Mentorship

Sentinel Pension Advisors (Ryan Campagna pictured)

Wakefield, Massachusetts

Sentinel Pension Advisors (Ryan Campagna pictured)Sentinel Pension Advisors (Ryan Campagna pictured)

Business at a Glance as of 12/31/21

  • How many plan assets do you have under advisement? $9 billion
  • What is your median plan size (in assets)? $7.5 million
  • How many plans do you have under administration? 662 plans
  • How many participants in total do you serve? Approximately 60,000

PLANADVISER: How is your team/process/structure unique? How has it evolved? Where will you be in five years?

Campagna: Sentinel Pension Advisors is a CEFEX-certified, federally registered investment advisory firm. Our team structure is unique in that we not only understand the ins and outs of fiduciary responsibility, investment processes, recordkeeping, administration, legalities, and employee education and support, but also deliver on every single one of these on a daily basis, allowing us to speak to plan design holistically.

We are a retirement-focused advisory firm, but under the Sentinel Benefits & Financial Group umbrella, we are also a single firm who can solve complex benefit challenges with streamlined solutions for our clients. Simply put, we know all benefits—both wealth (retirement) and health (insurance and reimbursement)—which allows us to take a holistic, consultative approach to plan designs and employee benefits as a whole.

Our team is comprised of experienced experts working collaboratively together to deliver a top-notch service—for both plan sponsors and participants:

  • Our advisors are retirement plan specialists with professional certifications including CFP, AIF, QKA, QPA, and CPFA. Not merely the investment-focused professionals from a decade ago, these retirement plan-focused fiduciaries work closely with plan sponsors to implement fiduciary best practices and ensure prudent plan management, with an end goal of increasing plan effectiveness and positive retirement outcomes for participants.
  • Our ERISA consulting team, including ERISA attorneys, reviews plan documents and filings to determine if all is in order. If it is, we provide Sentinel’s “seal of approval,” which signifies good standing should an audit take place in the future. While we do feel that our “seal of approval” is incredibly valuable to our clients, our ERISA Consulting Team is proactively identifying plan design opportunities to further enhance the goals of the plan. Additionally, they are readily available to answer complex compliance questions as they arise.
  • Our investment management team includes CFAs who oversee all of the recommendations our advisors make to clients. We believe that every client has unique circumstances—demographics, plans statistics and participant access to educational resources—that must be considered when making investment recommendations. Our philosophy is very consultative; we don’t believe in a “one size fits all” approach and ultimately want to create an investment lineup that includes high-quality, stand-alone investment options, as well as portfolio solutions for those participants who desire professional management.
  • Sentinel’s financial planners (either Certified Financial Planners or CFP candidates) go above and beyond the expected enrollment meetings and occasional investment education; they provide participants with the confidence to make the right decisions—both now and in the future. Our Health + Wealth model offers education on everything from overall financial wellness, group benefits enrollment advice, pre-tax and/or post-tax deferral decisions, HSAs as a long-term savings vehicle, and available investment options (target date funds, the pick-your-own model, managed accounts, etc.).
  • And finally, our sales development representatives are young professionals looking to grow a sales career in our industry by learning our business in its entirety. Sentinel’s SDR role is unique in that we’ve incorporated a rotation component to fully immerse our SDRs into each business unit—including retirement advisory services—where they gain first-hand experience alongside our tenured team. Additionally, they receive sponsorship for the Series 65 and Life, Accident & Health Licenses.

Sentinel Pension Advisors has naturally evolved into a participant-focused fiduciary, and our ultimate goal is to set individuals up for success. This dynamic participant-focused shift has come to define what we do and who we serve, and this mission will only continue to develop as we continue to grow. 

Looking out over the next five years, we believe that the evolution will continue to trend toward directly serving individuals. Sentinel is focusing much of our efforts on ensuring that we are the experts people can trust to educate and advocate for them on all aspects of their financial journey. This will not be limited to traditional in-plan support but will be a 360-degree relationship where we navigate not just towards retirement but living in longevity. With people living and working longer, we hope to be a resource for people—to help them understand the decisions they are making, supported by simplified, cutting-edge technology that will be a requirement of the future-advisor. 

 

PLANADVISER: As a retirement plan adviser, what do you take the most pride in?

Campagna: As part of Sentinel Benefits & Financial Group, we are united by a simple but powerful mantra: “We care about how we can help. Not the size of your company or savings account.” Our vision has been and will continue to be to help all individuals, and especially those who may not hold the highest wealth but are just as deserving of expert guidance and quality outcomes. We proudly focus on serving the 99%. White glove financial services have always been reserved for the 1%, and this has left the majority of Americans underserved.

