Financial planning for couples generally starts with the assumption that the two parties will share common goals, that they want to do things together and know how to agree on what they will do next.
In simple terms, they want a shared life and can agree what that means.
But that is not always going to be the case, especially around the challenges of retirement.
Perhaps the single, greatest piece of wisdom that you will acquire from working around financial advice is that everyone is so very different.
To really help each individual, experienced advisers know that above all, you need to understand that person in great detail.
How much truer is this when advising a couple?
The complexity is not only increased by the addition of one more person, with their own differentiated personality, but taken to another level by the countless permutations within the structure of every relationship.
Advisers with experience pick up on tensions and disunity between clients but need to guard against assuming ‘married’ means ‘very happily married’ or ‘married and with a shared agenda’.
What is going on?
It is perhaps too easy to imagine that everyone over 60 is living in the world of the classic TV sitcom – facing life’s ups and downs together, enjoying a few jokes at each other’s expense, but basically rubbing along in a ‘conventional’ or ‘traditional’ way.
Couples are not discussing their finances. In fact, nearly a quarter (24 per cent) of couples have never discussed their retirement income.
In these circumstances, advisers have a job on their hands to draw out a complete and accurately prioritised set of goals around which, to build a coherent plan.
So, what can we do to support clients in making their life plans in a way that will make sense to everyone and capture both their individual and shared visions?
One pot, two perspectives
It is fundamental to understand that men and women can view retirement very differently, depending on their own sense of priorities.
For some, retirement is a time for counteracting existential angst and indecision, when the pressure to ‘do what you have always wanted’ faces off against the looming prospect of incapacity, bereavement and poor health, and the complexities of money.
This is what drives the ‘Go-Go phase’ behaviour when people want to spend, to travel, to explore and taste the finer things in life, after a lifetime at work.
Almost everyone will get on board for fun and games and with that excitement a common sense of purpose can be easier to find.
This is the retirement vision, sold to us by holiday companies.