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February Top Advisor By Participant Outcomes (TAPO)

For Alex Assaley and the AFS 401(k) team, the key is an ability to provide advice on anything 'that has a dollar sign next to it'

401k, retirement, top advisorAssaley further solidifies his 'young gun' industry status.

Key Ingredients in Successful Outcomes 

We believe that a big component in the ability to drive successful outcomes is data.

Each year, we begin our employee engagement program with an assessment to identify where employees are currently in their financial life. This evaluation, of about 20 questions, helps to validate if someone is “on track” and to understand the trends developing with potential issues, such as emergency savings and personal debt, including credit cards.

We compile and analyze this data, which provides us a clear picture at the organization level. With some client relationships, we have 50 percent of their employees complete the annual survey, while others generate as much as 90 percent—really based on how engaged the company’s leaders are in “being champions” for this program.

With this clear picture, we can develop and better deliver a hands-on program that offers education, guidance and personalized advice across a number of areas important to employees.

Through an “engagement protocol” (which sounds sophisticated but really is not), we offer employees with some pre-meeting preparation. This could be as simple as ideas to think about prior to a meeting, or worksheets or information to bring, so that they can actively participate in a session rather than us talking and them listening.

Two critical ingredients to the success of the financial wellness program are how the group meetings are structured and the technology we use for follow-up and accountability. Success also involves the company’s commitment to how it’s scored and our ability to measure the results. For example, a company-driven incentive program may give employees “200 points for attending,” and we work with the company as to what exactly that then means and how to translate that into a program that employees use.

Ultimately, we’re trying to piggyback on some of the health and wellness initiatives that have become staples in employee benefits, since the two complement each other. Working Americans do not think separately about benefits; it’s one all-encompassing picture that works together. We want them to be able to prepare for their financial life today, tomorrow and long-term; and to do that, we look at the entire spectrum of benefits in our advice sessions.

In one-on-one sessions, my colleague Jim Keenehan says that the key is our ability to provide advice on anything that has a dollar sign next to it. In the past 12 years, we’ve helped over 13,000 working Americans in these one-on-one counseling sessions.

It often starts with a discussion of the 401k but quickly moves towards other areas of their financial well-being, which our research shows are critically important. Successful retirement planning is the outcome, but it won’t happen unless there is a strong foundation involving four other areas:

  • emergency savings
  • debt management
  • cash management
  • financial planning

There’s no question it’s labor-intensive and hands-on. Our peers would look at our service model and continued capital investment back into our own business and say it’s not worth it, but really it comes down to our firm’s mission to help working Americans with their financial life. That’s what drives us every day.

Alexander G. Assaley is Managing Principal and the Lead Advisor for Retirement Plans with AFS 401(k) Retirement Services.

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