As a retirement plan adviser, we are honored to be able to make a difference in the lives of the plan sponsors and participants whom we serve. We’ve made it our mission to alleviate stress and add value by breaking down retirement plan complexities into a simple and yet comprehensive action plan that leads to meaningful change for their employees. Our objective is to make it easy and comfortable to ask us anything. We want to start conversations about issues that matter to our clients, their employees and their families.  

We believe that both plan sponsors and participants deserve to partner with an organization who is fully committed to the true fiduciary standard—putting the needs of others ahead of all else. This is what we do. We take the time to understand their businesses, challenges and employee demographics so that we can tailor our advice to each plan we serve. We address the needs of the employees, while meeting the plan sponsor’s pre-defined objectives (e.g., increase participation rates and deferral levels). There are of course some common themes that hold true across industries/geographies, but we find that no two clients are exactly alike; fiduciary governance and best practices are universal, but we treat our clients and their participants like the unique organizations and individuals they are. 

Neither financial wellness nor financial planning services are new to Sentinel. What is new is our ability to bring financial planning to the workplace through our proprietary service fly+ as an employer-sponsored employee benefit.

Today, employees are looking to their employers for so much more than traditional benefits. Most people find a comprehensive financial plan to be a useful and compelling service—particularly when they experience life events (like getting married, having a child, buying a home, or transitioning into retirement) that trigger financial planning changes and require readjusting priorities.

Now, employees can engage with our Financial Planners in two ways: 1:1 consultations are made available for our current retirement advisory clients; but fly+ is for any and every one. The fly+ program is meant to help employees set clear goals, stay on track with ongoing support, and keep peace of mind by raising awareness, encouraging action and providing access:

  • Awareness: All employees receive a personal financial plan mailed to their house that covers retirement, Insurance, budget, emergency, savings and debt.
  • Action: Employees are encouraged to download our new fly+ app to aggregate accounts (retirement, bank, insurance, loans, etc) and take money challenges.
  • Access: Employees are able (and encouraged) to schedule time with their dedicated planner to review their personal Flight Plan

 

PLANADVISER: What challenges do you think the retirement plan industry faces and what role do you have in addressing and confronting those challenges?

Campagna: In recent years the retirement plan industry has faced new challenges, and as a “sentinel” to plan participants we believe we play a vital role in navigating through these changes. In a time where it is increasingly important for plan sponsors and investment advisor professionals to create retirement strategies that ensure the most engagement and long-term savings success for plan participants, there are three particular points of emphasis that we feel must be addressed:

  • Over the past decade years, litigation in retirement plans has been on the rise and fear has infiltrated retirement plan decision-making. This is a slippery slope as panic can easily get in the way of retirement preparation, which is our most important fiducial duty. At Sentinel, we believe in developing a strong policy and practice for each retirement plan we serve that is grounded in the key tenants of fiduciary responsibility. We want to take the burden and fear away from our clients so that there is a clear focus on the full outlook of the plan.
  • Financial Wellness. In the twenty or so years we have been providing investment advisory and fiduciary services, the narrative has always been about “retirement readiness” for plan participants. But, there has been a blind spot in our industry for many years. We, as an industry, seemed to have missed the fact that many people are so focused on solving their immediate financial needs and stresses that they might not have the energy or resolve to look 20-50 years down the road—and understand how to get there. For this reason, we have decided to largely focus on the values associated with the retirement goals of the individuals we serve, as well as financial confidence for participants today. We have integrated financial literacy (fly!) and education into the curriculum for our educators and financial planners, who meet with plan participants each and every day. We believe there is no distinct separation between the financial issues people face now, their ability to solve them, and how well they can prepare for retirement.
  • Unfortunately, the most recent challenge we are faced with is the onslaught of cyber-crime and personal identity theft. In the large increase in cyber-crime against plan participants and their retirement savings, we have quickly become aware of the important role the plan sponsor must play in being a protector of the participant’s accounts. We created Sentinel Safeguards, a multi-pronged approach to education and protection. Our cybersecurity microsite includes tools, topical lessons, and the best practices to keep plan sponsors and participants safe. Additionally, we have created a webinar series that will continue to connect Sentinel’s risk and information leaders to our plan sponsor clients in hopes of furthering the conversation. And lastly, during fiduciary meetings, we are ensuring that the plan sponsors are taking the strongest security procedures into account.

PLANADVISER: Please tell us about an important experience you have had as either a mentor or mentee.  

