Business at a Glance as of 12/31/21
- Plan assets under advisement: $9 billion
- Median plan size (in assets): $27 million
- Plans under administration: 350
- Total participants served: 250,000
PLANADVISER: Tell us about your practice and how you got into advising retirement plans.
Buffington: Marsh McLennan Agency New England is one of the largest regional retirement practices across MMA’s national firm, with 18 team members. Our team manages for profit and non-profit 401(k), DB, NQ, 403(b) and 457(b) Plans for over 350 clients. Our service model encompasses fiduciary oversight in both 3(21) and 3(38) capacities, and we have strong concentrations of clients across many industries, including technology, financial services, healthcare/bioscience, hospitality, manufacturing and non-profit entities.
In my prior role at Prudential Retirement, as a senior relationship manager and sales rep with 27 years of experience, I worked with several consultants on the MMA team, including Bob Clark (now retired) and Andy Thorpe, who played key roles in supporting me making the move to the advisory side of the business and joining the MMA New England team in 2018. As a senior executive on the team, Bob served in a mentoring capacity to me and others. I was fortunate to work alongside Bob serving some of our largest and most tenured clients. When Bob retired, I was able to transition to a full-time producer role, joining a team of successful producers focused on leading new business activity and generating new revenue for our practice.
PLANADVISER: How is your team/process/structure unique? How has it evolved? Where will you be in five years?
Buffington: We currently have 18 team members (one practice leader/president; four producers; two managing consultants; six servicing consultants; three financial coaches/education consultants; one associate consultant; and one CFP/investment consultant). We’ve grown from a team of 11 members two years ago to 18.
We have double downed on our fiduciary focused services by implementing 3(38) services, evolving our investment monitoring oversight and QDIA/stable value suitability processes, cybersecurity provider due diligence, and establishing a group plan offering. Additionally, we’ve partnered with NAPA, ARA, and PSCA to offer a custom Certified Plan Sponsor Professional (CPSP) program that is leading the industry in terms of aligned plan sponsors who have successfully completed the program. We have also evolved our education services to include a proprietary financial wellness solution that includes a custom engagement platform and unlimited on demand virtual one on one financial coaching sessions for individuals.
We have been very successful cross-selling retirement services with MMA’s employee benefits and business insurance clients, through a holistic focus on wellbeing solutions (physical, emotional, social, and financial). We expect our cross-sold business opportunities to further expand in the years ahead by having conversations with employers with a view on broader optimized holistic benefits and human capital strategies driving meaningful ROI and value. Our team also established specific committees that are aimed to drive best practices and education for our consultants: investment committee, provider due diligence committee, financial wellness committee. Our managing consultants have done a fabulous job implementing training initiatives and onboarding programs for our new team members.
PLANADVISER: As a retirement plan adviser, what do you take the most pride in?
Buffington: I take pride on supporting my clients in any capacity that they require in terms of assisting them with fiduciary responsibilities, consulting with them on strategies for evolving the retirement program, and supporting the education needs of their employee base. I also take pride in supporting my clients in areas that expand beyond the retirement plan focus—like consulting with them on their diversity and inclusion initiatives and discussing workforce management strategies.
I welcome the opportunity to lead with the best solutions that meet my clients’ needs (not being tied to any one product /solution), and I value the opportunity to work with providers and third party partners to collaborate in a manner that allows us to collectively lead with solutions and services for joint clients in an optimized manner. I also value the opportunity to serve as an advocate for my clients when it comes to supporting discussions with legislators on proposed retirement plan policy.
I’ve been an active NAPA DC Fly-in delegate from day one as an adviser. I also value my MMA team and the great talent and experience we represent. We collaborate, challenge each other, share success stories, and develop best practices that allow us to better serve our clients—collectively, we are stronger together! And the team continues to grow which is exciting!
PLANADVISER: How do you grow your business? What changes to your practice or service model are you planning for 2022 or 2023?
Buffington: We have been very successful cross-selling retirement services with MMA’s employee benefits and business insurance clients, through a holistic focus on wellbeing solutions (physical, emotional, social, and financial). We expect our cross-sold business opportunities to further expand in the years ahead by having conversations with employers with a view on broader optimized holistic benefits and human capital strategies driving meaningful ROI and value. We are driving more revenue through our expanded education services and financial wellness offering (which is available to all MMA clients/prospects, and doesn’t need to be tied to our retirement services being implemented).
We expect to further expand our associate consultant and financial coaches/education consultants to keep up with the growth and demand for our retirement services and financial wellbeing services for clients.
PLANADVISER: What challenges do you think the retirement plan industry faces and what role do you have in addressing and confronting those challenges?
Buffington: The biggest challenges in the industry our team is focused on is (1) the retirement plan coverage gap, which has propelled our focus on group plan solutions; and (2) helping pre-retirees implement retirement income strategies which has fast-tracked our focus on expanding our one-on-one engagement strategies for pre-retirees (both technology and human engagements), getting education on retirement income products, and developing due diligence framework for plan sponsors.
