Perfect Practice

Social Security is a hot topic for concerned, aging boomers

Deborah Nason, special to

Door-busting demand by aging baby boomers is leading financial advisors to build businesses focused solely on that demographic.

Some are forming practices to focus exclusively on Social Security consulting, while others are providing specialized education and resources to their peers.

Adolfo Rodriguez, managing partner of the A/R Financial Group, has been focusing more and more on Social Security maximization over the past six years, conducting seminars for the public and for other advisors, as a service to their own clients. He also works directly with individuals.

Jim McGuire | Getty Images

Rodriguez's Social Security-related activities now comprise 30 percent of his practice—and that percentage is growing.

His public seminars are always full, he said, averaging about 400 attendees per year. About 35 percent of those attendees become paying clients for Social Security consultations, and some convert to full-fledged clients of his regular financial advising firm.

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But Rodriguez said he is not trying to poach clients.

"I am not here to take clients away from their advisors," he said. "I just want to be part of their financial team."

He would like to see professional Social Security advisors become a regular part of the landscape, just like tax professionals.

'Age old' Social Security fraud
'Age old' Social Security fraud

For his part, certified financial planner Ash Ahluwalia said that Social Security consulting "is basically all I do now."

As an advisor with a traditional wealth management firm, Ahluwalia witnessed a burgeoning need, which led him to co-found National Social Security Partners, a national network of advisors that provide outsourced Social Security income-maximization planning to clients of CPAs, law firms and banks.

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"About a year ago, we noticed clients were asking more and more detailed questions about Social Security—there's been a growing media focus—and we realized that the answers weren't readily available in the marketplace," he said.

Through self-study and certification classes, Ahluwalia worked to become an expert on the subject. He then obtained special software and started crafting Social Security plans for clients.

"Demand exploded," he said. "We started getting referrals from clients who had never referred to us before: their co-workers, relatives, friends. It was off the charts."

Specialized education and support

Other advisors are stepping up to educate and support these new team members.

Marc Kiner, CPA, is co-creator of the National Social Security Advisors certification program, which provides financial professionals a foundational educational program in major Social Security topics, such as claiming strategies, coordination of spousal benefits and benefit calculations.

Registrants who complete the initial course and pass an exam receive the NSSA mark. NSSA also provides continuing education and serves as an information resource for its graduates.

"About five years ago, I started getting more and more questions from clients and decided to make it a focus area in my practice," Kiner said. "Before I got deeper involved in it, I didn't know we had so many choices with Social Security strategies."

Social Security planning resource for advisors

In 2012 he teamed up with Jim Blair, a 35-year veteran of the Social Security Administration, to create the NSSA designation. "Our passion is educating," Kiner said.

About 900 students nationwide have gone through the course since its inception in January 2013, with some 550 attaining the NSSA designation. Students include financial advisors, CPAs, enrolled agents and tax professionals.

A new entrant into the advisor Social Security education sphere is the Corporation for Social Security Claiming Strategies, which provides in-depth training and offers an optional Certified in Social Security Claiming Strategies designation (CSSCS).

Avoid canned strategies

"As an industry, we completely missed the boat because Social Security is the main asset for 99 percent of Americans," said William Meyer, CEO of Social Security Solutions and co-creator of the widely used Social Security Analyzer software.

The software, an engine based on Social Security claiming rules, is licensed to financial advisors. Meyer's company also provides quarterly training to its licensees, which covers basics, advanced claiming strategies and practice development.

Meyer and his business partner, William Reichenstein, are known for their extensive research and writings on Social Security claiming strategies.

"We need to raise the bar on the quality of the education and the core standards of competency to give Social Security advice," said Meyer, who has two main pieces of advice to financial advisors.

"Be aware that you can't give good advice on a handful of canned strategies," he said. "[And] be sure to use a detailed enough tool and pay special attention to coordinating claiming strategies with withdrawal strategies."

There's a huge pent-up need for these services, said Ahluwalia at National Social Security Partners.

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"It's a growing subset of retirement planning, because there's a void in the marketplace," he said. "With millions of people going on Social Security, you'd think they would have had information resources before.

"Financial advisors were not asking the in-depth questions, because even we didn't know there was so much complexity."

—By Deborah Nason, special to