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Posts from the ‘The 401k Study Group’ Category


5 Easy Things You Can Do To DIfferentiate Yourself In The 401k Market

A guest Blog Post from Sharon A. Pivirotto – CEO


In 1998 I lost an opportunity to help a company manage their 401k plan because the fees on the American Funds platform (only offered A-shares at the time), were way more expensive than the free (hidden) fees offered by the other advisor competing for the business (or so the investment committee was led to believe).

“Price is only an issue in the absence of value.” I’ve heard that quote (no attribution found) many times before and it wasn’t until I got the call in 1998 telling me I did not win the business that I realized what that quote actually meant to me.

“Maybe the reason it seems that price is all your customers care about is…

… that you haven’t given them anything else to care about.” ~ Seth Godin

If you want to stop competing on fees (and funds and fiduciary status), you must be able to identify the value you actually bring to the table and clearly articulate in a way that helps plan sponsors understand why they’d want to hire you (as opposed to a product or vendor you might be able to represent).

One: Specialize and advertise.

If you’ve been working in the qualified plan space for any length of time you understand how complex ERISA and 401k plan management compliance can get. Specialization is important to your ability to service your plans properly, but is also a great way to differentiate yourself and show prospects that you are better equipped to help them than the advisor with no specialized training. In a survey I conducted (Financial Service Standards) a few years ago, 95% of plan sponsors said it was important that the advisor they work with have specialized retirement training. Get educated. Get a retirement-specific designation. Download a free guide that lists 24 different retirement credentials and pick which one you will start with, then advertise it. Let plan sponsors know you’re qualified to help them manage their plan and explain the importance of specialization in this complex area of the market.

Two: Be very specific about who you serve.

If you are the owner of a chiropractic office in Pittsburgh and the doctors in your practice want a self-directed option in their 401k plan, and I told you that “I specialize in offering self-directed options for small medical practices in Pittsburgh”, I would be exactly who you’d want to work with over the advisor that says “I work with companies whose plan size is between 2 and 10 million in assets.” Think about it. Specialists make more than generalists and you bring true value when you can narrow your customer base to serve, exceptionally well, a specific demographic. Identify specifically who you will serve and you’ll win a much higher percentage of cases when you start focusing on a specific client type rather than trying to accommodate anyone that might need help with their 401k plan.

Three: Be clear on how you’re different.

In the book “How to Get Your Competition Fired” Randy Schwantz describes the three ways you can have a competitive advantage through differentiation. First, you can provide a service that is unique, that no one else provides. Second, you can provide a service that others provide, but you have a better process for it that gets better results. Or third, you can describe the service you offer in such a clear and compelling way that prospects are motivated to buy from you rather than from your competition. Identify what your competitive advantage is and articulate it a way that shows your prospects why and how it benefits them.

Four: Make sure your unique value differentiator is front and center on your homepage.

I can’t tell you how many advisors have spent tons of money on their websites, and nowhere on their home page can a client actually learn the who, what and why of the firm (Who is this page about, what’s in it for me, and why would I want to do business with this firm). Go to your website right now and put yourself in the shoes of your prospect and ask those three questions. Chances are you can tweak your homepage so your potential clients know they’re right place and they’ve found a solution to their unique situation, if you’ve done a good job in identifying your target marketing and crafting your unique value proposition.

Five: Use LinkedIn to attract your ideal client.

LinkedIn can be so much more than a plain, boring business card if you use the features LinkedIn offers its members to your advantage. Make sure your summary explains your who, what and why (just like your home page). Give a clear call to action, such as “download your free 10-point checklist on how to avoid the common 401k mistakes from my homepage at this link”. Use the new publishing option to write about things your prospects and clients should pay attention to (while raising your visibility and credibility).

There are many ways that you can compete more effectively in the 401k market but they all begin with understanding the landscape and deciding on a focus for your business.

If you’d like more strategies and tips for growing a successful and compliant 401k practices, you can download a free special report titled “3 Steps to Developing a Marketing Strategy that Doesn’t Suck” on my blog at


About: Sharon Pivirotto is the founder of the 401k Best Practices Blog and Managing Director of Financial Service Standards, a division of fi360, Inc. She’s developed numerous products and presentations for 401k professionals including the 401k Service Training Program and the 401k Service Solution turn-key sales and service documents.


Learn about her newest program to help you find, nurture and convert 401k prospects into raving referral sources with Jane Murphy of Acceleration Retirement and Stephen Wershing of the Client Driven Practice at


The Best Fighters



There is school of thought that the best fighters are not even in in the ring yet in the qualified plan advisory business. One thing we know for sure is we have room for more to serve the 600,000 + plans out there. All the training you need is right here. You have to do the roadwork though.


Pick One And GO!

Do you enjoy committee work or participant facing activity? Pick one and GO! Are you a composer or a conductor? Pick one and GO!

Check your Broker/Dealer agreements with plan sponsors. What do they allow you to do? Pick one and GO!


If they don’t have clear agreements then you really gotta GO!


Drive 55

Speed limit

How fast do you go on the highway? The speed limit or 9 miles per hour over the speed limit. If you are in North Jersey you can’t go the speed limit safely can you? The actual and practical speed limits probably vary by region and population. I recently saw speed limit signs in Utah posted at 80 mph. Going over 80 mph is hard for most.

The growing school of thought in the qualified plan business involves a defined speed limit for compensation and related services. While we won’t make an attempt to define the speed limit, we ask you to be mindful as compensation and services are paired. Be clear, Be reasonable and Be informed. Use the tools available from your vendors, your DCIO partners and your digital destinations. has a unique group assembled to build around as do other industry stakeholders.

By the way, it is a great time to have those conversations with plan sponsors, especially if you are new to the industry or considering entry. You have a clear message that resonates deeply with decision makers and fiduciaries and no old habits to unlearn.

Oh yeah and just drive 55. The rest of the story is for another day.



Payroll Deduction IRA Programs


A Guest Post from Craig Howell, The Online 401k

According to a July 2013 GAO study, only 12% of the 4.8MM US Employers with more than one but less than 25 employees offers a workplace retirement plan.  (401(k) / SIMPLE / SEP).  This leaves millions of Americans without “coverage,” and is exacerbating the problem of funding Americans’ retirement.  It’s also a problem that, given the right products, Advisors are best-suited to address.

 Tired of waiting for private-enterprise to better this statistic, a handful of states are examining a political response.  California and Connecticut are two examples, each studying “Feasibility” of laws that would require business with a minimum number of Employees (10 in CA, 5 in CT) who do not offer a retirement plan to participate in a “Payroll Deduction” IRA programs managed by these states.

 This is in addition to H.R 2035 (Sponsored by Richard Neal D-MA) at the Federal level, which would require business with more than 10 employees to either offer a workplace savings plan, or facilitate employee deferrals into IRAs.

 Obviously, there’s a big difference between bills / feasibility studies and law.  But, if private enterprise alone won’t improve the statistics above, then government is obliged to try.

As an organization who specializes in delivering 401(k)s and Payroll Deduction IRAs to the small-business segment (1-25 Employees), believes this an opportunity for advisors to engage their small-business customers on the benefits of tax privileged retirement savings.  We can help Advisors easily, inexpensively, and profitably set-up workplace savings plans – so that these various governmental mandates won’t apply.

Photo courtesty of  AC Moraes via CC-2.0


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?


Image courtesy of -Marcus- at


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.

Image Courtesy of nuttakit at


Innovation Gets A Voice [VIDEO]


Eureka! The 401k Study Group has A New Sponsor