I am speaking at the Schwab National Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona on how third party administrators (TPAs)/recordkeepers can survive and thrive in a post-fee disclosure world. I am very thankful for the opportunity (as a very cheap plug here, I am happy to speak at conferences, continuing education courses, Bar Mitzvahs, and First Communions).
I’m not going to go over my slides here, but I think the most important thing for any plan provider to survive and thrive in this business now is about how to stand out among the crowd. What is your message? What is your value proposition?
I always talk about my frustrating experience at a certain semi-prestigious Long Island law firm (sorry, Lois). I do it partly to rub my success in their noses because they never had faith in me, but mostly because the way I market myself now is the way I wanted to market myself back there. I could have been a star there, I could have been a contender, I could have been somebody, instead of the bum I became.
When I was there, I wanted to use Twitter, I wanted to use Facebook, and I wanted to constantly post articles and blog messages. The bureaucracy of the law firm wouldn’t allow it. Social media was accused of the advertising committee of one of being barred by the legal advertising rules and I had a six-month wait on the publication of my articles because 3 partners had to approve my article before publication and the marketing department was bogged down in producing articles written by the law firm administrator that served no purpose other than his own. Since I’m constantly made comments about this abuse of resources, this law firm administrator’s article output has been whittled to nothing.
My message was to offer an ERISA practice that would be available for the small to medium sized plans that thought they couldn’t afford an ERISA attorney with fees on par with what the legal department at a TPA would charge, with the added benefit of an attorney-client relationship. My articles were going to try to help plan providers recruit and maintain clients, which would open a dialogue with these providers with the hopes I’d get clients through referrals by these providers. Since plan sponsors and plan providers were wary of the never ending possibility of being billed to death by the billable hour, I was going to charge a flat fee.
One of the ideas I had was that I was going to make a run at the clients of the old TPA I worked at. When I left that TPA, I was replaced by two attorneys and a paralegal (perhaps why a few TPAs have outsourced their legal department to my practice, cost effective is my middle name). So when my old TPA was charging $600 for the Section 415 amendment back in 2010, I was going to charge $300. Only problem is that the advertising committee wouldn’t let me say $300. For some reason, I had to say I’d do it in a cost effective manner. After contacting 750 of my old clients, I think I got 1 through this approach. 5 years later, I still think what would have happened had I been able to use $300 in the solicitation letter.
So enough of my life story, I’ll save it for the book. As any plan provider you need to find a message as to why anyone would hire you. Saying you’re cheaper or how the other provider isn’t going to cut it. If you are a financial advisor, the message is about offering a value, how your services will help a plan sponsor’s retirement plan, minimize their liability, and improve the retirement outlook of the plan’s participants. If you are a TPA, it’s how you facilitate the plan’s administration, eliminate the potential pitfalls of plan sponsor’s fiduciary liability, and plan design that can help a plan sponsor maximize contributions to certain employees while making the required minimum contributions to the rank and file.
Like ERISA attorneys, plan providers are a dime a dozen. You need to stand out among the crowd and it’s all about identifying a message that can help explain your services to potential clients and why you should be hired among the crowd. Hopefully, you’ll have better luck in getting your message out that I did those years ago at that law firm.