chalk talk | PLANADVISER January/February 2013

Role Play

What exactly does a plan adviser do?


By Steff C. Chalk | January/February 2013
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Sometimes we learn the most when we least expect to learn anything at all. That is part of the beauty of remaining on a path of continuous improvement throughout one’s career.

As is the case with many of us in the retirement plan advisory space, thanks to abundant travel opportunities, we regularly find ourselves next to a complete stranger as we settle into our train or airline seat. When traveling with such a companion, knowing that he may be beside you for an interminable number of hours—a give-and-take often occurs.

The mental gymnastics and desire to participate in that repartee can be driven by factors such as: duration of the trip, how the other person carries himself or the amount of sleep that either participant logged in the preceding 24 hours. Countless factors are at play when someone asks, “What is your final destination?”

Recently, I was seated next to an individual who knew nothing about our business, had no clue what retirement plan advisers “do” but every reason in the world to learn— his retirement security could depend upon it.

Why the Confusion?

In this case, the person seated beside me was retired from a Fortune 500 company. He had been extraordinarily successful over the years, and he told me some things that surprised me. After I explained that I deliver services to retirement plan sponsors and retirement plan advisers, he quickly asked, “What does a plan adviser do?” then indicated that he could use some help with his 401(k) plan.

I informed him that the firm “handling” his 401(k) plan did have resources that would help. I was informed that he knew that because he had called the 800 number and discussed the various methods that could be used to assist in the management of his fund balances.

As I navigated the conversation, with all the predictability of an experienced retirement plan adviser I started to learn the basics. … He told me he had called the help desk and told them what he was attempting to do with his money. However, his next comment is what startled me the most: He had called the help desk approximately two years ago … and was still waiting for them to call back!