How to Get Clients Back on Track After an Unexpected Retirement

When unexpected retirement befalls a client, the financial plan for their golden years is instantly upended. What they need is a skilled, compassionate financial advisor.

Meet a financial advisor who knows all about that scenario personally and precisely how to fix it professionally.

“I have great empathy for my clients who experience unexpected change,” Jill Williams, a private wealth advisor at Ameriprise Financial whose Mindful Wealth Management practice is in Montclair, New Jersey, tells ThinkAdvisor in an interview. “I’ve been there, and I’ve reinvented. I’ve thrived in the face of disappointment and fear.”

Williams was a singer and dancer in Broadway musicals for 15 years when she swapped showbiz for financial advising to end the nonstop, financially unstable employment cycle of shows opening and, inevitably, closing.

Today, the certified financial planner has 270 clients, for whom she manages assets of $260 million, and is the sole financial advisor on her team of five.

From the start, she guides clients to “be prepared for what comes their way” and helps them regroup should they get hit with an unexpected retirement.

In her experience, that event is “not uncommon.” For such clients, “suddenly a 401(k) becomes a ‘201(k),’” she says.

“Something happens out of their control, and they’re finished [saving and investing] way before the plan has them ready,” Williams notes.

An Ameriprise poll, conducted between Nov. 30 and Dec. 6, 2022, of more than 300 advisors from that firm and others found overspending to be the No. 1 mistake of unexpected retirees who had never considered the possibility of losing their income.

In the interview, Williams discusses this and their other top two mistakes.

She was on tour performing in “Oklahoma” — the former actress also appeared in “The Secret Garden” and “A Chorus Line,” among several other shows — when she took up investing as a hobby.

Seeing the “Oklahoma” tour drawing to a close, it wasn’t long before she left the stage for a job as a financial consultant at AXA Advisors at age 47.

After that, she had stints at MetLife and Barnum Financial Group. In 2018, she opened Mindful Wealth Management under the Ameriprise umbrella.

In our conversation, she discusses what unexpected retirees must do to get back on track and how to find an appropriate alternative income stream.

ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed Williams by phone. She was speaking from Montclair.

A certified divorce financial analyst, she typically works with more wives than husbands because, she says, “I have a heart for the non-CFO spouse.”

Here are highlights of our interview:

THINKADVISOR: A recent Ameriprise Financial Services survey of advisors found 12% of advisors indicated that their clients have retired unexpectedly. Have you had clients in that situation?

JILL WILLIAMS: Yes. It’s not uncommon. That number feels low. Someone has a plan in place and then suddenly, their 401(k) becomes a “201(k)” — the balance is cut in half.

So you have to start planning quickly about what you’re going to do.

There are people who have plans to retire when they’re 65, and then something happens out of their control, and they’re finished way before the plan has them ready.

The poll says that the three biggest mistakes of people who don’t factor in the possibility of losing their income are: overspending, not having an emergency fund and lacking an alternative stream of income. Your thoughts?

Most people have no idea what it costs them to live their life. Chances are if you’re carrying credit card balances, you’re overspending.

You should have an adequate cash cushion — an emergency fund in place: Three to 12 months of your fixed expenses should be in cash-equivalent checking, savings, CDs, money market funds.

For the first time in 15 years, cash is back. So at least have a short-term bucket that’s finally offering meaningful interest.

What’s your advice for unexpected retirees who don’t have an alternative stream of income?

They need to network with everybody they know. Have their resume always tuned and ready, and lean in for advice because to reinvent, you need to take every opportunity that you can.

Do you discuss backup career plans with your clients up front?

Yes. we have those discussions ongoing, and every year we do checkups. We’re making sure about “what if” [scenarios].

What specifically do you advise along these lines?

[Think about] what your interests are, what intrigues you, what haven’t you pursued because you’ve been so busy in the career that you’ve had.

How do you begin your process with new clients?

I tell them here’s where they are today — their baseline — and here’s where I see issues: You have debts. You have shortfalls. Here’s where you have risks.

But I also tell them that they’ll be able to address all these over time.

What are your main priorities as an advisor?

Taking inventory and getting each client into a planning engagement are paramount. The plan is what informs the advice.

If they currently don’t have an emergency fund, how are they going to get one? If they’re lacking an alternative stream of income and the unexpected occurs, how are they planning for that?

There are lots of products that generate income now and in the future.