Expanding your influence as you help clients cope during challenging times

Image: Expanding your influence as you help clients cope during challenging times

With the economic upheaval of recent years, financial advisors—particularly those who work closely with small businesses—have been feeling a new psychosocial crunch.

Why? Because economic factors such as inflation, unstable markets, hiring difficulties, and supply chain issues are forcing smaller clients to seek help wherever they can find it. These clients turn to familiar and trusted resources like their retirement plan advisor for help on nonfinancial matters because advisors have an intimate knowledge of the client’s business and employees.

This new universe of client needs has created additional pressures for retirement plan advisors and consultants. Livelihoods and business survival are at risk—and the advisor community increasingly is shouldering the weight of client burdens.

Ascensus asked four retirement plan advisors who are members of the Ascensus Elite Advisor program how they are meeting new and expanding client expectations that go beyond traditional retirement plan services. We spoke with:

Joshua Ulmer

Stacy League

Heather Heron

Jake Rushton

Executive Director and Institutional Consulting Director, Graystone Consulting, Portland, OR

Managing Director, Strategic Retirement Partners, Austin, TX

Managing Director, Strategic Retirement Partners, Austin, TX

Managing Director and Director, Retirement Plans, Strategic Retirement Partners, South Jordan, UT

They shared great insights and thoughts on how you can enhance your client relationships and expand your influence beyond retirement plan consulting during these challenging times.

  1. Actively listen to expand your value well beyond the retirement plan.

    A common thread for advisors who want to expand their consultations beyond the retirement plan is to be an active listener.

    Joshua Ulmer: "The last two-plus years have been confusing, and it's easy for business owners and plan sponsors to let emotions impact decisions. For an advisor, it's human nature to help, and this is where we can really shine. First and foremost, this is a great opportunity to reinforce the process, truly listen, and acknowledge concerns."

    Jake Rushton: "It's really important to be a good listener. We have positioned ourselves as not just a 401(k) specialist, but as a business partner to their company. If I'm unable to help them directly, I'll make a connection to someone who can solve a problem that they are having."

    Stacy League: "Maybe the biggest impact that we've seen is from a tighter labor market. Lots of our clients have found that recruiting and retaining talent is tough. We've found ourselves in a position to add value by helping them find people and making connections."

    Heather Heron: "We go really deep with our clients, both personally and professionally. Because of this, they are candid with us, they share life events and victories—when you have that connection of sharing, it makes it easier to help. Those relationships will last forever. They'll bring you with them."

  2. Empathize with your clients' pain, but don't forget to take care of yourself.

    Having many, delicate client conversations that are tinged with emotion and anxiousness can result in heightened stress levels—and advisors are not immune. Take care of yourself and look for ways to double down on your own professional growth.

    Jake Rushton: "Empathy can be taxing, but you have to continue to be relatable, and give ideas and encouragement. I'm constantly looking to learn from other industries outside the 401(k) space to understand what can work in my own world, whether it be communications or sales, for example.

    I tell clients, ‘This is what we've prepared for.' I don't let it worry me or cause me stress. When I talk to people about it, and they see that I'm not afraid, it gives them confidence."

    Stacy League: "Taking the necessary time to recharge my batteries, while encouraging my team members to do the same, is key. When you're on 100% of the time, you have to make the time to take care of yourself. Get away and take that mental break. And when you're out, you're out! No checking email if you can help it."

    Heather Heron: "We've been providing more and more business consulting. We do a lot of self-studying, accessing of resources, and referrals to our centers of influence, while trying to limit costs for the client. We say it all the time—we're more than advisors, we're counselors! But we love it."

    Joshua Ulmer: "A healthy dose of self-awareness is critical. Make sure you create the time to stay mentally charged and focused. In a chaotic environment, when you're working a lot, it's easy to get overwhelmed and develop bad habits."

  3. Tap into the broader power of your team, and keep it real.

    As leaders in the retirement plan advisory space, the panel of advisors we spoke with are the lynchpins of their respective firms' 401(k) practices. They stressed creating a nimble, efficient environment that extends through to their teams to facilitate a solid foundation that allows them and their colleagues to stay on-point with ever-changing client needs.

    Joshua Ulmer: "We've been focused on making sure team members' roles are clearly defined, workflows are streamlined, and people understand what matters. Our weekly team meetings are very transparent. Everyone prepares in advance, everyone reviews priorities, and everyone is on the same page. It's been very successful for us."

    Jake Rushton: "We were trying to have long sales meetings, but we've shifted to weekly short meetings, 30 minutes, focused on a single tactic that will help them in their jobs, and ultimately benefit our clients."

    Heather Heron: "Don't forget to think about your own in-office environment. Our office is dog friendly. And our clients love it when there's a dog on the screen for virtual meetings. It makes everyone more real."

Key takeaways.

Flexibility. Versatility. Resiliency. Advisors who are indispensable business partners to their retirement plan clients are exuding these qualities in abundance, guiding them through trying times. And just as businesses that are adapting in this daunting new economic climate will be the ones to thrive, so will retirement plan advisors. With a focus on personal and professional growth, advisors can experience an evolution of their own practice—while bringing a new kind of value to their clients.

Become an Elite Advisor

Call 1-800-345-6363 or retirementsolutions@ascensus.com

The Elite Advisor program is an exclusive experience that rewards you for continuing to choose Ascensus and our partners to help your clients achieve their retirement plan goals. Simply stated, when you operate at an elite level, you and your clients deserve nothing less than exceptional. Our Elite Advisor program makes it easier for you to:

  • Scale your business through an enhanced service model, product offering, and consultative approach
  • Position yourself as an expert with existing and prospective clients
  • Better distinguish, market, and grow your business