The biggest opportunity in our industry is to promote more diversity, equity and inclusion and next-generation talent among the financial advisor/consulting community. Our team is working hard to lead by example in this regard through our hiring practices and active involvement in related industry initiatives (ie. WIPN and WIRC). Seven of our 18 team members are women, and four of our 18 team members represent early career talent. Broader diversity representation for future hires is a top priority.
PLANADVISER: Please tell us about an important experience you have had as either a mentor or mentee.
Buffington: Many of my most meaningful mentor/mentee experiences have been tied to my involvement with WIPN (Women in Pension Network, now We Inspire, Promote, Network). WIPN has grown significantly and now consists of a network of more than 5,500 women, organized in over 20 local chapters across the United States. I had the great honor of working closely with the original WIPN Board to launch the national network and establish our non-profit organization—many of those women represent leaders in this industry that I admire as well as mentors to me.
One of those mentors includes Amy Glynn, who played a key role in getting me involved in the NAPA 401(k) Summit Steering Committee several years ago, which has been extremely pivotal in my ability to fast-track my visibility as a leading women advisor early in my financial advisor tenure. I share this experience in particular as it’s afforded me the opportunity to leverage my influence on the NAPA Summit Steering Committee to give more women advisers lead speaking opportunities at the Summit over the past several years, thus raising the visibility of the strong talent and differentiated perspectives among women advisors in our industry.
I am sure this mentor experience I’m sharing points to one of the main reasons I was nominated for this award in the first place. I believe the best mentors represent the best mentees, those who aim to give forward with gratitude for the opportunities that were given them. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity on the NAPA Steering Committee and the platform to involve more women if it weren’t for Amy Glynn’s support of me in this regard and her recognition and appreciation for my leadership skills and passion to promote stronger diversity, equity, and inclusion in our industry. She’s inspired me in so many ways as a mentor, and it motivates me to be the most influential mentor to other women in our industry (both formally and informally).
PLANADVISER: What advice can you give to your industry peers about developing successful experiences for both mentors and mentees?
Buffington: Give Forward: I believe the best mentors represent the best mentees, those who aim to give forward with gratitude for the opportunities that were given them.
Benefits Work Both Ways: To my point above, I can’t express enough how rewarding mentoring can be and how it represents growth opportunities for the mentors themselves. I’ve learned so much from those I’ve mentored and truly value that experience. Mentors have just as much to gain from mentees as mentees gain from mentors when the relationship is approached in mutually beneficial ways. And relationship are the most effective when both mentee and mentor are committed.
Valuing Diversity: I believe both mentors and mentees should seek out relationships and different mentoring experiences that represent diversity. There is so much to be gained by sharing, learning, and experiencing through “a diversity and inclusion lens.” It goes beyond helping under-represented populations to secure mentorship or opportunities. It’s about acknowledging and valuing the benefits diversity of team, diversity of perspective, and diversity of contributions represents.
Leadership Does Not have to Come from the Corner Office: I believe the strongest mentors and mentees represent individuals who do not allow their leadership and influence potential to be limited by their title or inability to hold a corner office role. The strongest and most influential leaders (as mentors and mentees) hone their talents, harness their passion and motivation to make a difference, give forward, and always strive to challenge themselves with new experiences that allow them to continually grow while inspiring others at the same time.
Mentoring Takes Many Different Forms: Whether mentoring relationships are formally established or informally structured, there’s value to seeking out different mentoring experiences. I was quoted in a NAPA Net article on Mentoring in 2020 where I discussed my experiences with different types of mentors that have helped me throughout my career.
- The masters: These are mentors who serve as the master of their craft. You admire them because they’re the best of the best, and they’re a source of inspiration to you.
- The champions: These are mentors who serve as the champion of your cause. They are really in tune with what you bring to the table, and they will tell you what your strengths are, and the areas where you serve as an inspiration to others. I am grateful for the many champions that support me, and I aim to be the champion of others. I believe that individuals stand to gain so much by aligning themselves with “their champions”. Champions recognize and support your talent and growth goals. Champions will help to promote your visibility. Champions will look for opportunities to leverage your special talents and perspectives. Champions can help you expand your network and opportunities.
- The co-pilots: “This is a mentor you work very closely with, and you are learning through what this mentor brings to the table. I believe there’s power to gaining this type mentorship by serving on boards and supporting initiatives both within and outside of the retirement industry. , such as one for a charter school management organization. “The other members of that board are diverse in terms of their background and talents, and every time I interact with them, they force me to raise my game,” she says.
- The anchors: The true anchor mentor is the person who is your confidante, the person who you may have that more-formalized mentor relationship with, and you may have worked together for years.
- The “reverse” mentors: “You’re learning from the people that you’re mentoring too.