The award program continues to grow every year and,
naturally, generates a lot of questions about the process from advisers. In an
interactive session, attendees at the 2012 PLANADVISER National Conference got
a rare glimpse inside the awards process.
“Nominations are a very small part of the story,” said
Alison Cooke Mintzer, editor-in-chief of PLANSPONSOR, PLANSPONSOR Europe and
PLANADVISER, who moderated the Q & A session at the conference. The
nominations are an invitation to play, Mintzer explained, and the forms, which
she admitted ask for a substantial amount of information, are a way for
advisers to talk about their practices and share what they bring to their
Mintzer was joined by Stace Hilbrant of 401k Advisors
Chicago in Wilmette, Illinois, the 2012 PLANSPONSOR Retirement Plan Adviser of
the Year, and Matthew McLaughlin of Graystone Consulting-Danvers of Morgan
Stanley Smith Barney in Danvers, Massachusetts, representing the winning
One common concern is whether the judges have access
to sensitive client information, Mintzer said. This closely guarded
information, specific references and even nominees’ names and work affiliations
are scrubbed from the questionnaires before the judges read them, she said.
“Each judge looks at four to six different adviser
scenarios, but we don’t have a clue who we are looking at,” said Steff C.
Chalk, chief executive, Fiduciary Consulting and Governance Group Inc. Chalk
has served as one of the judges every year since the award’s inception in 2005.
Plan sponsor names are removed and pure metrics such
as asset size, participant numbers and year-over-year participation rates are
examined. “It’s sort of like a blind wine tasting,” Hilbrant said. “Serious
professional vetting goes into the process.”
Added McLaughlin, with a wink at the audience, “It’s
not a personality contest … Because my colleagues wouldn’t have won if it were
a personality contest,” jokingly referring to his own company.
The award is given by PLANSPONSOR, not PLANADVISER,
Mintzer pointed out. The award is not to recognize the best adviser business
model, but to honor those advisers and teams who excel in helping people
achieve retirement security. “The biggest word we’ve talked about is
‘outcomes,’ ” Mintzer said. “The people who stand out are those who we think
have done a good job quantifying the value they’ve added.”
Using data and benchmarking results is one key to
showing a results-oriented practice, the winners of the 2012 awards program
said. McLaughlin noted that having a team analyst helped Graystone track
participation and deferral rates, which they were able to use to show client
results. Metrics is the next generation of adviser service models, Hilbrant
said, and can be used to track retirement preparedness. “Are you at 40% or 75%?
You can go back to a client year after year and show how prepared their
employees are,” he explained.