In Focus: Retirement coaching

4 min read 12 May 21

In the second part of our series looking at retirement coaching techniques, we spoke to advisers Mike Carpenter and Steve Rees from Manchester-based firm Carpenter Rees, about their direct experience of putting some retirement coaching theories into practice, to help clients prepare for the emotional side of life after work. 

Planning for the emotional impact of retirement on clients

One of the first things that Mike and Steve, both Directors of financial planning firm Carpenter Rees, say up front when asked about their approach to retirement coaching is that they don’t have a rigid process. And nor would they want to have one because of course every client is different. Instead, the idea really came about from recognising the insight and experience they had at their fingertips simply by advising clients through retirement over the years.

Mike explains: “We don't have any formal retirement coaching programme but we do know from experience what the first period of retirement is going to look like for most clients, in terms of the emotional support they will need.  Some of it is almost a subconscious thing where, having witnessed clients in this situation many times and knowing that the experience of the client sitting in front of us won’t be massively dissimilar, we’re able to share relevant anecdotes to explain how other people reacted to retirement.”

Time to get rid of the word ‘retirement’?

While Mike and Steve might not follow a set structure, it soon becomes clear that they have a lot of knowledge of some of the theories surrounding retirement coaching and its architects from across the pond. 

“Retirement is a much bigger thing in America and we’ve been interested in the work of Mitch Anthony  who has written a number of books on the subject. Mitch argues that the word retirement should be erased from our vocabulary and even suggests that people probably shouldn’t retire, at least not in the traditional sense” 

“We don’t like the term retirement much either and prefer to call it ‘financial freedom’ instead with our clients. One of Mitch’s ideas which you see being used in America and which we’ve adopted with some clients is the retirement diary,” says Steve.

Why the emotional side of retirement matters 

More on the retirement diary in just a moment. But for now let’s go back briefly to the point about the emotional support that is often required by clients approaching or just starting retirement because, as Mike goes on to explain, in terms of importance this is right up there alongside the financial aspect of retirement:

“The question of ‘will I have enough money/I'm worried I'm not going to have enough’ certainly aren’t small questions, so we would never belittle the financial side of things, but these are almost a given. The emotional part can be much more of an unknown because many people will just leap into retirement and not think about how they’ll feel or what’s next.”

Helping clients adjust and avoid the ‘absolute nightmare’ 

Steve jumps in at this point to say the first question he always deliberately asks is what a client is going to do when they’re not working and it’s those who struggle to give an answer that he knows are going to find it hard to adjust. Fortunately, this type of situation is fairly unusual but, even still, people can struggle to adapt. 

“It’s ultimately horses for courses but I’m also a great believer that retirement isn’t a natural thing for people to do. So while you’ll get some people who feel fulfilled sooner - usually those who have a clear purpose - there are many others who will find the first two years or so an absolute nightmare because once they’ve gone on holiday or played a few rounds of golf they’re left wondering, what next?”, says Steve.

This initial period of adjustment in retirement is the stage that Steve and Mike really focus in on and where they often bring in the diary exercise with certain clients, as Mike explains:

“You basically take a blank sheet of paper and divide it into four weeks and then into seven days with four time periods each day covering morning, afternoon etc. Then you simply ask the client to fill in every box. The interesting part is that quite a lot of people will fill in five or so boxes, perhaps for golf or other hobbies and then maybe a bit of TV in the evening. But this still leaves a lot of empty boxes and therefore opens up the conversation about what else they plan to do to fill this time and, importantly, how does this make them feel? “

“It is quite an eye opener for some people who tend to think all they want to do is get to this retirement point, which when you unpick it is quite an old-fashioned idea that somehow they’ll stop working and suddenly everything in their life is perfect.”

Light at the end of the tunnel

The good news is that, even if a client requires a bit of a helping hand to get through it, this is very much a passing phase and very often even the clients who respond badly to retirement initially come out the other side quite a different person. Mike recalls one particular client who used to become visibly stressed at the prospect of retirement during meetings but, a few years on, they have completely relaxed into it and are living their life after work to the full. That sounds like a perfect outcome all round and certainly not a bad result for a bit of light coaching along the way.