Practice Lessons Learned From the Pandemic

Virtual meetings and more personalized financial wellness programs are expected to continue.

This has been a challenging year, without a doubt, but even with all the downsides, retirement plan industry executives think retirement plan advisory practices have responded well to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In fact, many believe some of the business practices put in place this year will continue once the pandemic is behind us.

David Swallow, managing director, consulting relations at TIAA, says virtual meetings with plan sponsors and participants have become much more prevalent and are likely to continue once the pandemic is over. However, because the retirement plan industry is such a relationship-based industry, many advisers are looking forward to the opportunity to meet face-to-face with clients once again.

“It may be on a more limited basis,” Swallow says. “Instead of occurring four times a year, in-person meetings might be only twice a year, with two virtual meetings in the other quarters.”

Swallow says that with all the time advisers have saved on traveling to sponsor client and participant meetings, they may have been able to do more prospecting. He notes that many advisers have also leaned into discussions about in-plan lifetime income solutions.

“Advisers cannot just bringing a boilerplate solution to sponsors,” Swallow says. “It is about meeting them where they are and addressing new developments, like the lifetime income allowed under the SECURE [Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement] Act. This way, advisers have a better chance to land new clients, even in a year when travel is restricted.”

Jordan Alhadeff, founder and adviser at Murray St. Capital Advisors, says advisers have done well this year by focusing on the fundamental challenges their plan sponsors face—namely, uncertainty about the markets, the pandemic and the economy.

Alhadeff says he has made it a standing practice of his to reach out one-on-one to participants when the market is under stress.

“Be it questions about the debt ceiling, a terrorist attack or COVID-19, it seems that every year, the market faces at least a short time of uncertainty,” he says. “When I see back-to-back days of a sea of red, I make an effort to clear my schedule and call clients and participants to set their minds at ease. I keep the conversation focused and short, so I can move on.”

Michael Roth, head of retirement at Tegra118, a financial technology platform, says the pandemic is weeding out advisers who have not been able to shine in virtual meetings. This year has also heightened the need for retirement plan advisers to help plan participants with more than just saving for retirement, he says. For example, many employers are interested in helping their workers build an emergency savings fund that can help them navigate potential short- and medium-term income disruptions. There is also broader interest in helping employees assess their overall financial wellness.

Roth says this has become so important during the past year that he thinks participants and sponsors will expect advisers to deliver personalized financial health solutions, even after the pandemic is over.