Business at a Glance as of 12/31/21
- How many plan assets do you have under advisement? $488 million as a team
- What is your median plan size (in assets)? Approximately $2,000,000
- How many plans do you have under administration? 235
- How many participants in total do you serve? Approximately 13,700
PLANADVISER: Tell us about your practice and how you got into advising retirement plans.
Brog: Mine was a winding road that led to the experience that helping plan participants was my life’s career calling. I had to try a lot of other financial service-related activities including traditional wealth management, insurance sales and even compliance duties before I realized that working with retirement plans granted me the opportunity to earn a living and meaningfully help people in a variety of career paths and stages in life.
I have been fortunate to be surrounded by wonderful people throughout my career who have helped me so very much, but three individuals deserve mention as mentors, friends, and guides. My partners Boyd Wagstaff and Robert Crawford taught me so much about retirement plans, how to operate a business, and how to provide both TPA and adviser services. I simply wouldn’t have the career I have and we would not have the team we have without their groundbreaking work.
The third person is Elizabeth Harris from Bozeman, Montana. It was Elizabeth who taught me how working with a retirement plan went so far beyond committee meetings, investment policy statements, and recordkeeper selections. She taught me how working with plan participants changes lives. She showed me by example how you WORK to help plan participants wherever they may be to make decisions that can change their lives and make “retirement with dignity” a reality. Her love for plan participants improved their lives incalculably.
PLANADVISER: How is your team/process/structure unique? How has it evolved? Where will you be in five years?
Brog: There are a few aspects of our practice that I would describe as uncommon, although not necessarily unique!
We are producing third-party administrators with an in-house TPA. Filling both roles as advisers and TPAs helps us bridge the gap between administrative and plan design considerations and plan advising.
A tangible and common example would be the discussion about adding auto-enrollment features to a start-up or small plan. As both an adviser and TPA, we can talk about how adopting automatic enrollment will likely help plan participants prepare for a more secure retirement and discuss with the plan sponsor the very real logistical challenges of creating integration with the client’s payroll and the recordkeeping partner we work with to put in place a compliant and effective automatic enrollment plan provision.
One aspects of our role as advisers that may be unique aspect of our service model is our willingness and enthusiasm to travel to remote areas and meet in unusual locations. I have hosted a number of educational presentations on the side of a piece of insulation in the midst of an active construction worksite! All the travel if for the opportunity to meet with the plan participants we want to help. Our team will visit at least 20 different states this year and drive thousands of miles (life in the west!) to give us the best chance to help the participants we are fortunate enough to work with.
On a side note, we have embraced the ability to conduct education and one-on-one consultations via digital formats and continue to do so. However, our experiences over the last several years reflect what other studies have shown: that a digital interaction is better than “nothing” but not as effective as the one on one in person interaction. We find it is hard to beat sitting individually with a participant while acting in a fiduciary capacity to create trust, understand the participant’s unique circumstances, and help the participant make improved financial decisions.
PLANADVISER: As a retirement plan adviser, what do you take the most pride in?
Brog: The most rewarding part of our work is the opportunity to meet individually with plan participants and help them understand and take advantage of the valuable benefits offered by their employer. I take the most pride in quantifying the results of the service model that create the opportunities to meet with individual plan participants.
We use a variety of metrics to quantify the impact of those meetings with plan participants when reviewing the plan with our plan sponsors including: plan participation rates, average contribution rates, percentage of employees contributing above the matching maximum, number of deferral changes during our meetings, the trajectory of employee income replacement in retirement, and (most importantly) how the plan data benchmarks relative to other plans.
I find a huge sense of satisfaction and pride when we can document how the work we put in with our plan sponsor clients are changing the lives of their participants.
There is nothing better at a committee meeting than reviewing data that indicates that the participants in a plan are on course to replace 50% more monthly income in retirement than other plan participants.
PLANADVISER: How do you grow your business? What changes to your practice or service model are you planning for 2022 or 2023?
Brog: Our business, in terms of new plans, is grown through a combination of referral business, strategic partnerships, and traditional marketing efforts.
