15th Anniversary of RPAY: Jeb Graham

One sign of the changing times since Jeb Graham was named Retirement Plan Adviser of the Year in 2013 is that plan sponsors are much more interested in the financial and physical well-being of their employees.

Jeb Graham

Jeb Graham, a principal and financial adviser with CAPTRUST in Tampa, Florida, says becoming the 2013 PLANSPONSOR Retirement Plan Adviser of the Year gave him “a lot of great exposure in the industry” and has helped his practice continue to grow in the years since winning.

In 2013, he had $1.5 billion in assets under advisement and, today, that figure is $2 billion. At that time, Graham was running an independent firm called “CapTrust Advisors,” which was in fact distinct from the national CAPTRUST advisory firm that is so well known in this space. In 2017, Graham’s CapTrust merged into the CAPTRUST advisory network

Along with the whole retirement plan adviser industry, Graham’s service model has changed quite a bit since 2013.

“Plan sponsors are more interested in the well-being of their employees than 10 years ago,” he says. “You have seen a shift in participant education to move to overall financial wellness, and CAPTRUST has a wellness and advice deliverable that is pretty unique in the industry.”

Because CAPTRUST enjoys a good reputation in the industry, Graham says, the firm’s service provider partners “are pretty excited to collaborate with us and see that as a bonus to them in terms of improving participant outcomes. Although some see our financial wellness services as infringing on their turf, most view us as good partners.”

Graham says one rewarding aspect of the CAPTRUST merger is that he is now colleagues with some of the best advisers he formerly competed with. He says it has been gratifying to work alongside Mark Davis, Steve Wilt and Dan Esch, and he expects more of his former top competitors to join CAPTRUST in the future. For context, the national advisory practice has been on an aggressive acquisition spree in recent years, with no sign of a slowdown.

Asked how the industry has changed in the years since he won the award, Graham says litigation has made plan sponsors more focused on risk management.

“Part of that focus is related to employees and what sponsors’ responsibilities are to help them plan for their financial futures,” Graham says. “That is why some of the focus on financial wellness is related to risk management, and we are seeing a higher level of risk now than we saw 10 years ago.”

Graham adds that he is very optimistic about the future of the industry, particularly in his role as a CAPTRUST shareholder, adding that the need for advice has never been greater.

“With fiduciary committees facing serious litigation risk, we play an important role,” he says.

Under the leadership of Fielding Miller, co-founder and chief executive officer, Graham says, CAPTRUST is “unapologetically a growth firm.”

“There are many opportunities for us to grow, both organically and through acquisitions—and that fuels a level of optimism that may not be universal in the plan adviser industry today,” Graham says.

Graham says the coronavirus pandemic has certainly had an influence on his business and clients.

“It is always important to listen to your clients, but now it is especially important to listen carefully,” he suggests. “Committees really need leadership in times of crises. You cannot go about holding meetings as you did pre-COVID-19. Depending on what industry they are in, they may be facing outsized pressures and challenges. Perhaps they have furloughed workers. So, it is important for us advisers to work hard at uncovering what they really want to talk about. Rip up the script and talk about what is really important to them.”

Graham says CAPTRUST was able to seamlessly move to working from home because the practice began using Microsoft Teams last year to hold virtual meetings.

“When the pandemic hit, we just practiced the logistics we had in place and conducted practice sessions,” he says.

As to how retirement plan advisers can improve participants’ outcomes, Graham says, the answer is simple.

“Continue to push for plan design elements that you know work—like auto features,” he says. “Increase engagement with employees. And even for those plan sponsors that are holding out on better decisions, keep pushing the envelope every year. Even if you get pushed back six times, the seventh time, there might be someone new on the committee who is willing to give a good idea a try.”