What Will 2015 Look Like?

It wouldn’t be a new year without thinking about the things you’d like to change or improve. We asked retirement plan specialists about progress on their New Year’s resolutions.

Most in the business (83%) made some New Year’s resolution. Of those responding to our survey, 75% were advisers, 17% were consultants and 8% were third-party administrators.

Retirement plan specialists who made a work-related New Year’s resolution are looking to expand their practice (53%) or improve some aspect of the business (42%). Learning a new skill came in at 21%, and starting a new business line is of interest to a minority (5%).

Jason Chepenik, managing partner at Chepenik Financial, wants his workforce to test-drive their own retirement. The firm’s unusual resolution is to give employees a 40-hour sabbatical from work—with a proviso. The time must be used for a specific bucket-list item that benefits the employee, their community or the world. It is not a vacation, Chepenik tells PLANADVISER, but an opportunity to take time to examine what life might be like in retirement. The goal is also to produce a book of experiences to share with clients. Chepenik’s own options range from sculpting or serving as a welding apprentice or hiking the Appalachian trail.

Whatever the resolution, actions to fulfill them are being taken across the industry. Some advisers are upgrading websites while others are onboarding newly hired heads of marketing and sales. Still others are adding more people and starting/marketing a new business line. One retirement plan specialist has begun taking the Accredited Asset Management Specialist (AAMS) course; another is taking the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) certification program. “Keeping pace with the industry constantly requires new knowledge and skills,” the survey participant explained.

Ongoing strategies are at the core of several respondents’ resolutions:

  • Weekly meeting with partner to review actions taken;
  • Put goals in written business plan and performance evaluation;
  • Creating a business plan and working internally as a group;
  • Working with the team to develop new programs to ensure the participants’ best interests are put first; and
  • Implementing a “12-week year” strategy [based on the book by Brian Moran and Michael Lennington] and saying no to distractions.

Improving some aspect of the business means new marketing initiatives, for some. One firm hired a new head of marketing and sales; another is executing a new marketing plan.

Asking Clients

“We wanted diversity,” says Douglas G. Prince, chief executive officer of ProCourse Fiduciary Advisors. Prince tells PLANADVISER that the firm recently created a client advisory board that comprises a chief executive officer, a chief financial officer, director of HR, director of total rewards, and a chief operating officer. The board gave ProCourse a number of ideas for resolutions this year. These included things like examining how and when clients wanted to receive communications; effectiveness of firm branding and what differentiates the firm; ideas on making the firm’s reporting more useful; and ideas for better employee communication. “It is great to get direct stakeholder feedback,” Prince says. “We resolve to repeat this process again this year.”

How are the resolutions going? So far, so good. One survey respondent has two new 401(k) plans. Another says that sales are up 10% over the same period last year. “I have more prospects than I normally would, and hopefully going to start closing more deals as a result,” says one respondent.

“The rigorous study schedule, 300 hours needed from January to June, has kept me busy,” says the participant who started the CFA certification. “The new information is immediately applicable and flowing through to my practice—we’re further expanding our Code of Ethics at this point.”

Other responses are:

  • Everyone is jazzed up over it;
  • Already receiving indications of interest, proposal requests and meetings;
  • We have already begun seeing the new business line pay off; and
  • We have been invited into a few new opportunities through our CPA outreach.

Some resolved to keep work in perspective. J. Kevin Stophel, an adviser with Kumquat, a wealth management firm, says his resolution is to keep work from hijacking and dominating his life. “I have made integrating my family, health and non-financial interests into my weekly schedule intentionally and not allocating those areas the leftovers,” he says.

Thanks to everyone for answering! We'll ask for your opinion again soon.