2022 RPAY – Shannon Maloney, Strategic Retirement Partners

Business at a Glance as of 12/31/21

  • Assets under administration: $681 million
  • Median plan size (in assets): $14 million
  • Plans under administration: 47
  • Total participants served: 6,000

PLANADVISER: Tell us about your practice and how you got into advising retirement plans.

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Maloney: I was in the military and was recruited out of the military by a headhunter that worked with a financial services firm. I did not know the difference between a stock and a bond, but after working with my soldiers I knew I wanted to do something that helped people with their financial lives as I had witnessed so much struggle. I started my career as a wholesaler and over 20 years was privileged to see and work with many, many different financial advisers and observe their practices and sales techniques. This led me to form my own practice so I could do it my way. I loved working with retirement plans because they are never the same and never boring, and I felt that a client centric consultant would be appreciated in my market.

 PLANADVISER: How is your team/process/structure unique? How has it evolved? Where will you be in five years?

Maloney: I think there are two things that make our team unique and that is the passion we have for retirement plans and the passion we bring to our clients. I also believe that we are the luckiest team in the States as we have the BEST clients. Our clients are wonderful human beings, and we love working with them and seeing them accomplish their plan and personal goals. We believe that you must be client centric and add personalization and customization as every client is unique and faces unique problems. Our job is to answer their questions in English and help provide the solution and the strategy for both the reactive problems and we have to be proactive and help our clients with what they don’t know they don’t know. We are very process oriented as we believe that within structure there is a lot of flexibility. I know our process is not unique as all of our SRP offices follow similar processes, but I think what is unique is how we work within the process on behalf of the client. One of the best pieces of advice I received from a client was to pause and let the client/prospect have time to consider their questions because our value is in how we listen to their questions, answer them and provide a roadmap to a solution if it is a problem.

When I began consulting it was just me and a relationship manager and we began to grow our practice one plan at a time mostly through cold calls. In 2015, our RIA sold and we had to make up our mind if we wanted to move with them, move to another retirement specialist team or create something new. We decided to create something new with seven of my friends and that is how Strategic Retirement Partners was created. I am very proud to be one of the founders of this great company as it has truly helped me grow as a practice leader, consultant and adviser.

When we joined SRP, my Relationship Manager became an SRP asset and we created the Retirement Plan Relationship Manager Role that was responsible for making sure all the paperwork, all the compliance and everything I promised at our client meetings was accomplished and documented. Our mission was then and is now to grow with the right clients- we work hard for our clients and have the time to give them the service we promised. We added another position to help with all the things that fell in between the Relationship Manager and the consultant- we call her our factotum because she handles a little bit of everything from IT and its mishaps, to organizing prospecting, to editing and so much more. In 2019 we added a senior plan consultant because we had grown to the point that we could either grow or service but not both. I have known him for more than a decade and he was a great fit- he wanted to be able to deliver all of the things to his clients that we already did.

To his amazement our process was real—we had all the things that he always wanted to do for his clients and he has added some additional investment breadth to our team that has helped us elevate our practice even more.  Our practice remains focused on clients with more than one plan and I think it will continue in that vein, although the plan types may move from 401k/Defined Benefit to 401k/NonQualified. I am not sure where the next five years will take us, but I know that we will continue to grow, continue to develop and discover as a team, continue to work with GREAT clients, continue to solve unique problems and have fun while we are doing it.


PLANADVISER: As a retirement plan adviser, what do you take the most pride in?

Maloney: I am so excited when our clients and their participants hit their goals. I take pride in helping our clients design plans that help them reach these goals and that we provide metrics to show how we are working towards reaching the goals. We truly believe that if we do not define what success looks like to the client and re-evaluate this as we accomplish goals we can never be successful. Defining what success looks like to our clients is also one of the things that I take the most pride in because when we do this and look back over the years to see what we have accomplished together it can be staggering!


PLANADVISER: How do you grow your business? What changes to your practice or service model are you planning for 2022 or 2023?

Maloney: We grow our business by adding new plans to existing clients (Cash Balance, Non-Qualified Deferred Compensation Plans, and sometimes Employee Stock Ownership plans), we receive referrals from attorneys, auditors, CPAs, and benefit shops, our clients move to new clients and bring us with them and we still cold call. For 2022 and 2023 we are looking to add a participant education specialist and possibly another full-time consultant.


PLANADVISER: What challenges do you think the retirement plan industry faces and what role do you have in addressing and confronting those challenges?

