PLANADVISER: Tell us about your practice and how you and your team members got into advising retirement plans.
AFS 401(k) Retirement Services: Our team had modest beginnings with a big mission and vision. AFS Financial Group was established in 1988 by our founding principal, Alp Atabek. Building from his background as a tax accountant, Alp decided to offer financial planning and investment management services for individuals in his Bethesda, Maryland, office. Recognizing most companies and their employees were not achieving their retirement plan goals, and determined to establish a better process, Alp began providing retirement education sessions to small- and mid-sized companies in the area.
I, Alexander Assaley, grew up with financial advisers in my family; my father and my uncle were both advisers. However, I didn’t necessarily think I would get into the financial services business. When I was 17 years old, my father unexpectedly passed away en route to a business awards trip in Hawaii. He had always managed our family’s finances, and we learned very quickly how difficult that was. In a few short years, I came to realize the financial struggles that most working Americans deal with on a daily basis. Ultimately, these experiences helped me grow and develop an interest and love for understanding how people make decisions with money, and help them do a better job planning for today, tomorrow, and their long-term future.
In 2006, I joined Alp with the singular focus of creating better retirement programs for companies, developing effective oversight and compliance for their committees, and enhancing the experience and positive outcomes for their employees. Even before the 408(b)2 fee disclosure and the Department of Labor’s (DOL) fiduciary regulation, our team decided to work as independent advocates simply because it was the right thing to do. While the first few years in building our practice were challenging, Alp and I had a clear mission and vision to deliver a proactive, high0-touch service model to clients.
You could say that fate brought the three of us together. In 2008, I met Daniel and we began sharing our ideas and input on both life and the retirement plan industry. At the same time, Daniel and his wife, Becky, were planning to depart on an 11-month missionary trip, serving those in need around the world. After interviewing over a dozen firms in the Washington, D.C., area, Daniel merged with me and Alp to create AFS 401(k) Retirement Services, where we initially served his clients while he provided humanitarian aid in 2nd and 3rd world countries around the world.
By 2011, our continued drive, perseverance, and passion to create better financial futures for employers and employees had helped us reach modest, and continually growing, levels of success. What started as three retirement plan clients in 2006 had now grown to more than 30 retirement plan clients and over $500 million in plan assets under advisement. Our focus on delivering high-touch service to clients was working, as we were starting to get noticed.
In 2012, I was named Top Adviser of the Year for Large Plans by 401kwire.com. Also, at the end of that same year we were honored to receive the Retirement Adviser of the Year Award by Employee Benefits News. These accolades only pushed us to work harder and do more for our clients because it meant we had a responsibility to live it up to these achievements and the status as leaders in the industry.
We also became more involved within the industry—speaking at conferences, events, and helping to shape policy here in Washington, D.C. In 2012, I became a member of the NAPA Steering Committee charged with coordinating their annual 401(k) Summit. Additionally, Daniel and I have been involved with the NAPA Fly-in forum and other meetings with policymakers to help promote and strengthen the private retirement system. In mid-2016, I will serve as a member of NAPA’s Leadership Council.
We now serve 55 companies and organizations as their dedicated, retirement plan adviser. We are more energized than ever before in creating tools, resources, and solutions to help working Americans and employers enhance their retirement programs. We continue to focus on growing our client relationships and our team and work closely with other industry practitioners and advisers in order to collectively raise the bar for our nation’s retirement system.
PA: What is your mission statement
AFS: We believe people should enjoy their life—all of it. To help them achieve this, we work to make complex retirement plans simple.
We stand out because of our process and our team. We take the time to get to know and understand an organization’s values in order to create a custom service model to meet their needs. Our firm stands by four guiding principles:
- We believe in working Americans, and believe all employees should have access to the tools, resources, and advice they need in order to create a strategy to achieve a dignified retirement.
- We care about companies and the challenges they face with fiduciary responsibility. We are driven to help employers and their benefits committees understand and manage their retirement plan duties, and navigate the complex rules and regulations, maintaining plan compliance and efficiency—and we provide the expertise, hands-on approach, and passion to serve employers and employees.
- We support a strong retirement system—we are actively involved within the industry through thought leadership and advisory council roles to promote an ethical, innovative, and valuable retirement system for American workers.
- We focus on our team—our firm is proud of our culture, one that promotes integrity, knowledge, and opportunities for career advancement. We recognize the importance of work/life balance and encourage involvement in continuing industry education, as well as worthwhile social and charitable efforts that are important to our employees.
BUSINESS AT A GLANCE
LOCATION: Bethesda, Maryland
TOTAL ASSETS UNDER ADVISEMENT: $1.12 billion
MEDIAN PLAN SIZE (IN ASSETS): $16.5 million
TOTAL PLANS UNDER ADMINISTRATION: 55