15th Anniversary of RPAY: John Barry

One difference between now and 2008 in terms of running an advisory practice is the “technology dividend,” says John Barry, that year’s winner of the PLANSPONSOR Retirement Plan Adviser of the Year award.

John Barry, registered principal with JMB Wealth Management, was named PLANSPONSOR Retirement Plan Adviser of the Year in 2008.

He says, in the past 12 years, the focus of his practice has largely remained the same. What has been the biggest difference, he says, is the “technology dividend.”

“It is quite remarkable how much technology has saved us in terms of time and resources,” Barry says. “We have become so much more efficient, with many more clients. The team has not grown. If anything, it has shrunk. In 2004, we had two more people. Today, it’s just three of us.”

Barry was a retirement-plan-practice visionary, for, as early as 1995, he knew he wanted to focus on 401(k)s pretty exclusively. He could see that this was—and in some sense still is—an underserved market.

Besides technology, JMB Wealth Management’s service model has evolved in a few key areas. “Back in 2008, we looked at the investment piece of the puzzle only once a year,” Barry says. “Today, we analyze everything quarterly, and we are fiduciaries.”

When it comes to his relationships with strategic partners and peers, Barry says he works with fewer people in those capacities, too. “However, we have better relationships with our partners today,” he notes.

Asked if he is optimistic about the future of the retirement plan industry, he is quick to say yes—but transformed for the times. “To me, the commission brokerage business is either dead or close to dead,” Barry says. “If you aren’t doing advisory business, you will have problems today and in the future. Everything has gone advisory. Our business is 98% advisory and 2% legacy revenue, in most cases from individual retirement accounts [IRAs] that we rolled over. We get paid a small residual trail on those.”

Barry agrees that financial wellness programs have increased tremendously in importance and prevalence since 2008. “We didn’t focus on that 15 years ago at all,” he recalls.

After a long and successful career as a retirement plan adviser, Barry says he and the other members of his team are coping with the coronavirus lockdowns well.

“We have been very fortunate in that, for years, we have had a business contingency plan to work from home if needed,” he says. “For instance, we said we would do that if there was an unforeseen circumstance such as an earthquake. We haven’t missed a beat and are doing a lot more Zoom conference calls.”

Because the markets have largely recovered from their March lows, many clients seem to have calmed down, he says. However, at the height of the volatility and downturn, he had to do a lot to help participants keep their eye on their long-term goals, he adds.

As to what JMB Wealth Management is doing to help the community during the pandemic, Barry says his firm has always been committed to giving back.

“We have always been very involved with our community and do a tremendous amount of volunteer work,” he explains. “Additionally, we are here for anybody who needs help or has questions. Part of our service model is that any participant in any of our plans can call us, anytime.”

Asked for a piece of advice about pushing the industry forward, Barry shares the following: “It’s a very simple thing—do what is in the best interest of the participant. Then, everything comes together on all levels. Remember, plan sponsors are your client, too. Treat them equally as important as participants. Too often, advisers focus just on the plan sponsors. Take a holistic approach, and you will be successful.”