Perspective: Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Retirement Plan Advisers

This is the first in a series of eight columns, appearing the first Thursday of each month, by Matt Smith, managing director of retirement services with Russell Investment Group.

Just as it is clear that employer-sponsored retirement plans and those charged with their oversight are amidst landmark change, there is little dispute that many advisers serving this dynamic market could benefit from challenging some of their habits.

Over the next several months, I look forward to the opportunity to share with you insightful observations based on my 20-plus years engaged with the DC business, particularly my most recent experiences guiding Russell’s Retirement Services capability.

At Russell, our mutual fund business has worked exclusively with intermediaries for more than 20 years to deliver on our purpose of improving financial security for people. This level of interaction with many of the country’s leading personal wealth managers and retirement plan advisers has allowed us to develop significant insight into the practices – both beneficial and detrimental – of these advisers.

With the goal of dispensing insight designed to drive breakthroughs for your practice, please allow me to twist a popular guide of personal and professional counseling to present Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Retirement Plan Advisers.

It is our experience that the importance of analyzing your current reality and mapping it to your business vision presents as much opportunity to stop doing ineffective things as it does to start implementing more effective tactics and strategies.

As Jim Collins made clear in his best-selling book Good to Great, “All good-to-great companies began the process of finding the path to greatness by confronting the brutal facts of their current reality.”

No matter how your business is positioned, or at what lifecycle stage it occupies, the current reality, no doubt, presents opportunities for improvement. Whether it is shear growth of profits that you seek or you simply crave efficiency gains that lead to more satisfying management of your practice, I believe there is something to be learned from this ineffective habits exercise.

For many, the difficult part is elevating back-of-the-mind observations to top-of-mind dedication.

My hope is that via this column, you’ll become a more enlightened and inspired adviser, spearheading a business that develops distinguished characteristics as it meets the needs of plan sponsors and participants.

Each month, we’ll more thoroughly diagnose habits that rob many advisers of the focus and direction that will simplify their lives. By doing so, you will make your services even more attractive to plan sponsors who are so eager to find prudent solutions to their retirement plan obligations in a shifting environment.

We’ll dispel and redirect the following frequently held beliefs.


The Ineffective Habits of Retirement Plan Advisers

  1. Rely heavily on experience and intuition
  2. Do your best with your situation as it exists today
  3. Cast a broader net to catch more clients
  4. Utilize direct marketing to build awareness
  5. Believe sales activities drive sales
  6. Win by being the low-cost provider
  7. Grow your business by focusing on plan asset size

While these habits have evolved from someone’s idea of a best practice, they are all myths that I’ll enjoy dissecting and correcting as we interact over the next several months in this space.

Along the way, I’ll demonstrate the exceptional benefits of strategic focus, elevating service delivery with a client engagement road map, contagious viral marketing techniques, and other proven practices designed to help you realize your business vision.


Matt Smith is managing director of retirement services with Russell Investment Group. He is responsible for DC research and strategic development of Russell’s defined contribution investment management business in the United States. Smith joined Russell in 2001. Over his 20+ year career, Matt’s experience spans the spectrum of the qualified plan business. Prior to joining Russell, Matt held the position of vice president and general manager of ADP’s west coast retirement services operations.