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Martin Bamford: Why a client’s age can be just a number

Around this time last year, I delivered a presentation to a group of clients on longevity. Drawing on one of my favourite tales of old age, I talked about the incredible Jeanne Calment, holder of the longest confirmed human lifespan on record.

At 122 years, 164 days old, Madame Calment had an exceptional life story, with a couple of relevant lessons for financial planning.

Firstly, she lived life to the full, debunking stereotypes of a traditional retirement. She lived independently until 110 years old, when she moved to a nursing home after starting a small fire in her house in a cooking accident.

Secondly, she struck a deal with her lawyer for a contingency contract to sell her apartment.

The deal meant that her lawyer, André-François Raffray, would pay her 2,500 francs a month for the rest of her life.

Raffray signed the contingent contract when Calment was 90 years old, not expecting his tenant to live for a further 32 years, but also outlive him by two. Her comment on the situation? “In life, one sometimes makes bad deals.”

In recent months, some doubt has been raised over the legitimacy of Calment. There have been allegations she may have died at a younger age, only for her identity to be assumed by her daughter, no doubt to continue claiming the monthly income from the poor lawyer. If proven, there is probably a financial planning lesson there too.

We recently shared a collective laugh at the case of 69-year-old Emile Ratelband in the Netherlands, who failed to convince a court to legally reduce his age. Ratelband wanted to be legally aged 49 instead, so he could avoid “discrimination”.

He made the not-particularly-strong case that you can legally change your name and gender, so why not your date of birth? Had he succeeded in his legal battle, he argued it would improve his prospects for raising a mortgage.

One of my team members has recently taken up motor racing. If I told you her age I would be in deep trouble but I can tell you that Lewis Hamilton is a fair bit younger.

Another colleague has now taken up running and proves that sport of any type is not the exclusive preserve of the young. She is in her early 60s and by no means the oldest member of her local running club which meets on a Sunday evening.

It is, of course, wholly positive that the law prevents us from discriminating against others on the basis of age. As businesses, we can no longer force employment on the basis of a birthday. But legislation cannot stop stereotypes linked to age, whether young or old.

Our health as we get older can also throw up roadblocks to doing everything we want to do, despite some outliers demonstrating physical prowess long past a traditional retirement age.

What has this got to do with financial planning? Well, we often ask a person how old they are and perhaps we are guilty of subconsciously categorising people. It is too easy to hear an age and immediately, albeit without intention, attach preconceptions to that number.

I am not suggesting that we make age a moving feast and permit legal changes to birth dates, in order to make our prospects in life easier. We should, however, make every effort to see the person and not the age.

Martin Bamford is managing director at Informed Choice

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  1. @Martin – That photo!!!! Have you been using a time machine again?

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