Kevin Whitehead, with members of the St. Louis Wells Fargo Advisors team

Over the past few years, as investors experienced the wild ride of their portfolio (and their emotions), many questioned the security of their future, particularly their retirement. But amid the doubt, there were positive outlooks from Wells Fargo Advisors clients surveyed last summer by market research company Harris Interactive. “Ninety-three percent of clients who enroll in our Envision planning process are confident they will retire on their own terms,” says Kevin Whitehead, St. Louis market manager for Wells Fargo Advisors.

The Envision tool is designed to make financial planning as tangible a process as possible, Whitehead explains. “Our financial advisors take a very methodical approach to understanding their clients’ needs and developing a plan that is specific to their particular situation and goals. And the first step is always listening, and helping clients define and prioritize their major life goals.”

Establishing retirement goals can be a complex process, especially for couples who may not realize they have different priorities. The Envision process utilizes a deck of specially created playing cards to help. “It may sound a tad corny,” Whitehead says. “But what we have seen is that the cards allow couples to understand what adjustments should be made, so each person is comfortable with the plan.” The cards cover a number of considerations, including retirement age and income, risk tolerance, estate and legacy, and increasing costs of medical care. “Couples are often surprised at what they discover. It can lead to some pretty interesting discussions!”

After goals are defined, a Wells Fargo advisor will analyze a client’s retirement goals and make personalized recommendations. “The final part of the process is implementation and monitoring. If there’s a gyration in the market, people sometimes get discouraged,” Whitehead explains. “That’s why monitoring is so critical, and I think that’s where our advisors at Wells Fargo really excel: Not only do they come up with a great plan, but they truly help their clients monitor their progress and help them achieve their goals.”

Although many people begin to think about retirement when they become empty nesters, Whitehead says the process should begin much earlier. “People should start thinking about retirement right after they graduate from college—you should be working through a plan from day one, so it becomes part of your DNA,” he says. “It’s easy to fall into the trap of saving for a house, or kids’ college tuition, and suddenly you’re a few years from retirement and that’s when you seek out advice.” A comprehensive retirement plan, can accommodate other goals, he adds, like buying a car, paying for a wedding, or supporting elderly parents.

The most important step, Whitehead emphasizes, is to have a retirement plan in place, period. “Two-thirds of Americans do not have a written plan for their retirement and that’s a disaster,” he cautions. “Just having it written down gives you confidence.” The Harris survey of Envision clients supports this: 98 percent know where they stand in reaching their financial goals, and 95 percent feel they are able to live the life they’ve planned.