Standing Out From the Crowd

How advisers can differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace
Brandon Shea

Being a specialist retirement plan adviser is no longer the advantage it once was, because of the increased level of competition. Therefore, creating a unique message is critical to achieving success. Brandon Shea, managing director and defined contribution investment only (DCIO) national sales manager at RidgeWorth Investments, spoke to PLANADVISER about the challenges advisers face in developing their brand and how they can stand out in the crowd.

PA: What are some of the biggest trends influencing retirement plan advisers?

Shea: Four trends I’m seeing are: the continued consolidation to the true retirement plan professional; the need for “trackable” outcomes for participants; the need to articulate a clear value proposition; and the growing appetite for custom target-date solutions.

The consolidation to the retirement plan professional has been driven by fee disclosure and the fee compression advisers have been experiencing on their plan business. We’re seeing a lot of one- to two-person teams join up with larger, plan-focused advisory teams to achieve economies of scale with back office support, marketing efforts and technology.

The ability to demonstrate positive outcomes when it comes to plan participants is really important. If an adviser enhances the probability score of retirement readiness for participants—i.e., increasing plan participation or deferral rates—that can be a very meaningful differentiator and help that adviser define his value proposition.

From a fiduciary perspective, the appetite for custom target-date fund (TDF) options is growing among sophisticated advisers for many reasons, including the demand for glide paths to match a plan’s demographics, more control over the investment choices and asset allocation.

PA: How do these trends relate to advisers winning new business?

Shea: Plans have become more complex; and plan sponsors are becoming more aware that they need competent guidance and support, so successful advisers need to continually upgrade their knowledge.

To really stand out and attract prospects, advisers need to execute an intelligent branding strategy, which is why RidgeWorth created the PHD Personal Branding program. Advisers have to be clear about the value they’re delivering with their brands. Advisers want to have a coordinated effort to make sure that their brands are consistent—in advisers’ statements of services, in their personal or team biographies on their websites and in social media. If advisers are not where they want to be in business, it’s because they’re not in front of the right people, or the right people don’t appreciate their value. RidgeWorth’s PHD branding process can help advisers think about the quality of their networks and then provide ideas on how to upgrade their networks. Finally, advisers need to stay in constant contact with their centers of influence.