physical office. Clients owning iPhones have access to a specially-designed app providing 24/7 access to their accounts and portfolios, giving clients a choice between a graph or tubular format with a thermometer indicating how close current market performance comes to fulfilling retirement goals.

For clients onboard with the idea of complete, unfiltered transparency between their spending habits and Westhoelter and his staff, there is software potentially linking credit card and checkbook statements directly to the accounts managed by the firm.

“Using this technology, we can link into all of their spending habits, so everything is updated on a monthly basis, making it extremely easy to track how their spending habits are impacting their short and long-term savings goals,” he explained.

This certainly requires a high level of trust between client and advisor. But for Westhoelter, that type of relationship is the one he wants with his clients.

“We are connecting with our clients through Facebook, and staying up on their activities both in their personal social lives and their professional lives,” he said. “We bring in the entire family – children, grandchildren and sometimes even great-grandchildren – for meetings, so that everyone is aware of what is going on.”

He noted, “Gone are the days when only the oldest patriarch dictated all of the financial decisions for a family. That trend is quickly changing – not only in the direction of multiple decision-makers but to also embrace a multi-generational approach.”

“We are no longer assuming there is only one decision-maker in the household. There could be two or three decision-makers who have to come to agreement – specifically when the primary bread winner deceases,” Westhoelter emphasized. “It is time for us to get our heads out of the sand, meet with professional financial advisors, and get our futures on track.”

Learn more about Gateway Financial Advisors online at www.gfainvestments.com

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