Just when I
think I have a good handle on the world of retirement plan advisers, we conduct
our annual awards program, and I encounter a new group of amazing advisers. So
many of you are doing remarkable things; therefore, to applaud you and
recognize you in our annual awards program is truly an awesome part of my job.
picking the winners is difficult—in some of our crowded categories, especially
difficult, because a few advisers may have very similar strengths. But there
are some things that give one adviser an advantage, or, contrarily, make some
advisers fall behind others in the pack. Because this is the time of year that
I get asked to elaborate on our decisions, I thought I’d share some of the
judges’ reasoning, as we wrap up this year’s program.
is constantly changing, to find the best way to effect change for plan sponsors
and participants. To that end, the best advisers continue to grow, find new
methods and approaches, and embrace new trends. All of this helps ensure that
they will retain their clients and achieve desired participant outcomes.
Advisers who fail to adapt and change—or don’t plan to change—will not win the
point we focus on: Plan advisers who say they consider outcome-based metrics as
a measure of success for their plan—many cite goals of the “90-10-90” guideline—but
who stop right there. They have implemented no strategic plans with clients to
help them succeed and have few or no clients that have met the benchmark.
to say that the advisers who win have a client base entirely successful here.
Our judges—editorial team members and last year’s advisers of the year—are
mindful that many excellent advisers are hired by plan sponsors whose plans
need appreciable work to make them a true retirement benefit. Many winners have
plans that fall far below those success metrics. But these advisers are
persistent in helping convince their plan sponsors of the importance of an
outcome-based measure. They establish timelines to give their client a sense of
how long it will take to meet those metrics, and have a number of clients who
have already achieved them.
we look at is how advisers approach their role. We’ve often talked about the
evolution of the traditional investment adviser into a true retirement plan
adviser. As everyone in the industry knows—or should know—there is no
investment allocation that can get a participant retirement ready if he fails
to save or contribute enough. Advisers who still focus mainly on the retirement
plan investment lineup are unlikely to see plan outcomes improve dramatically
if they neglect taking time to get involved with plan design or playing an
active role in education. Let me be frank. This doesn’t mean our judges expect
all advisers to actually deliver education—but those who win the award are
either involved in developing an education plan or coordinating the
communication between education providers and plan sponsors, at a minimum.
many of our interviews or written information from advisers contain some
version of “it depends.” Now, to some people, that might sound like a negative,
as if the advisers don’t have solid service models. On the contrary, I’d
venture that answer indicates the value a great adviser places on customization
of a deliverable for a client—considering the plan size, the participant demographics,
location and industry, among other variables. Not all clients need—or want—all
services or plan design options. An adviser with a cookie-cutter delivery model
reflects more the needs of the adviser and less those of the client.
I hope that
helps answer your questions about why some of this year’s finalists remained
finalists while others were named winners. I know I will see many familiar
names in this process next year, and, given the significant work you are
accomplishing, I heartily encourage you to remain faithful to taking part in
the awards program—and I look forward to meeting that class of new advisers
next year. Wishing you all success.