Since Jania Stout was named the 2016 PLANSPONSOR Retirement Plan Adviser of the Year, her practice, Fiduciary Plan Advisors at Hightower, has succeeded in adding nearly $1 billion in assets every year. This has necessitated adding one new team member each year, bringing the firm’s total staff to 13 and its assets to $5 billion, says Stout, co-founder and a practice leader at Fiduciary Plan Advisors.
The practice has been able to achieve this remarkable growth by moving up market, to plans with $100 million or more in assets, whereas five to six years ago, the practice’s average client size was $30 million, she notes.
Stout, of Phoenix, Maryland, says that since winning the award, she has also made it a point to hire younger workers, as well as women. To that end, after the University of Maryland’s women’s lacrosse team won the 2019 national championship, Stout recruited a few of the team members who were graduating seniors.
What has not changed for Stout is her focus on financial wellness and the total well-being of the participants she serves. In fact, Stout says she began offering financial wellness programs to her clients as early as 15 years ago. She says she believes that she has created a financial wellness program that could be called “version 3.0,” whereas other retirement plan advisers are really only starting and are at version 1.0.
“I can say that we are at v. 3.0 because we have come out with new ways to engage with participants,” Stout says. “Two years ago we rolled out video content, which our clients and our participants love. We also use different types of technology to engage in our one-on-one meetings with participants, including our use of the WellCents application. This culls a great deal of information on a worker’s financial life and makes our one-on-one meetings far more productive. We also now have four team members whose sole function is to conduct those one-on-one meetings, and are now able to report on the positive success of these meetings to our sponsor clients.”
Stout believes the industry has changed considerably, even in the past four years, and that these changes can enable practices to not only serve participants more effectively, but to recruit more well-rounded individuals.
“Our adoption of auto-solutions—automatic enrollment, escalation and target-date funds [TDFs]—has pushed our industry into thinking outside of the box in terms of what we can deliver to positively impact an individual’s financial life. That has led to advisers offering health savings accounts [HSAs], student loan repayment and restructuring programs and help with emergency savings. It has meant going well beyond the 401(k) or 403(b) plan to help our clients and their employees with everything that impacts their financial life.”
Stout says these developments have made her “absolutely optimistic” about the future of the retirement planning industry. “There will never be a time when working Americans won’t need somebody to talk to, to trust and to provide fiduciary advice,” she says. “There are hundreds of robo advisers out there, but at the end of the day, people want to talk to a human.”
As the industry has taken a more holistic view of people’s financial lives, “more people realize we are a significant industry, and we have become attractive for other types of individuals to join our ranks, who might not have ever considered our industry, people like teachers or others in the service industry,” Stout says.
As to what the industry can do to improve retirement plans and outcomes for participants, Stout says that, first and foremost, leaders in the industry need to continue to prove to lawmakers in Washington the importance of Americans being able to save in 401(k) and 403(b) plans. “I don’t believe defined contribution [DC] plans will go away, but some folks on Capitol Hill want to change the way 401(k)s are run. As long as they are the primary source of savings for Americans, we cannot let that happen.”