Since being named the 2019 PLANSPONSOR Large Team Retirement Plan Adviser of the Year, Chepenik Financial in Orlando, Florida, has experienced “significant changes,” says Jason Chepenik, managing partner.
“Our company, along with our RIA [registered investment adviser], of which I was a founding partner, was acquired last January by OneDigital, one of the country’s largest benefits firms. We continue to focus on retirement plans and wealth management, but under the auspices of OneDigital, we now connect the dots between health and wealth. We also were a family business and are now part of a large financial services firm.”
While many others have been stressed by adjustments to work setups necessitated by the pandemic, Chepenik says not having to travel for in-person meetings with clients and participants has freed up his time considerably and given him a work/life balance he could never have imagined.
“I now have more time to reach out to family and friends and have more meaningful conversations with our clients about what we are trying to accomplish for the many participants we serve,” Chepenik says. “So, in that respect, 2020 was one of the best years our practice has experienced, even though it came with hardships.”
Chepenik Financial also took on several new clients last year, leading the practice to add a sales member and a client service staff member.
Chepenik says that whereas other practices seek out clients with the greatest assets, he seeks out companies with the most participants, 500 to 1,000 or more employees, because it gives him an opportunity to improve the retirement outcomes for more people. “That is one of the things that continues to keep me excited about this business,” he says.
Chepenik also says his practice’s service model has changed. “We have evolved from simply educating participants to offering more one-on-one individual meetings where we provide true advice,” he says. “Another big change has been servicing clients in a virtual world. Our conversations with clients have also changed in a positive way to discussing managed accounts and customized solutions. We really want to find out from our sponsors what is important for them to offer in their plan, and, in some cases, help clients rethink the purpose of their plan. In this sense, the events of the past year have allowed us to broaden out the conversations we have with clients in more meaningful ways. In the past year, many of our clients that had resisted automatic enrollment or stretch matches embraced them. Many are becoming much more aggressive with their plan design to effect better outcomes. More of our clients are now willing to step up to the plate.”
Just before the pandemic hit, Chepenik Financial was preparing to provide a variety of student loan solutions to its clients, but with furloughs and layoffs occurring, the conversation quickly pivoted to emergency savings, he notes.
Chepenik says it is not surprising to him to see other practices be acquired by large financial services and employee benefits firms such as HUB International, Mercer and OneDigital.
“The bigger firms, like OneDigital, are going to continue to add services and make it more challenging to enter the space,” he says.
Chepenik says he is very optimistic about the future of the retirement plan industry.
“I continue to see lots of plans that aren’t working efficiently or with the purpose they are supposed to deliver,” he says. “Thus, there are great deal of opportunities for us to help these companies, plus we now have more tools with which to serve participants, including health and financial welfare programs.”
Chepenik says he is also discussing environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing with many of his clients.
As to how retirement plan advisers can improve defined contribution (DC) plans and participants’ retirement readiness, Chepenik says they need “to have the courage to try new ideas like automatic emergency savings accounts and to continue to push each other to innovate. We also need to continue to find better ways to manage the message: ‘Save as much as you can.’ Last year, we used four action phrases to get this point across: Save for your future. Spend time with family and friends. Invest in your total well-being, and donate to make the world a better place.”