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cover story | PLANADVISER March/April 2008

2008 Retirement Plan Adviser of the Year

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By PLANADVISER Staff editors@assetinternational.com | March/April 2008

“When you have a plan that has grown over the years and you see in the audience those factory workers you sat down with three years ago talking proudly about how they have saved toward their retirement, you know you’ve done something right," says John Barry, Principal at JMB Wealth Management/National Planning Corporation in Torrance, California.

Barry’s enthusiasm for helping others is palpable—and contagious. More importantly, his clients say it works. “He absolutely has had a very positive effect on participants and the plan. We are seeing increases [in enrollment and deferral rates]," comments one. “[Barry] newly came aboard our plan and we are working on many improvements," says another client.

That’s the kind of result that Barry, PLANSPONSOR’s Retirement Plan Adviser of the Year, had in mind when he got into the business of helping other people. “Years ago when I chose to become a financial adviser, I wanted not only to be able to enjoy going to work each day being involved in the financial industry, but also to fulfill some personal goals by using my expertise in helping people invest for their future," he says.

Barry began his career at Merrill Lynch in New York nearly 20 years ago. While still working for Merrill, he relocated to California in 1990, where he planned to stay for only a couple of years. Instead, Barry wound up changing jobs, moving to a broker/dealer where he stayed until the mid-1990s, when he was inspired to build his own book of business, and settled on a focus on retirement plans. He started that focus with an insurance company, eventually becoming a partner at the firm, before leaving about a year ago to open JMB Wealth Management, which now has four employees.

Why the retirement plan business? “When you have an individual client walk in the door, you know they have money and means to invest. You are there to facilitate their desires and work together toward a common goal. When you walk into a company that wants to have a successful retirement plan put into place, you need not only to fulfill the desires of the owner’s/corporate needs but also, in so doing, to work with each employee. You need to have everyone on board to participate in this retirement plan so it can be successful, from executive to janitor."

Client Facing

Barry is a strong proponent of one-on-one meetings with plan participants, during which he reviews their individual accounts. Barry says he offers all of his 59 plan clients the option to bring him in for such meetings as often as the client would like. Barry says he has increased the number of enrollment meetings at many firms, specifically to capture the attention of newly eligible employees at the earliest possible opportunity. “When you are addressing a room of individuals that truly may be living paycheck to paycheck, it is not an easy task to convince them why they need to put aside money toward their retirement," he explains.

“My personal goal is to show them how important tomorrow is; the significance of paying themselves first through their retirement plan. This is the difference between living a life of constant toil or seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. My goal is to empower them with the right tools to help them on the road to retirement."

However, Barry is not recognized only for his dedication to the participants. He is truly there to help the plan sponsors ensure they have the most beneficial plan for their company. “John is the only adviser that I have ever worked with that stays in touch regularly and personally stays involved all year long, including working directly with our employees. His advice has always been correct and he is proactive in communicating what is happening in the retirement arena from new legislation to constantly working on our plan for efficiencies as it continues to grow," explains a current mid-size California client.

Making It Work

It is true that some plan sponsor clients have more complicated situations than others. At one point, every adviser runs into some troubles; Barry’s clients take notice of how he rectifies the situation. “He is willing to roll up his sleeves and help resolve tough issues and it is an area of expertise for him," says a mid-size plan sponsor. “He took us from a very complex situation with multiple plans and costs and rolled everything into one account. It took a lot of time and effort to do it correctly, but he stuck with it until it was completed."

For Barry, another tough situation occurred with a new client that was having trouble with educating its Hispanic employees on the importance of saving for retirement. The plan has been in place for 11 years and has more than 700 participants; however, the plan sponsor previously had not been able to get the vendor to produce bilingual enrollment materials. Barry says that, because he had a long-term relationship with the plan’s vendor, his group was able to solve the issue of not only providing the employees with Spanish enrollment materials, but also getting the vendor to offer, on an ongoing basis, the services of an experienced bilingual enroller who specializes in retirement plans. “The best part is we did this with no disruption, no conversion, and no increase in cost to the plan," Barry says. “It was a win-win for everybody."

The willingness to work with the providers to accomplish the best outcome for the client is reinforced not only by the client, but also by providers. As one third-party administrator (TPA) partner of Barry’s who has been working with him for nearly eight years says, “John is the standard that we hold other adviser partners to in terms of knowledge, customer service, and professionalism. We cannot speak highly enough of the service that John provides to both our company and our mutual plan sponsors."

Barry says he now is ready to look at expanding his focus, including examining his small personal planning business, and starting to offer services that take participants from their accumulation phase through distribution.