Campagna: I’ve been fortunate to have worked for Sentinel Benefits & Financial Group my entire professional career, with the exception of six long months after I graduated from Bentley in 2002. The attacks on 9/11 made my job search challenging so as a result I took a job as an adviser at a small TPA/RIA in Western Massachusetts where I grew up. This was my first exposure to financial services industry and I absolutely hated it. The work environment was toxic and cutthroat. I was surrounded by sales reps who would do anything to land a deal. Variable Annuities, “B” share mutual funds, and permanent life insurance seemed to be the recommendation to any client situation. Coincidentally, these products also happened to carry commissions considerably higher than other products that may have been more suitable.

It was a depressing environment with no role models to emulate and certainly no mentors of any kind. I was so unhappy that I quit after a short period with no new job prospects at all. The news wasn’t all bad; I learned a little about the business, passed my Series 7 & 65 and could sleep well at night knowing that I wasn’t going to be berated for not having any sales that week. 

A month later, I interview with Jim and John Carnevale at Sentinel Benefits Group in the Boston area. I accepted a job where I would be conducting enrollment meetings for retirement and FSA plans with the strict understanding that I was not interested in being an adviser and wanted nothing to do with sales at all. They needed an enrollment rep, so we all agreed.

About three weeks after meeting with John and Jim, I joined the sales team and never looked back. And that was 19 years ago! So, what was different?

Firstly, as retirement plan advisers, we provide guidance to clients in an extremely specialized field that requires a dedication to our craft and a commitment to provide expertise in the areas of DOL regulations, ERISA law, markets, process, investments, benchmarking, compliance, retirement readiness, etc. That can be a lot for anyone to digest. John and Jim took the time to encourage me to learn as much as I can, get my CFP, and become a subject matter expert.

Secondly—in addition to the specialization required—it can be extremely challenging to build a book of business as a younger, less experienced adviser. The failure rate of any new adviser is high and when you factor in our niche, it becomes even more challenging to “make it.” John and Jim encouraged me to focus on a positive attitude, productive behaviors and to hone my techniques to ultimately translate into a successful sales career.

Finally, John and Jim spent time to get to know me and emphasized how to make a difference in our clients’ lives. They showed me that culture is king and that you can make a career as an advisor while also doing what is best for clients. Any success that I have had as a mentor I owe to John and Jim for being great role models.  

We unexpectedly lost John several years at the age of 52. From him and others, I learned that our goals, purpose, and values define what Sentinel strives to be as an organization. Behaviors, however, are the embodiment of who we actually are, what we require from ourselves, and what we demand of others. I believe that “how we behave” is what defines us mentors. That is why I constantly challenge myself to be a positive role model and to pay it forward.

 

PLANADVISER: What advice can you give to your industry peers about developing successful experiences for both mentors and mentees? 

Campagna: For Mentors: Professionals with the desire to mentor need to understand that mentoring is very different from managing. It’s also different from coaching. The most critical element on the path to becoming a mentor is getting to know the mentee on a personal basis. You need to know what makes them tick. You need to devote time and effort to get to know your mentee and become an influential person that enhances their personal growth. Listen, understand their personal and professional aspirations, and provide advice on a path forward. Genuine compassion cannot be faked.

Certain techniques can help make it easier. Shadowing is a great tool that I use all of the time. I can’t remember the last time I had a call or meeting without someone tagging along to observe. Clients and prospects love to hear how we are developing younger talent and often the call ends with the client asking the mentee how things are going and if they’re enjoying the experience. It can be very rewarding.

Now more than ever, you need to be intentional about getting to know the team and being available as a mentor. A hybrid work environment has reduced (or even eliminated) the casual water cooler talk or the “windshield” time that you would normally have to chat with people driving to and from a meeting. All mentors need to deliberately seek out the younger folks and make time for them. 

For Mentees: We strive to make things easy at Sentinel. I encourage younger professional to focus on three things: attitude, behavior, and technique.

  • Attitude: Be positive. Always stand behind your core beliefs and principles.
  • Behaviors: Define and adhere to activities that are quantifiable and measurable.
  • Techniques: Learn and master the specific skills used to grow your business.

Mentees need to be curious and willing to put themselves out there. Young professionals have a lot to learn, and curiosity is how to start developing the expertise needed to succeed. It won’t happen overnight. I encourage younger employees to pick one thing and become a subject matter expert. Be a go-to resource for others in your firm for that subject. Become sought after. This will not only build confidence, but it will create a foundation of learning that will benefit young professionals throughout their career.

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