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Retirement plan advisors now conduct business amid a pandemic. Despite the incessant newsfeeds, updates and interviews with a plethora of experts, no one is certain if we are halfway into the pandemic, on the tail end—or still at the beginning. 

Advisors and compliance departments have developed a new way of servicing clients, having adjusted the running of their day-to-day operations. Most retirement plan advisors have found prospecting cumbersome and in-person reviews challenging; however, Zoom, GoToMeeting and others have helped to fill the void during the prohibition on face-to-face meetings. Advisors have adapted activity levels to their environment, and many are operating their business from home. It is far from business-as-usual, but having functionality is now considered a luxury. Retirement plan advisors are fortunate to have weathered this storm with the ability to continue to deliver products and services to the clients who need them.

What About Clients?

The pandemic is a time for cementing client relationships. As advisors and plan sponsors work through the pandemic, advisors should be familiar with every client’s circumstances and unique needs. Each plan sponsor organization can now be pigeon-holed into one of three categories:

  • going out of business;
  • adjusting to new markets, new products or new strategies; or 
  • flourishing during the pandemic. 

It is not difficult to comprehend and contrast the nuances of a firm that is destined for extinction in the span of three weeks in March versus a firm that faces orders they cannot fulfill over that same three-week period. One firm is furloughing long-term employees, while the other is frantically considering adding production facilities. As an advisor it is possible to help and assist either firm—but it is important that you know how to do so.

Read more commentary from Steff Chalk here.

Plan sponsor clients in all three categories listed above are likely immersed in cash flow analysis, scrutinizing their customers to determine credit risk and potential losses. But for your plan sponsor clients, cash flow analysis extends well beyond their own customers during times like these. They are also engaged in another ongoing analysis: regularly deciding whether it made sense to take advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) monies offered through the CARES Act. And, in varying degrees, all organizations have held discussions and then had to make made decisions on whether to move forward with a remote workforce, contract workers or a leaner staff. Each of these decisions will have an impact on facilities management and the possibility of a downsizing of office space the next time the lease is up for negotiation. 

How Can the Advisor Help?

Each of the above—cash flow analysis, remote workers, CARES Act funding and lease negotiations—can be a “survival strategy” more than a conversation. The topics are important—but no fiduciary can forget the retirement plan.

Acting as a prudent expert during times like these can be an elusive obligation for plan sponsors. Pandemic or not, the fiduciary duties of prudence, care and loyalty are still the responsibility of each plan sponsor fiduciary. (As you may have noticed, law firms like Schlichter Bogard & Denton do not seem to have relaxed during the pandemic.)

As difficult as it is to keep plan sponsors on track 24/7, being an advisor is a rewarding profession. The retirement industry is one where we are all aware of our goals and objectives. While we are all conducting business differently today than we did last year, we are fortunate to still be in a position to assist plan sponsors in helping their plan participants retire.

Steff Chalk is the Executive Director of The Retirement Advisor University (TRAU), The Plan Sponsor University (TPSU) and 401kTV. This column first appeared in the Fall issue of NAPA Net the Magazine.