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The Sky is Falling!

Lawsuits to the left, regulations to the right, tax reform straight ahead — these days it seems like no matter which way you look, the retirement plan industry is in trouble. The sky is falling; panic is in the air. Throw your hands up; get out while you still can.

Wait, where have we seen all this before? That’s right — the Pension Protection Act of 2006, Tussey v. ABB, the financial crisis, fee disclosure, and all the news about the DOL’s conflict-of-interest rule. Change can be cause for concern, but it doesn’t have to be a reason to fear. Our industry has weathered sea changes like this in the past, and now should be no different.

So here’s the question: Will you run for cover, or will you double down?

Run for Cover?

Do you remember when the 408(b)2 rules went into effect and some advisors backed away from their retirement plan businesses, figuring it was better to wait until talk of fee disclosure had cooled down? If you were one of them, how’s your business doing today? Do you have more clients, or fewer, or about the same number? If you could do it all over again, would you make the same decision?

Following are two quotes by Warren Buffet that resonate strongly with the state of marketing today.

Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.

The sooner you start promoting and advertising your retirement plan expertise, the better. It’s like planting a seed. It’s going to take time to develop your professional reputation. As it grows, more and more people will come to learn your experience and eventually seek you out to help them with their retirement plan.

No matter how great the talent or efforts, some things just take time. You can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.

Speaking of patience and effort: There’s no shortcut to success here. Marketing takes time, organization and persistence, and no matter how much work you put into it, you won’t see results overnight. Your centers of influence need to develop trust in your services before they’ll introduce you to their valuable clients. Your prospects will want to know about your experience and the processes you’ll use to help them with their fiduciary responsibilities and participant engagement programs. Retirement plan committees will seek you out to find out more about you, reviewing your website, your social media and the web at large to find out what people are saying about you. It can be intimidating, but it’s not impossible — it just takes time.

Read more commentary by Rebecca Hourihan here

Double Down?

If you’re serious about making it in this business, you need to recognize that fear and hesitation can spell opportunity for you. When your competitors are afraid to make a move, that’s your chance to step in! Here are some things you can do:

  • Seek out a retirement plan advisor who’s on the fence about what to do with their book of business — and buy it from them!

  • Speak with CPAs and accountants who used to sell insurance-based products and negotiate new deals with them.

  • Look for local plans with corrective distributions, then team up with a TPA and try approaching those plan sponsors with conversations about plan design.

  • Know any business owners with high incomes? You can bet they have been reading about the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and whether they have QBI opportunities. Start a conversation with them on savings strategies such as HSAs, new compatibility, cash balance plans and others.

Now take a look at your current marketing materials. Are they awesome? If so, good job! If not, you’ve got some work ahead of you. Competition is fierce, and high-quality, professional-looking marketing materials can offer an immediate way to stand out. Update your website, your biographies and social media profiles, your brochures, your presentations, your case studies — every single item you share with clients, prospects or centers of influence should provide a world-class representation of what it’s like to work with you and your firm. You’re an expert in the field of retirement plans, and your marketing needs to reflect that.

What’s Next?

We can’t know for sure right now. The most likely outcome is a wave of lawsuits that will change how plan fiduciaries document and adhere to their processes. We’ll see advisors enter and leave the industry. Odds are good that the newly released SEC fiduciary proposal will come into play. Tax reform is going into effect — and it will have a huge impact on employers and employees. The bottom line:

Things are going to change, and the industry will have to adapt to those changes.

While there are some major changes on the horizon, the sky isn’t falling. Embrace the changes, market through them, and remember: Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago. Take the opportunity to plant the first seed today!

Thanks for reading, and happy marketing!

Rebecca Hourihan, AIF, PPC, is the founder and CMO of 401(k) Marketing. This column originally appeared in the Summer issue of NAPA Net the Magazine.