With the government's continued emphasis on fee disclosure and transparency, pricing for defined contribution/401(k) plans will continue to fall for all vendors, including advisers.
Though less commoditized than recordkeepers and asset managers, advisers have to be ready to demonstrate their value to more discerning buyers and focus on ways to run their practice more efficiently, since they will be forced to service more plans for less money per plan. While it is rarely recommended that advisers sell on cost instead focusing on value, advisers who don't focus on ways to efficiently run their practices with an emphasis on the bottom line will struggle in the new, cost conscious, fee transparency, fiduciary focused DC market.
There are a number of simple ways to run internal operations more efficiently, including the following:
Outsourcing. There are many firms, including provider partners, that can perform non-core tasks for advisers at a cheaper rate while allowing the team to focus on more important matters. These tasks can include creating quarterly investment reports or scheduling appointments with prospects. Be careful not to outsource core tasks, though - those that separate you from the competition, like enrollment meetings.
Delegating. Most advisers are good at either prospecting or at managing client relations. Understanding your strengths allows you to focus on what you do best. Most successful advisers are good at generating new business, which means that they should have a strong team or person focused on managing clients. Some advisers are good at closing but not at generating new business. Advisers should never delegate important tasks like making the first meeting or keeping in touch with clients periodically.
Systems. Using technology, particularly software developed and maintained by a third party, can leverage an adviser and their team - especially when it comes to investment analytics, fee benchmarking, contact management and accounting systems, much of which can be subsidized through provider partners.
Prospecting and business development is a key concern for all advisers. Without going into the various ways to acquire new clients, there are business models and techniques that the top DC advisers use, including:
Targeting. Don't go after every opportunity and don't chase long shots. Selecting prospects that meet an adviser's profile of the ideal client saves the time and agony of dealing with the wrong plans that take up a lot of resources without contributing to the bottom line. The most successful DC advisers close more than 60% of prospects (defined as a plan that the adviser has already met with, not a list of suspects) after three to four meetings. Though for some advisers this metric is aspirational, anything less means something is not right - wasting valuable time and resources on dry wells.
Leveraging partners and clients. Referrals are always the best source of prospects. Very few advisers create a network of other advisers and consultants, however, and even fewer ask clients for referrals. Many group benefits, wealth management and P&C advisers have clients who need a good retirement adviser. Under the right business model, these advisers would rather refer clients to a trusted adviser within a network than expose them to poaching competitors. Selling to other advisers personally, offering reciprocal prospecting opportunities and engendering trust to create a virtual total benefits solution are the keys to successful models.
Full service. Even if the DC adviser has other adviser partners, it is becoming more important to have a full service benefit shop to leverage all opportunities with clients, including group benefits, wealth management, financial planning or rollovers. Hiring the right people with the right expertise is one route, while mergers and acquisitions of other firms are becoming more common to leverage fixed costs and the capital required to grow a practice.
Operational and prospecting efficiencies are the keys to maximizing bottom line profits. This is obvious, but they also lead to a more subtle benefit. The most successful DC advisers have balance in their life - sleeping as many hours as they work; and spending time with family and friends, on hobbies and taking care of themselves.
Under the genre of "less is more," successful advisers will find that they can grow their practices and make more money while spending less time — if they have the right repeatable processes and select the right partners and clients.
Barstein is the founder and executive director of The Retirement Advisor University at the UCLA Anderson School of Management Executive Education. Reach him at Fred.Barstein@TRAUniv.com.
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