Ric Edelman: Retirement Won’t Exist In The 21st Century

By Christopher Robbin

Longevity and technology are redefining the way people think about education, work and retirement, and the wealth management profession must keep pace, according to Ric Edelman, chairman and co-founder of Edelman Financial Services.

In his opening keynote at the Digital Asset Strategies Summit in Dallas, Edelman said that advances in health care and technology are profoundly altering the human lifecycle, rendering many of the goals and messages used by financial advisors obsolete.

With global life expectancy increasing, it’s not only less likely that a person will be able to retire at 65 with sufficient assets to fund 40 to 60 years of retirement, it’s infeasible to expect Social Security and pension systems to support such long retirements, said Edelman.

Technology will also present challenges for lifecycle planning, said Edelman.

“Robotics and AI, according to many studies, are going to wipe out half of the jobs in America in 15 years,” he said. “That’s a combination to think of: You’re going to want to keep working, you’re going to need to keep working and to be a part of the economy, but robots and AI are going to wipe out your jobs. How are we going to reconcile that? It’s all about career planning for your clients.”

Advisors need to identify now whether their clients careers are at risk due to technological innovation, said Edelman. While physical labor and low-paying jobs will be the first to be automated, robotics and AI also threaten writers, lawyers and doctors, said Edelman.

College planning will also decline in relevance, said Edelman, as fewer people will want to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for an education that will be obsolete or need to be updated within a few years. That’s one argument for making a college education free. It will be more important for advisors to help their clients’ families with career planning and retraining than saving for a child’s formal four-year education.

More workers will take mid-career sabbaticals or brief, early retirements between careers, said Edelman, rather than wait until they’re too old to enjoy leisure time.

Advisors will also have to recognize the need for more planning around digital assets, as clients will leave behind not just social media accounts like Facebook profiles and Twitter feeds, but passwords and keycodes to access banking, investment and insurance accounts, he said.

Technology will also continue to change how client assets should be invested, said Edelman, as many popular industries and sectors will be severely disrupted by the rise of AI and other advancements.

“Can the stocks you’re putting your clients into survive the 21st century?” he asked. “In 1920, the average S&P 500 company lasted 65 years. Today they average 15 years. By 2025, it’s feasible that 40 percent of the S&P 500 will no longer exist. Good luck with your S&P 500 index fund.”

Automobiles replaced the horse and buggy, said Edelman, while Kodak was doomed by digital photography and applications like Instagram. Amazon is taking out brick-and-mortar retailers. The insurance industry will be threatened by self-driving cars.

At the same time, a new digital economy will replace the traditional economy, and global growth will accelerate, said Edelman.

Edelman, who recently announced an investment into San Francisco-based Bitwise, also made the case for cryptocurrency investing, while admitting that the technology is still in its early stages.

“I’ve been investing in cryptocurrencies since 2014 and I’m a big believer in it, but we are not yet recommending that our clients buy crypto,” he said. “Our clients are mass affluent; they are not high-net-worth or ultra-high-net-worth [clients]. They therefore need to be more conservative in investing and this is the Wild West.”

“The advice we’re giving clients is to get educated. Keep cryptocurrencies to 1 percent of assets, and if you’re going to do it, make sure you plan to hold for years and that you’re ready to lose 100 percent of your money. There are a lot of bad players and there are no sheriffs in town, but we think all of that is going to change. … We think it will grow up, mature and become ready for primetime.”