One of the important ancillary benefits of our service model centered on meeting with plan participants is that the result is higher participation rates, higher deferral rates, and consequently plans that grow meaningfully. I view our service model as a the single most effective “marketing” tool we have as it increases plan retention, creates more referral opportunities and increases the growth of the plan assets of our business.
I don’t believe there has been a better time in my 26 years in the industry for plan participants to prepare for retirement. There is such amazing technology and so many easy-to-use tools provided by our recordkeeping partners to help the employee make good financial decisions. The value (costs vs. returns) of investment options across the industry has continued to improve to the benefit of plan participants. There are emerging tools and technology coming to market to help employees including customized low-cost investment allocations, in plan income options and emergency savings account platforms to name a few.
I mention these remarkable tools and emerging tools because our team believes our service model focused on individual consultations with plan participants can become even more valuable as we use those consultations to introduce, explain, and leverage these tools. We believe that plan participants deserve it all: great technology, customized solutions, low costs, and more informed decisions leading to better outcomes. Our offices want to help them understand the amazing technology and show them how to effectively use available tools to increase their savings, make more informed investment decisions, determine where the “next dollar” should be saved or invested, etc.
With that belief, over the last several years we have sought technological “integration”. Integration of payroll providers with recordkeeping partners to improve the experience for both plan sponsors and plan participants and to permit the addition of automatic enrollment and automatic escalation plan features. Integration of Health Savings Accounts with recordkeeping partners and payroll providers. Integration of emergency savings accounts with payroll to allow participants to more easily save for financial shocks.
Continued efforts in 2022 and 2023 to seek integration of these technologies and incorporating use of the technologies in our service model will be our focus.
PLANADVISER: What challenges do you think the retirement plan industry faces and what role do you have in addressing and confronting those challenges?
Brog: I think the two biggest challenges our industry face combine to create an existential threat to our industry and I believe the threats are directly related to one another.
First, and most importantly, is helping substantially more American employees have access to a quality retirement plan and better prepare for a secure retirement.
The second is a biproduct of the first. If we fail to do better as an industry then we will continue to face solutions that replace us. Those threats are certain to be increased government provided solutions and may be from the entrance new industry disruptors.
As retirement plan advisers we did not choose the easiest path in the financial service industry: getting people to save today for a future is not an easy task. Many days it feels like a Sisyphean task! But, we all need to keep pushing, keep innovating, and keep working to help as many plans and employees as we can.
PLANADVISER: Why do you feel it is important to work individually with plan participants?
Brog: This one is easy!
Meeting with and helping plan participants individually is the single most valuable and rewarding part of my career. We can help make what is complex and intimidating easier and understandable. We can help the participants make and implement better saving and investment decisions. We can answer questions, introduce valuable technological resources, remove barriers for saving, and help thousands of plan participants achieve a more secure retirement: a retirement many Americans currently feel is out of their grasp. It is our highest calling and our privilege to meet with plan participants and I hope as advisors we embrace that opportunity.
PLANADVISER: What are the biggest challenges that plan participants face today and how are you helping to address them?
Brog: I believe the two biggest challenges plan participants are inertia and next dollar confusion.
As an industry we need to continue to help plan sponsors embrace automatic enrollment and other auto-features to help more plan participants create inertia by beginning to save. There is a substantial amount of work that needs to be done in the start-up and small plan market our office often works in.
As I mentioned earlier, our team is working on and investing in tools and processes to make automatic enrollment more feasible for plan sponsors and an improved experience for plan participants. Once automatic plan provisions are in place, we believe advisers should meet with those plan participants to leverage that initial inertia created by automatic enrollment to encourage a transition from “autopilot” to actively planning for retirement.
The second relates to the participant who is already saving in to their retirement plan. Where do they allocate the next dollar? There are near endless demands on plan participant budgets. That can include a myriad of investment and savings related decisions at work: retirement plan savings, contributions to health savings accounts, establishing and building an emergency savings account, and contributions to an educational savings account for a dependent. Our meetings with participants let us understand their circumstances and help make more informed and, hopefully, improved decisions about where to allocate the “next dollar.”