Insights from the experts in investment fiduciary responsibility.

Fiduciary Links: Being an Advisor Isn’t For You

Posted by Sharon Pivirotto on November 11, 2013

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Maybe some of you recently read a blog post that’s gone viral this last week with over 24 million views titled “Marriage Isn’t For You.” (at

It starts out like this: “Having been married only a year and a half, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that marriage isn’t for me.”

Seth Adam Smith is the author of this article and had just had an argument with his wife, and was reflecting on some words of wisdom his father had told him before he was married.

His father said to him, “Seth, I’m going to make this really simple: marriage isn’t for you. You don’t marry to make yourself happy, you marry to make someone else happy. More than that, your marriage isn’t for yourself, you’re marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children. Who do you want to help you raise them? Who do you want to influence them? Marriage isn’t for you. It’s not about you. Marriage is about the person you married.” Then the post continues with Seth’s realization that “No, a true marriage is never about you. It’s about the person you love—their wants, their needs, their hopes, and their dreams.”

And it occurred to me as I was reading this article that being a 401k plan advisor isn’t for you either. It’s about the people you’re serving.  Being a 401k plan advisor is about the participants – their wants, their needs, their hopes, and their dreams.  It’s about loyalty, prudence, exclusive purpose, adherence and diversification – it’s about ensuring all decisions are made solely and exclusively in the best interest of plan participants and their beneficiaries.  Your job as a plan advisor is to help ensure that their interests are first and foremost, that they’re not paying too much, that they have appropriate choices, that providers hired are providing necessary services, and that those in charge of making decisions on their behalf understand the same. 

In a competitive and regulated industry where plan sponsors admit they have a difficult time figuring out how one advisor is different than the next five, demonstrating that you’d make a good “partner” in this relationship because you truly understand that being a 401k advisor isn’t for you might be a strategy to consider.  Perhaps your point of sale material could reflect how many education meetings you conduct, how many individuals you meet with, what % of participants are in target-date or asset allocation funds on the plans you service, how many individuals are on-track for a successful retirement, or even how many time’s you’ve facilitated the removal of unnecessary services, or negotiated fees to better align with industry standards, or quarterbacked a move to a new platform that was more user-friendly, or advised plan sponsors to reduce the number of investment options to a reasonable number, etc.  The list could go on and on, but I think you get the point. 

No, being a 401k plan adviser isn’t for you.  And I truly think that those who realize the power of this statement, and ensure your business model is aligned to ERISA’s exclusive purpose rule, could have an advantage in articulating value and in differentiating yourself.

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