Chepenik Financial in Orlando, Florida, was founded in 1973 by Barney Chepenik as a boutique firm selling life and health insurance. In 1999, when his son, Jason, joined the company, the practice pivoted to offer financial planning and retirement plan consulting.
Today, Chepenik Financial brings a great deal of creativity to the retirement plan industry. One of the earliest examples was its 4.01k Race for Financial Fitness, which now takes place in 13 major cities throughout the U.S. each spring. The race, first run in 2015, has been so successful that Chepenik Financial founded The Smarter Tomorrow Foundation to sponsor the race, with the ultimate goal of promoting financial literacy and wellness in communities. Chepenik Financial and other advisory practices that sponsor the races have raised $500,000 for local charities—and awareness about the need to save for retirement, beyond the firms’ client base.
“We have found that if we make the process of learning about and planning for retirement fun and engaging, people pay attention,” says Jason Chepenik, managing partner. “Suddenly something that seemed scary and unknowable is not so intimidating—and the results are measurable.
“As a result of these innovative programs, we’ve helped our partners realize tremendous growth in both plan participation and contributions,” he says. “These programs also allow us to attract clients who have committed leadership and who are active and engaged in the decisionmaking process and are unafraid to try something new. As we attract better clients, we are also able to attract a better team, who will then better serve our clients. Everybody wins.”
Another example of Chepenik Financial’s creative approach to retirement communications is the two taco food trucks it created that travel to client locations: the Let’s Taco ’Bout Retirement and the Let’s Talk a Bao Retirement, the latter of which is Korean.
The food trucks have created social engagement to promote retirement readiness, he says. “In this relaxed, water-cooler environment, employees are talking among themselves and comparing notes—an engagement that wouldn’t be possible with traditional plan promotions.”
Too often, retirement planning and financial services deal with negative messaging, something Chepenik recognizes as a challenge to retirement plan success. “We believe it is necessary, indeed profitable, to infuse our message with positivity, and we gladly accept our role of confronting this challenge through creativity and engagement in order to showcase the value of our service.”
Chepenik also tailors participant communications to the client. “Creative work is important, but it benefits the client only when the message is truly customized to its individual brand,” Chepenik says. “This requires active participation from our clients, which, in turn, creates more buy-in from them and better synergy between us and them. We love to see employees enjoying one of our creative programs—but we especially love to see that enjoyment reflected back onto our clients. A customized message results in a more successful event and leads to greater employee satisfaction overall.
“At Chepenik Financial, we love what we do,” Chepenik continues. “We especially enjoy our reputation for being creative and quirky, and the freedom that gives us to truly be ourselves. But even as we are having all this fun, we take very seriously the responsibility we have for giving back.”
Twenty percent of Chepenik Financial’s book of business is nonprofit organizations, and 10% of the revenue the practice derives from these clients is donated back to them, Chepenik says. “We are proud that our company culture is founded on the desire to give back, and we are proud to lead this charge within the industry,” he says.
Chepenik says its charitable work exemplifies its “We go beyond” mantra. “We go beyond our clients, and beyond our industry, to bring wellness to life within the community,” he says. “We believe that being a good financial steward and community steward makes us better and that giving individuals the tools to make good financial decisions contributes not only to their well-being but to the well-being of the community overall.”
In the past two years, the practice has doubled in size to 13 team members and Chepenik expects it to double again in the next two years. He says the types of people he looks for are those who mesh with “We go beyond.”
“Our retirement team always brings its expertise and our ‘We go beyond’ attitude to client meetings and education sessions to ensure that our plan sponsors and their participants always have someone in their corner,” Chepenik says. Generally, the team focuses on small-plan clients, who may need extra help because they lack dedicated staff or resources to manage their plan.
Chepenik expects this growth will come about organically, as 90% of its clients can be traced back to a handful of early plans. By forging strong relationships with human resources (HR) and payroll executives, the practice has frequently won new business, when those individuals have moved to new companies and turned to Chepenik Financial to manage those retirement plans. “As a result of our added value, they tend to take us with them wherever they go, which results in strong ties with companies and executives throughout Central Florida,” Chepenik says. “These relationships are the best marketing we could ever ask for.” —Lee Barney