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Cake Vs. Cupcakes

I have been quoted as saying that “cake is a delivery system for frosting” (or icing depending on which word you prefer).

Two of the most watched shows in my home are The Cake Boss and DC Cupcakes.  Not because we are confection junkies but because my kids like to watch the inner workings of any businesses.  They also have a knack for asking for the most complicated and realistic designs for their birthday treat.

What is notable here though is how parents get frustrated after seeing how much cake & frosting  are left after the party.  In the final analysis we have found that cupcakes give us more variety and portion control, and yes, waste reduction.

What does this have to do with retirement plans you ask?  When we speak with many Advisors the questions we normally get focus on the debate of cake vs. cupcakes.  Should it be a feature rich platform with loads of bells and whistles or should it be skinnier and more individualized?  Will extra features actually be utilized or will they be the leftover frosting, wasted and perhaps expensive?  Is the success of the participant outcome dependent on the platform or the Advisor?

Do plan sponsors often buy cake with extra frosting but later find out their participants really needed cupcakes?


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Controlling your Own Destiny


Destiny | Noun| the predetermined, usually inevitable or irresistible course of events

Sports anchors are fond of saying “the team controls their own destiny”.  Really?  I am not the King of grammar, nor the Prince of punctuation.  However this phrase is one that (literally) may drive me mad.

In the retirement plan arena there are loads of people throwing stones at the system.  We call them window breakers.  They cast doubt, and suspicion on the system.  These pundits blame the mutual fund companies, the insurance companies,  Advisors and even the employers.  They long for a new system.  A system where: the “fees” are low; the interface is user friendly;  advice is abundant; enrollment is easy; savings rate soar; everyone opts in; earnings rate are more predictable; there is no liability; and on and on…idealistic, impractical and possibly a waste of valuable time.

When looking  for new clients it makes sense to  look for companies that are paternalistic.  They believe their employees are NOT cogs in the wheel.  They let you come in on company time to educate the employees about using the benefit.  They understand that the 401k plan may be the only effective place for an employee to save for retirement

The 401k plan is not like any other benefit. Take dental insurance.  You pick the package, 2 year rate guarantee and if at the end of two years you find out that no one used it, you just don’t renew it.  That’s it, all she wrote.  Can you do that with a qualified plan? Not really……

We actually believe that the local Advisor working in concert with a proactive Plan Sponsor can positively impact the participants.  We believe a qualified plan needs work to become a meaningful benefit.  We believe participants are at the heart of the equation.

Do  plan participants control their own retirement destiny? The answer is up to you……

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My Favorite Things 2013 Part I

That time of year has rolled around again.  I regularly get asked what pieces of technology I am most intrigued by and the ones that make our art here at The 401k Study Group a little easier to create.  Here are the first 5.  Now there is a catch.  My most favorite Thing this year is not on the list.  That piece of info will be individually delivered to the first 10 people that email me at  I will give you a hint:  It is very inexpensive and I think it is a must have for anyone who is looking to see if their messaging is reaching their target audience.  Thanks to all of you that read, listen, watch and comment on our work.  We are thrilled you share your time with us.  Now, onto the list.


#1. |  I have written about this separately in another blog post.  You can read the details here.  I do want to say that the ability for anyone professional (celebrity or not) to have a platform that allows them to take calls, share their expertise and get paid works for me.  On the flip side, if you are looking for help, Clarity provides a growing list of experts that you normally wont be able to reach out and call.  Check it out.


#2.  Trello | This task management platform is simple.  Easy to use and intuitive.  It works on a simple card system that you can drag and drop.  I like simple design and the interface for this is just that.  It works on large items and small recurring ones. It can synch with your desktop, phone or tablet.  And the basic version is FREE.  It also allows for collaboration.  There are many task management programs out there, but I really do favor this one.


#3. | Anyone that follows the work we do at The 401k Study Group knows we like to aggregate info and then have the ability to share it easily. is our daily newspaper platform.  We find an article that we think the 401k community would benefit from and we tag it and it appears on our news paper.  You can highlight, edit the title, add a photo.  The page itself can be indexed, searched and allows for comments.  It also allows other members of the community to “Re-Scoop” your article and use it for themselves.  What a resource if you are trying to provide a one stop shop for news aggregation.


