Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
Someone soliciting your plan sponsor clients…

For advisors with current retirement plan relationships on the books, regardless of the providers you’ve chosen to use, come August fresh 5500 data gets injected into the marketplace via plan search engines that many firms use as a prospecting tool to solicit new business. These tools vary in sophistication from providing only basic data to mine through to others that point out the opportunities for improvement and include service provider information and benchmarking statistics. We have access to them – with successful utilization – and my guess is many of you do as well. When you combine this influx of data with the common plan sponsor best practice to review 401(k) service providers every 3 years, you’ve got the retirement plan opportunity.

Undoubtedly, your relationships with the decision makers in your plans are solid — you communicate frequently and ensure savings and participation rates are high. But are your service levels high enough that the first call the plan sponsor would make when being solicited is to you? Would it be easy for them to respond to an outside offer to review their plan with, “Feel free to send along some information about your services that I can share with our plan advisor.” Or would they respond, “Sure…” Can they effortlessly articulate your value to others or will a salesperson be able to wedge their way in during the “retirement plan selling season” that kicks off in September? If any of these questions make you nervous, you’ve got some work to do.

In my role working with the advisor community, I’ve seen just about every type of sales approach. Some purely focus on investments and fees (product sales). Others are designed around scare-tactics and complex bells and whistles that just aren’t that practical. There are several that work to uncover needs and gaps in service and design. And more recently, many that focus on financial wellness for the employees and plan governance management for the employer – all with varying levels of fiduciary support. With the media reporting daily on lawsuits, fiduciary standards and ill-prepared Americans you can bet plan sponsors are aware that running a plan carries with it a lot of responsibility. Some may even feel obligated to periodically entertain other bids.

What’s tricky is depending on the pitching service provider (fund or insurance companies, payroll providers or open architecture), not all proposals are created equal so the costs and value won’t always be clear. But you can trust, however, that whoever is prospecting your clients will paint a rosy picture of the new solution while pointing out where the current structure may be falling short. Be ready.

Realize that your client is another advisor’s prospect (and vice versa), so there is no better time than the present to review your plans and check in on your relationships (side note: we can help). How are things trending? Is it time for something new? Do adjustments need to be made? Are you doing enough?

We all know it’s more fun to play offense than defense but defense is still part of the game. The good news is that in this ever-changing, competitive market there is one thing that has stayed constant: The plans with an advisor who truly owns the relationship and takes a proactive, consultative approach are the healthiest, the happiest and the stickiest.