Advisers Share Tips for Going It Alone

Independent retirement plan advisers must leverage third-party service providers to achieve scale and combat business challenges without a large internal support network.

“Some people want a big name attached to their adviser,” said Thom Shumosic, Founder of MidAtlantic Retirement Planning Specialists. “We’re different and we do things differently.”

Shumosic was a guest speaker with Joe Connell, President of Retirement Plan Partners Inc., at the 2014 PLANADVISER National Conference, held in Orland earlier this month. While their companies may not have the resources of a large support network, Shumosic and Connell explained how they maintain the ability to foster existing client relationships, cultivate new client engagements, oversee advisers, and improve retirement programs.

The speakers began the discussion by offering a direct piece of advice: hire interns. When working as a small firm, this simplistic tactic can go a long way from a financial and productivity standpoint. Of course, it’s important to identify and select candidates who will be able to contribute to daily operations, and advisory firm staff must be prepared to coach and develop the intern.

The speakers also encouraged small independent firms to leverage any support services made available by their larger partners. For example, an independent adviser could enroll in continuing education courses with an investment provider. Recordkeepers can be especially effective partners; they often have the capability of taking over a plan’s participant communications program or other key administrative tasks. This makes the adviser more efficient and effective, and helps ensure full value is extracted from the service provider relationships.

Small or single-adviser firms can also consider partnering with defined contribution investment only (DCIO) wholesalers. An adviser can leverage the DCIO wholesaler’s expertise on things like due diligence and practice management. PLANADVISER’s 2013 DCIO Survey showed industry research and business intelligence are also commonly offered by DCIO providers, along with training for DC plan sales and support in investment committee meetings. Shumosic and Connell suggested DCIO wholesalers can be used to service existing plan obligations or during the client prospecting and onboarding process.

The experts stressed the importance of balancing time spent prospecting new clients and time spent servicing current clients. Prospecting new clients should be performed with referrals from reliable sources and centers of influence—often ERISA attorneys or certified public accountants (CPAs). Leveraging CPA firms is beneficial for clients as well, bringing a more holistic financial planning experience.

A balance between prospecting new clients and serving current clients service can be achieved by adhering to a strict and formal schedule, Shumosic and Connell said. They also encouraged independent advisers to keep up with fiduciary training, which was a hot topic throughout PANC 2014. Many speakers stressed that fiduciary training is essential in the retirement planning industry to ensure advisers understand shifting liabilities and service expectations.

Shumosic and Connell suggested there are numerous advantages to being small and independent. Perhaps most important, you can easily offer a sense of exclusivity to clients eager for individualized attention.