Top 10 Tips for More 401k Business

Building a 401k practice is a difficult prospect. Staying atop the latest techniques is critically important, as is a healthy dose of the tried-and-true. Our roundup of top experts clues us in on what works, and what doesn’t.

Advice from the experts.Advice from the experts.

Starting slow and/or stalling out—it’s easy to do, and bound to happen at some point in the 401k advisor’s career. They can’t let it fester, and need to shake it up and shake it off as quickly as possible.

The solution lies in a combination of creative thinking, tech savviness and sales and marketing fundamentals. So how exactly does the advisor get the balance right for maximum effectiveness in growing revenue and their business, as well as expanding their 401(k) plan sponsor and participant base? Our panel of experts ticked off 10 tips to get 401k advisors moving, some familiar and some less so.


Look for others that can help you get your foot in the door.

“One of the most efficient ways to grow a retirement plan practice is to leverage existing relationships with property and casualty agents,” says Chuck Hammond, the 401(k) Study Group’s chief digital officer. “Begin by adding value, and offer to assist in benchmarking their client’s plans. Referrals can be hard at first; you must work hard to earn their trust. Offering to organize a financial wellness seminar is another great way to add value.”


Getting close to those that know key decision makers in the 401k advisor hiring process makes it easier to get introduced to the right people in order to spend the right amount of time in closing and onboarding new business.

“Develop relationships with payroll companies, who are intimately involved with the employee benefits and logistics of payroll deferrals into retirement plans,” notes Carina Diamond, managing director at SS&G Wealth Management.


The 401k space can quickly get complicated. Make it easier for other business professionals in your circles of influence to understand what they are and how they work, and it will pay off bigtime.

“Partner with, and educate, independent payroll providers, auditing and CPA firms,” says Ric Edelman, the high-profile founder and executive chairman of Edelman Financial Services. “Teach them about the state-of-the-art options in plan design, such as cash balance and solo 401k plans. It’s shocking how outdated many of these folks are in their knowledge level, which creates big referral opportunities.”

It’s not about picking funds or being the low-cost provider anymore, Edleman adds. These folks need to be an expert in plan design and payroll integration, and understand the tax benefits that retirement plans provide at both the corporate and employee level.”


You’ve probably heard it a million times, but it still holds. As regulations force the industry to evolve (whether they’re implemented or not), opportunities, and specifically the fiduciary rule, allow 401k advisors to separate themselves from their competition.

“With the DOL’s new fiduciary rule, all retirement plan advisors will now be required to make recommendations that are based only on their clients’ best interest,” says Steve Mignogna, a retirement plan services advisor with Legacy Advisors, LLC. “Currently, over 80 percent of advisors operate with a sales license that allows them to make investment recommendations that place their own interests above those of their clients. Our objectivity has allowed us to focus on providing the best fund menu, minimizing total plan fees, and reducing plan sponsor liability. With no conflicts of interest, our clients agree it is the prudent approach.”


It seems too obvious, but sometimes it’s all about the right activity. Although many 401k advisors shy away from the “salesperson” label, working the phones and following up with emails and (hopefully) meetings gets it done.

“You need to block out time,” Jim Betzig, chief executive officer, Beirne Wealth Consulting, LLC bluntly states. “The goal of the calls is to get a 15-minute face-to-face meeting. For every hundred calls expect five contacts and one, maybe two, appointments. Even if they say they are not interested—it creates brand awareness and a drip campaign can start after the calls.”


Many great leads come from the 401k advisor’s existing client base, even if the clients are not in charge of a company retirement plan. If wealth management clients are developed into 401k plan advocates, and are familiar the services offered, they can provide referrals year after year.

“There is nothing more rewarding than having a client recommend and promote our services based on their personal history and experience of working with our team,” says Doug Igel, director of retirement plan services at Beacon Pointe Advisors. “Our referral strategy is not one of aggression, but rather one of education—instead of direct asks, we provide educational platforms and experiences for our clients and prospective clients that allow them to pre-experience our level of expertise and understanding of their retirement strategy needs, extenuating industry circumstances, etc. The most valuable form of marketing is word-of-mouth.”


Too often, time’s wasted in communicating with the wrong person that has no influence or authority to make a decision. Get in front of the right person and bring in the right resources to close.

“The best way to gather more 401k business is to know the person you are working with,” explains Matthew Etter, managing director of wealth management at Krasney Financial. “Meaning, ‘am I working with a decision maker?’ You have to make conscious effort to distinguish between wealth management and retirement planning when speaking with a client. You also need to be able to lean on a TPA that can come in and put a proposal together for a group-level conversation, as opposed to a single investor.”


To be seen as a leader, 401k content needs to be created. Advisors should create articles, blogs, social media posts and new multi-media tools as well in order to demonstrate expertise.

“By setting up a business-development podcast, you can easily get yourself in front of CEOs who can make a decision to give you their 401k plan,” says Ted Jenkin, co-CEO and founder of oXYGen Financial. “Creating this type of content is not only good for your brand and overall public relations effort, but you have a huge opportunity to engage in direct business with companies you normally would not be able to get in front of on a regular basis. Podcasting content has helped me in the short term for immediate business [growth], while also building the long-term brand of the company.”

Jenkin recommends Shrimp Tank, a podcast website for young entrepreneurs, but any number of sites and services are available.


There is an awful lot to learn for those that do, and do not, focus in on 401k plans. The industry is always evolving, and anyone from novice to expert needs to dedicate time in order to keep their skills, and knowledge base, sharp.

“Get in-depth fiduciary training and education as well as investment analysis and consulting expertise,” says Vance Falbaum, managing director with RBC Wealth Management. “If push comes to shove, it’s most likely financial advisors working in this specialized area will be deemed a plan fiduciary. They need to understand how to both assist plan sponsors in mitigating their fiduciary liabilities, as well as their own. There are a number of resources for this type of education. The CIMA program offered through IMCA is a terrific course. AASPA programs are great too.”


Once you’ve solved a complicated situation for one client, look to apply the solution to other clients. If one client had an issue, very often so do others (and often don’t know it). It’s exactly how niche markets are developed, and can lead to a thriving practice in time.

“Certain types of businesses can have similar objectives for their 401(k) plans, and thus similar plan designs will work best for them,” advises John Newman, managing director of retirement plan solutions at TD Ameritrade Institutional. “For example, medical specialist practices that have a handful of very highly-compensated doctors, as well as a handful of lower-compensated staff, are usually interested in methods to maximize the amount of money the doctors can contribute to a plan.”

A specific plan design, one that combines a 401k profit sharing plan with an integrated cash balance plan, for example, is a good way to do it, Newman adds.

“Advisors who specialize in this approach gain credibility and can win business, and referrals, from firms that are similar.”

Mike Byrnes is a national speaker and owner of Byrnes Consulting, LLC. His firm provides consulting services to help advisors become even more successful. Need help with business planning, marketing strategy, business development, client service and management effectiveness? Read more at and follow @ByrnesConsultin.

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