Given the diverse demands of working in the qualified retirement space, many advisers can use help thinking strategically of ways to improve the performance of their practices. Many wholesalers are product-focused and don’t factor in unique adviser needs and circumstances into their conversations. Many advisers need a “coach,” or partner who can help them take their game to the next level, according to Paul Swanson, vice president and head of intermediary distribution for CUNA Mutual Retirement Solutions. Swanson spoke to PLANADVISER about what he means by this and how CUNA Mutual Retirement Solutions is addressing this issue with its new Retirement Advisor Institute.
PA: What is CUNA Mutual Retirement Solutions’ philosophy about adviser value-add programs?
Swanson: The underlying premise of our distribution strategy and the Retirement Advisor Institute, which is the center piece of that strategy, is that many of the platform products available in the marketplace today are very similar. Most of them do a pretty good job of addressing plan sponsor and participant needs. Advisers really aren’t looking for more products to sell.
If your sales strategy is built around pushing product, you really don’t have much influence with these advisers. Beyond that, every adviser faces challenges unique to their practice and may appreciate help with some aspect of their business.
Our philosophy is all about focusing on each adviser’s unique needs. We’re essentially changing the conversation to focus on how we can help them be more successful, which is unique to every adviser.
PA: So how has your Retirement Advisor Institute evolved over time?
Swanson: In 2011, we began rolling out value-add programs to help retirement-focused advisers manage their practices. Until very recently, it had grown to about 10 programs which were delivered primarily at industry conferences. Although feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, it was never intended to be all-encompassing and, as such, had limited application in one-on-one meetings between our wholesalers and advisers.
At our fifth annual Retirement Academy meeting in February, CUNA Mutual Retirement Solutions unveiled the enhanced Retirement Advisor Institute. We added content from our strategic DCIO partners, from Sherry Fitts and from Ann Schleck & Company. We also integrated it into our wholesaling teams’ regular interactions with advisers.
Now we have more than 100 value-added tools and resources covering every aspect of an adviser’s practice, and we’re delivering it every day through our entire sales force. Essentially, it’s one-stop shopping for advisers looking to get better at what they do, and, quite frankly, who isn’t trying to do that?
PA: How is the Retirement Advisor Institute organized?
Swanson: There are seven categories of content on the platform: branding, marketing, sales, staff development, client management, practice management and a robust knowledge center where industry data and insights are readily available.
The first three categories—branding, marketing and sales—are aimed at advisers who are actively looking to grow their practice through retirement plan business. The next three categories—staff development, client management and practice management—are targeted to advisers who have achieved some sales success and need help managing their practice. We can offer assistance in areas such as profitability analysis, time management, client service models and staffing.
The Knowledge Center includes industry resources on topics such as fiduciary responsibility, participant engagement, investment knowledge, as well as basic retirement plan information for new employees in need of training to better understand the retirement business.