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Building Your Retirement Practice: Key Takeaways from Successful Advisors

Conferences & Events

Regardless of business model or scale, successful retirement plan advisors share certain habits that are critical to building their practices, according to a Sept. 9 workshop session at the 2020 NAPA 401(k) Cyber Summit.

Moderated by Pat Rieck of HUB International, panelists Nicole Corning of Buckman and Corning Financial Strategies Group; Lauren Loehning with Baystate Fiduciary Advisors; and Janine Moore with Peak Financial Group, a division of HUB International, shared their best practices when it comes to the three stages of client relationships—business development, client experience and the participant experience.

Business Development

Explaining how her firm realized early on the value in having a strong digital presence, Janine Moore notes that establishing a LinkedIn company page was instrumental in forging relationships. “We use it to engage with our clients and celebrate their wins and recognize special events for our teams,” she says, adding that they post updates for maximum traction, tag as many people as possible and respond to all comments. “We just have learned that that is our number one place to really interact with our folks.”

Moore also emphasizes the importance of establishing strategic alliances. “We have a large diverse group of strategic alliances and we know that communication with them is so important,” she says. To stay in touch, they send their newsletter and other important updates to their contacts. Her firm also invites them to speak as experts or to help with community service events.

Building on Moore’s comments, Lauren Loehning stresses the importance of knowing your prospects. One of the ways they have done that is by creating internal briefing memos that gather background information on potential clients, such as through LinkedIn, to assess potential opportunities and to see if there are any overlapping relationships. “This document is really great because it does work over time and it really serves as a one-stop shop for members of our team to come in and get a quick update on the opportunity before we all go into a final presentation,” she explains.  

Pitching the solution and not the product is another best practice of Loehning’s. When going into a final meeting, she suggests engaging the prospect with questions and answers at the beginning of the meeting, instead of immediately talking about their value proposition. “We may think we know what the client needs based on prior conversations, but typically everyone on that committee is going to have a different agenda, so we want to bring that all to the table at the beginning of the meeting and then provide solutions from there,” she notes.

Turning the process of onboarding clients into business development opportunities is another important area. Nicole Corning at Buckman and Corning Financial Strategies Group believes that you are most referable when someone first hires you. “You’ve done your dog and pony show. Everyone feels the warm and fuzzies and you’re top of mind, but it’s also a double-edged sword of sorts because you never get another chance to make a first impression,” she explains.

As such, she suggests that executing a “flawless onboarding process” is critical to the longevity of that client relationship, as well as making you very referable to other plan sponsors. Corning recommends conducting a “deep dive” within the first 60 days on everything from investments to plan design, participation, contribution rates and plan enrollment. “We’re doing a complete diagnostic on the plan in that first 60 days, then we translate that into an onboarding template because every plan is going to be different,” she advises.

Client Experience

When considering client reviews, value added services and ongoing touch points, Corning explains that everyday interactions she has, such as going to the doctor to ordering something on Amazon, have helped her be more cognizant of areas where her firm can improve their processes.

She notes, for example, that they like to take as much off their client’s plates as possible, so something as simple as proactive scheduling for the entire year can help streamline the process and improve the client experience. They also have learned from the COVID-19 quarantine that clients prefer meeting materials and the agenda in advance, instead of receiving the materials the same day, as they had when they had in-person meetings. Corning also stresses the importance of giving back timely meeting minutes as a way to keep investment committees on track with decision-making.  

Diving further into value-added services, Loehning stresses the importance of having a good financial wellness provider. She explains that the firm they work with has streamlined processes where they can deliver a program without recreating the wheel for each client that engages in it. And as the advisor acting in the role of “quarterback” in working with the provider, they can then take what was learned from the financial wellness assessments to the plan committee, including improvements made by participants or areas that need adjusting to get them on a path to better financial wellness.

The Participant Experience

An area of focus that Corning emphasizes is the decumulation phase because, she says, this is probably the most critical phase when it comes to working with participants. “That’s where most of our panic calls from participants come across our desks, so one of the things we take very seriously is the role that we’re probably the only financial advisor that most of our plan participants are going to come across,” she explains.

As such, her firm is committed to providing topical and specific information to these pre-retirees or early retirees. From an educational standpoint, her firm holds after-hour webinars, where they will discuss things like Social Security, Medicare, long-term care, budgeting and retirement.

If your shop doesn’t do wealth planning, Corning suggests that it’s important to have a resource where you can refer those participants who need more in-depth financial planning to qualified certified financial planners. Echoing Loehning, Corning also notes that this is a great way to create a back-and-forth with a referral source.

For those situations where a participant hasn’t saved enough, Corning recommends trying to get them to focus on what they can control and what their budget is. “Sometimes when you feel like you can’t do something, you can do something, which is you’re providing a retirement worksheet and a budget worksheet, and you’re getting these participants to think about how much they’re going to be spending and what their expenses are going to be,” she notes.  

An additional area of focus, according to Moore, is to develop a good rapport with your recordkeepers. Moore explains that her firm has downsized the number of recordkeepers they’re using so that they can really get to know them and the ones that have the best participant experience. “We want to gather their best ideas. And we want to partner with those education coordinators to do these web demos and teach [participants] how to get involved in their own accounts,” she says.