Do you want to stand out from your competitors? Here are seven ways to set yourself apart:
1. Lead. Every successful and worthwhile endeavor has a leadership component, and advising a 401(k) plan is no exception. The rules and requirements for 401(k) plans are complex and intimidating; plan sponsors are looking for you to lead the way.
2. Learn. We’re not aware of any industry licensing exam that prepares advisors to work with 401(k) plans. Those advisors who take the time to learn about the retirement industry will have a significant leg up on competitors.
3. Teach. The corollary to #2; plan sponsors need additional information on how to be great stewards and prudently manage their 401(k) plan.
4. Assess. Develop a formal assessment process so that at the start of a new engagement you can easily identify shortfalls and omissions in the plan sponsor’s procedures. Defined assessment procedures also enhance your professional stature — you can’t diagnose and prescribe until you have done a thorough examination.
5. Deliberate. The beginning of any decision-making process starts with decision-makers defining their goals and objectives. Most 401(k) plan sponsors struggle with articulating the plan’s goals and objectives. You play a critical role in leading decision-makers through this deliberative process.
6. Formulate. The preparation and maintenance of the plan’s IPS is, arguably, one of the most important functions you perform. When properly prepared, it’s the IPS that should outline how the plan sponsor is going to manage fiduciary roles and responsibilities.
7. Guide. Many of the key features of a 401(k) plan are voluntary — loosely referred to as “safe harbor procedures.” Though voluntary, they often can protect the plan sponsor from certain investment-related liabilities. Examples include 404(c) procedures, QDIAs, automatic enrollment and the fiduciary advisor provisions under the 2006 Pension Protection Act. The successful advisor will be the one who can navigate and guide the plan sponsor through appropriate safe harbor procedures.
Don Trone, Mary Lou Wattman and Rear Admiral Steve Branham, USCG (retired) are the co-founders of 3ethos. Their research and training programs are focused on the intersection between leadership, stewardship and governance. Don and Mary are the co-authors of the recently released book, LeaderMetrics®: What Key Decision-makers Need to Know When Serving in a Critical Leadership Role.