PANC 2009: Advisers Discuss Strategies for Building 401(k) Team

Teamwork: It can be both helpful and challenging, according to panelists at the PLANADVISER National Conference.

Not all 401(k) advisory teams segment responsibilities the same way. Jason Chepenik, managing partner at Chepenik Financial, said his team might break out retirement plans by marketplace, city, or vendor. Stephen Brown, private wealth adviser at Merrill Lynch, said his team segments mostly based on asset size.

Furthermore, Chepenik’s practice includes health and welfare, an up-and-coming area for retirement practices. He said ideally he would like everyone to be cross-trained in both retirement and health and welfare, but that is “easier said than done.”

Building a good team is often about finding the right people. Not everyone is meant to be part of a team “especially in a business, in which, let’s face it, there’s a lot of big egos, even in this room,” said Stephen DesRochers, vice president of Investments Advisory and Brokerage Services at UBS Financial Services, Inc. “We’ve kind of worked through that over the years.”

Now happens to be a good time to find talent, DesRochers noted. “In this economy, there are a lot of very good people out there,” he said.

Compensation is another area where teams differ. Adviser teams have to strike a balance; teams don’t want everyone to be so worried about their own jobs that they forget the good of the team, noted moderator Douglass Prince, managing director at Stifel Nicolaus.

Of his team, Chepenik said there are few producers and most of his team works on a fixed salary. Brown said he uses incentive compensation by aligning staff to particular accounts, in addition to discretionary bonuses—because there are times when someone could be doing a great job, but the accounts aren’t doing well.

Transparency with salaries is another good tactic. DesRochers said if you aren’t transparent, people create things in their head and it promotes animosity. “If you are paying a fair amount, you having nothing to hide,” he said.

Team Effort

Building a good team also comes down to training and building morale. Chepenik said he trains newcomers by teaching them a project at a time and then giving them their own project. He suggested giving them directions, but letting them do it on their own. The only way to help them learn is to say “go do this,” he said.

Brown said he is a big believer in the importance of continuing education. “I’m willing to pay for any conference they want to go to,” he said. “We strive to have our people current.”

DesRoches noted some of the team-building activities he likes to promote among his staff, such as golf outings and picnics. He also brings in lunch for the team everyday because in addition to building morale, it increases productivity.

One thing is for sure: Being the boss can be difficult. Prince noted that he never learned how to run a business. “I’m a retirement plan adviser. I wasn’t trained on how to train employees,” he said.