Dare to Be 100: A New Generation of Finance

02/11/2015 11:34 am ET | Updated Apr 11, 2015

Yesterday I gave a talk to 100 people at a local hotel. It was sponsored by a respected investment house to gird their customers with a secure retirement plan. I would estimate that the average age of the attendees was 55. It was gender equal. My topic was "Healthwealth."

I know zero about money -- in fact I hate it. I inherited this disdain from my physician father who barely tolerated anything financial. As a consequence he left Mother and me with a far smaller inheritance than was OK. Doctors are known to be financial suckers. But no matter. What I inherited from Dad was many treasuries full of life lessons.

I gave the first lecture to the students at the exalted Stanford Graduate School of Business summer executive program for several years. The attendees were are all upper management types who flew in from Hong Kong, Zurich, Wall Street, etc., with the avowed purpose of getting richer.

They were of course puzzled by why this yo-bo doctor was giving their first lecture. I started,
"What is the most important asset in your life?" Next, "Who owns that asset?"

These questions quickly focused their attention on what this misplaced geriatrician had to offer. I insisted that money is not the prime goal in life, but rather a rich life, which may, but often doesn't, coincide with your bank balance. My further point held that life planning requires a longer time frame than is usually the case.

All of this made me reflect on our first experience with a cash wizard, probably about 50 years ago when we were newlyweds and childless. I recall the encounter was stiff and stereotyped. Standard questions until, "To what age do you expect to live?" Unhesitatingly I answered "Until 100." That broke the protocol. "Let's get serous. No kidding, how long do you expect to live?"
"100" echoed. "But our tables don't go that far, 85 max."

But that was 50 years ago. Now my answers are the same, but the retirement planners have matured, as their tables reflect the new reality of one hundred years. The Prudential features highway billboards that herald this new projection. I confess to a little pride in having shaped this recognition.

It didn't happen all at once. I have given hundreds of talks to myriad groups about the successful completion of 100 healthy years. My audience grins to take in this optimistic forecast. But then I see a shade come over their faces, "But what if I can't afford to live until 100." True, none of us would welcome running out of reserves, a fact that ushers in the reality of a longer work life.

I am an enthusiastic supporter of all strategies that encourage longer employment at the work bench.

Work, after all, is how most of us identify that we are still contributing, still necessary. We need to be energy generators, not energy suckers.

As for the other limb of my late/life financial strategy, that of dying broke, well that requires a different divestment program.

Do you know of any financial planner who specializes in losing money?