#4.  Buffer App | I have mentioned this tool in the past.  However in many of my conversations with Advisors I hear them struggling with finding content and then struggling even more with finding the time to post it.  Rest assured I do not have a Harry Potter wand.  I also do not have more time in the day than anyone else.  I use Buffer to tag items for posting  to my social networks at a predetermined time.  LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook, Twitter.  All of those platforms integrate.  Find the items you want to post then just load your Buffer.  Go way on vacation and items still post.  Wait, maybe it is magic?

logo-og#5.  Klout | There has been a lot of hand wringing and gnashing of the teeth over on line influence sites. There are many opinions both pro and con about their accuracy and validity.  I will only say this, just be aware they exist.  I will not hypothesize that  you can get your dream job if your Klout Score is an 80.  I will also not agree that if your score is a 20, you are not influential.  Just be aware. Take a few weeks and check one of these sites out.  There are many.  I favor Klout, but you may chose one of the others.  See what makes them tick, if they are important to you work at trying to raise your score.  It means you are doing the work.

That’s it. My favorite 5 of 2013 so far.  But don’t forget, the tool that I love the most this year is not listed.  If you want he dirt on it and why I really do think this is one of the best tools an Advisor can have, shoot me an email.  The first 10 get to hear about it.  If your number 11 hit me up on  Schedule a call.

Thanks for reading!


The Long and Winding Road | Dalbar Certification

 A guest post by John Marion from Howard Capital Management

Contry Road

Howard Capital Management started on the journey to achieving Computer Model Certification 5 months ago.  We started down the road because we wanted an independent third party to review our methods for compliance with ERISA and we wanted the certification to show it.

There are very few companies that are approved by the Department of Labor to certify computer models under ERISA. DALBAR is one of the best know of these companies. So we chose DALBAR as the “gold standard” to conduct our certification.

Five months ago, we asked DALBAR to open the Optimizer’s hood and kick the tires. The certification process covers the following points, among others:

  • Clean background check
  • Investment theory is generally accepted
  • Performance and fees are reasonable
  • 5-year track record
  • No conflicts of interest

After 7 weeks of intense scrutiny, we received DALBAR’s certification on May 20th, 2013. Needless to say we are proud to have received this credential.

 Now we can say that the Optimizer has been evaluated by DALBAR to determine if it meets the requirements to be used as a Certified Computer Model as defined by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended [“ERISA”] Section 408(g) and Internal Revenue Code [“IRC”] Section 4975(d)(17). As a result, the HCM 401(k) Optimizer® computer model has been granted Certified Computer Model status by DALBAR. This is important, because ERISA plan fiduciaries who meet all other ERISA requirements and use a certified computer model will qualify for the fiduciary relief granted under ERISA Section 408(g).

There are very few companies offering models that have been certified and none that we know of that embrace the Advisor as the Optimizer does.This is very important because it allows us to partner with advisors to offer plan sponsors a solution that can grant them fiduciary relief.

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Is John Bogle Coming To Your Funeral


Have you sat at the deathbed of a client? Heard a hysterical widow on the phone? Attended gut wrenching funerals and memorials for people that had become dear friends as well as clients? Served an insurance claim to a 22 year old widow with 2 kids and one on the way. Watched children and siblings, parents and relatives, charities and creditors behave badly. Gazed into the eyes of the soon to be departed as they contemplate those they leave behind…..

Well, this is the mushroom cloud and it is rising. This is ground-zero for families and you better be ready; to rush in as everyone rushes out, to take the heat and the smoke, to flourish and function in the face of great trial….. and no one told you. This is your career endgame and your advantage, your value proposition and your greatest sacrifice….. How could they leave that out?

So I ask you….Is John Bogle coming to your funeral, dealing with hospice or reading to you at bedside? I doubt it.

Investment returns rarely finish in the top 10 reason why we choose advisors. Humans are still social creatures and the final chapter is always around the corner. It is on this reality that you can build a value proposition that withstands Volatility, Bear Markets and Fee’s. It’s just that no one told you. They thought it would scare you away. This is serious so let’s get serious about why you should be hired. Why clients should know how the final chapter goes….and how you understand the way into the burning building when everyone is running out.

You can call John Bogle but I don’t think he is coming to your funeral.