Maloney: We have a savings challenge and I support the American Retirement Association efforts to move legislation forward to allow for Emergency Savings Account and Health Savings Account associated with retirement plans. Having these as side-cars to the retirement plans gives participants access to help they need and automates the savings- something that we has proven to be successful in the 401k market. I think consolidation in the recordkeeping industry will continue to be a challenge with timeframes for things to be done and willingness for customization. We, as retirement plan consultants, have to ensure that things promised by the provider are done on-time and correctly. We also as consultants need to be students of the industry and see what is on the horizon and talk to our clients so they are prepared whether is cybersecurity, ESG or the impact of moving from the capital accumulation phase to the capital preservation phase to distributions and helping make sure that each step along this journey is as successful as the first. We will also have to adopt new technologies to keep up with not only our work loads but to be able to communicate with the new generation who has always had the internet and mobile apps. As our world gets more complicated our role will continue to be to break the issue into smaller steps and provide solutions to the complications.


PLANADVISER: Why do you feel it is important to work with plan sponsors and companies offering retirement benefits to their people? 

Maloney: I truly love what I do. I love helping employers understand and engage to be better stewards of their retirement plan. A retirement plan in its simplest form is a plan to help provide their employees with a paycheck in retirement and therefore provide financial security. I love helping participants understand, engage and be empowered to provide their retirement by making the sacrifice of giving up the now for the future. Meeting with participants and committees is hard work, but very rewarding when you watch the plan hit their metrics, when participants hit a balance in the plan they barely believed was possible and when people actually get to retire and live their dreams.  I am so blessed to be able work for the best company in the industry, Strategic Retirement Partners, I love our collaboration and growth. I love my team and am honored to be able to work so many wonderful talented, committed individuals on my team and at our clients. We understand that our clients are someone else’s prospects and we work hard to become their outsourced VP of retirement so that we sit on the same side of the table as they do.


PLANADVISER: What are the most important issues that your plan sponsor clients face with their company retirement plans, and what particularly effective or unique actions do you take to assist them in overcoming those issues?

Maloney: Plan sponsors are employers first and foremost- whether they make widgets, drive the trucks, provide professional services etc. They do this 60-80 hours a week and the retirement plan is one of many things that they do. It is our job to help them be the best stewards of the plan, take real work off their plate, focus them on decisions that need to be made and the pros/cons and ROI of the decision and help them with all of their fiduciary responsibilities. No one takes a course in High School, College or Grad School about understanding and meeting their fiduciary responsibilities as a plan sponsor. We are very lucky that this is exactly what we do. Our job is to help provide the framework for them to be good fiduciaries, today and every day in the future.  I think with the proliferation of lawsuits and legislation the role of the fiduciary will only get more complicated in the future. This means discovering what the plan goals, discovering any issues that may arise, documenting decisions, ensuring that mistakes don’t happen again, and helping participants make good decisions about their future.

Some of the things that we do to help our employers with their role is very simple to say but harder to do in practice- do what you say you are going to do. Paying attention to the small details of people and plans has helped us win business, retain business, identify issues and solve problems.  Some of the things that we do for our clients to help them are:

  • We review 5500’s prior to them signing, last year we did this for a new client and found an adviser that they had not seen in 7 years but was still being paid from the plan
  • We review forfeiture accounts every year to make sure that they are used appropriately- doing this as a matter of course helped us uncover more than $90,000 that needed to be moved to the forfeiture account and was then used to offset the company match
  • We review the new Cycle 3 Plan Document and compare it to the old plan document. In doing this we have uncovered several things such as the provider changed the definition of compensation in the new Cycle 3 document, the provider will not allow any changes during the restatement period, so any updates have to be done as amendments, elimination of true-up in the plan document and making it become an amendment and an additional cost- just to name a few
  • We encourage our clients to offer employee education both group meetings and one on ones. Our clients that do this see a jump in average deferral rates and average account balances. Their employees become used to us asking for them to increase their contributions by 1% a year if they do not have auto increase
  • We review their QDIA (Qualified Default Alternative) every three years and if there is a glidepath change, we review their cash alternative every three years to make sure the committee understands some of the hidden risks in fixed and stable value accounts and we review the line-up in an ESG screen at Morningstar every three years.
  • We provide Fiduciary training each year to the committee.
  • We love what we do, and it shows in all the little things we do for our clients.