A booming industry

As baby boomers start to retire, a plethora of financial products are providing for them in their retirement.

As baby boomers start to retire, a plethora of financial products are providing for them in their retirement.

When Kathleen Casey-Kirschling turned 60 last year, it was a monumental milestone for the financial services industry - even if it never made it onto the front page of The Wall Street Journal.

Singled out by The Philadelphia Inquirer, which trumpeted her birth a second past midnight January 1, 1946, Casey-Kirschling was officially the first baby boomer.

Rapidly approaching retirement, Casey-Kirschling was among the first wave of boomers to hit 60 last year, at a stunning rate the US Census Bureau estimates at 7,918 per day, almost 330 an hour. The Census Bureau estimates the total size of this generation born between 1946 and 1964 to be 78.2 million, with one in every nine boomers expected to live into their late 90s.

More telling for financial services institutions was research from Washington, DC, nonprofit the National Association for Variable Annuities, reporting that 63% of Americans ages 50 to 59 are concerned about having enough money for retirement.

So campaigns are under way at many major institutions, including Nationwide Financial, which rolled out its RetirAbility Check in October - an offshoot of its On Your Side slate of services.

RetirAbility Check doesn't overtly pitch retirement vehicles; instead, it seeks to establish a relationship, with Nationwide in the role of trusted adviser.

"Once individuals complete some simple questions, they [get] a virtual guide similar in age and gender," says Jennifer Monnin, senior communications consultant at Nationwide. "Our strategy is to educate boomers on their financial situations and on options to make the most of retirement."

Easing the transition

Nationwide's approach is akin to that of other institutions, helping "boomers as they step from saving for retirement to living in retirement," Monnin says.

The marketing strategies at financial institutions are driven by the fact that this wave of retirees is not as susceptible to traditional marketing as its descendants. After all, it was the first generation to be studied so intensely by marketers, stemming back as early as the seminal Newsweek article of August 9, 1948, "Population: Babies mean business."

For Nationwide, this means offering a free, customized financial-planning resource enabling users to generate a single number - their "R-Score," similar to a credit score - measuring their retirement readiness.

To gain the trust of suspicious boomers, Nationwide tapped peer-level comparison data from the National Retirement Risk Index, conducted by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College (but funded by a grant from Nationwide).

"Online tools, calculators, and Web sites are often deemed not newsworthy," Monnin says. "By linking to the National Retirement Risk Index by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, RetirAbility Check was branded as a credible source."

This points to a trend in this market: with financial institutions partnering with independent thought leaders to validate the advice they give, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs to their products.

Nationwide is far from alone in targeting this market. "It seems that every financial services company is heavily targeting boomers," says Monnin, "but the majority are focused on the high net worth. [We're] also reaching the underserved middle market."

Meanwhile, competitors, such as AXA Equitable, an arm of financial services monolith AXA Financial, are also launching initiatives.

Both Nationwide and AXA invested in Super Bowl advertising this year, with Nationwide producing the infamous Kevin Federline spot, which generated plenty of ill will with restaurant workers.

For its part, AXA kicked of a new national campaign to encourage America's baby boomers to cease ignoring the "800-pound gorilla" in the room when it comes to their retirement planning - targeting the anxieties of financial insecurity held by many graying boomers.

Rightly sensing that this audience is tone deaf to blunt product pitches, AXA Equitable designed the PR component of the campaign to position itself as a thought leader, encouraging reporters to think of AXA Equitable when they need knowledgeable experts on retirement and financial planning, says Lisa Tibbitts, assistant VP at AXA Equitable.

AXA is not alone in attempting to position itself as a thought leader, while bundling and repackaging its retirement services to make them more palatable. Lincoln Financial Group, The Hartford Financial Services Group, and Fidelity Investments are just some of the scores of institutions that have made substantial efforts aimed at tapping boomers (see below).

It's not only the major players. Philip Lukens, principal of small firm Lukens Financial Group in Colorado, says he doesn't just target boomers, he only targets boomers - using tactics he finds resonate the best with the group.

"I not only broadcast radio commercials, unlike most competitors, I also write handwritten letters to prospective clients," Lukens says. "Many people in this generation miss handwritten letters. The biggest reason why we target the baby boomers is because so many do not have a plan in place."

But with boomers holding $2.1 trillion in annual buying power, according to the MetLife Mature Market Institute, expect even more institutions to help them find the right plan.

Relic Hunters

How some financial institutions are targeting baby boomers:

The Hartford Financial Services Group

Unveiled Prepare to Live marketing campaign targeting boomers during last year's NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament; combined its 401(k), 457, and 403(b) businesses into a single team in 2006, creating the new Retirement Plans Group; launched The Hartford Target Retirement Funds; and introduced Lifetime Income Builder (new, optional variable annuity benefit).

Lincoln Financial Group

Launched the Lincoln Retirement Institute, conducting research, organizing the intellectual capital of the company, and working with external thinkers on retirement subjects that are relevant to the boomer generation.

Fidelity Investments

Since 2004, launched the Fidelity Retirement Index (provides retirement-readiness statistics based on a nationwide survey); broadened its Retirement Income Advantage program (streamlining financial planning for individuals in or near retirement); cofounded Boomers! Redefining Life After 50 (a 13-part television series); and launched Fidelity Retirement Advantage (planning and money management tools).

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