Nearing retirement can be an exciting but daunting feeling, and for anyone retiring from a federal government job, the process is unique.
Luckily, there’s Chris Brown to guide future retirees through every step. Chris heads the retirement seminar line of business here at EconSys. He designs seminars that explain the process of retiring and all the aspects that go along with it to federal employees across the US and abroad, and shared his expertise in an episode of the Government Enabled podcast.
In 2008, Chris retired from a federal career in the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), where he worked in the retirement program as a retirement claims examiner.
However, after 34 years in the field, he didn’t want to let go of it all completely. Two months later he joined us at EconSys, where he eventually became our Deputy Director of Federal HR Software and Services, designing and directing retirement seminar programs.
Despite never fully retiring, you could say he’s an expert in the ins and outs of the federal retirement process.
The practical details: Financial planning for retirement
Chris knows that calculating the financial needs of retirement can be tricky. A large part of his seminars focuses on preparing attendees for the economic aspects.
“It’s amazing. There have been all sorts of surveys that the AARP and the Employee Benefit Research Institute have done indicating that most Americans do not have a clue how much retirement income they’re going to need,” Chris says.
Chris starts every seminar with a financial planning lesson to focus attention on the importance of understanding how much retirement income is actually needed. His golden rule? One-third of retirement income must come from retirement savings.
After bringing in several expert financial planners to teach lessons on the basics of financial planning, he realized that external individuals often had a personal agenda, hoping to gain a few clients in return. Chris didn’t think this was the best way to source advice that would actually help federal retirees. So, six years ago, he went back to school to become a certified financial planner. He wanted to teach the lessons himself.
“That allowed me to build my dream seminar. I start with some financial planning information, move into the federal benefits, then can return to other financial planning lessons before I move into TSP (Thrift Savings Plan) and issues like that,” he says.
After giving future retirees insight on financial planning, Chris runs them through all the programs they need to become familiar with, including:
Dealing with the psychological effects
But economic stability is not the only thing retirees have to deal with when leaving a federal government career behind. The emotional ramifications of retirement can be significant.
“One of the things that I preach when I do these seminars is that retiring is not just this financial planning thing. There’s a nonfinancial or more of a psychological part of it that has to do with how you keep yourself busy and feeling fulfilled as a person,” Chris warns.
Before retiring, your days are clearly mapped out — you have something to do and somewhere to be, and then after retirement, you don’t. That’s why it’s crucial for future retirees to prepare themselves with a plan for the next stage of their life.
“I tell people you also need to have a nonfinancial plan. What is it you’re going to do every day? What time will you get up? What’s the first thing you’re going to do? What’s the second thing you’re going to do? What is that plan?” Chris says.
Making retirement education enjoyable and interactive
Planning for retirement can be a dry topic and the details can feel overwhelming. In his years teaching these seminars, Chris has found a few ways to keep attendees engaged and interested.
“What I try to do when I’m doing these seminars is to bring an element of entertainment to the event as well. I try to use real-life examples,” Chris says. “I create characters that have memorable names that people will hang on to and I use anecdotes and stories.”
However, since the onset of the pandemic, on-site seminars had to be stopped. After a brief moment of consternation, Chris found that there was still a demand for his seminars, online.
“At first, I thought that might actually force me into retirement or it might be the end of this line of business for us, at least temporarily. But then very quickly, I think within a few days, several of our clients reached out to me by email, asking me, ‘Could you do this over the internet?’ I knew that was the only way we were going to be able to keep this line of business going,” he says.
Although the format has changed, Chris has embraced the future of online learning, adapting his format in order to continue to bring informative and engaging information on federal retirement to people across the country.
“I look forward to continuing to use the virtual format, and I would not be surprised if a lot of our clients don’t ever go back to an on-site format. From now on, I think we’re going to have a portion of our business always in that virtual environment,” he says.
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