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Interview: Roger Wohlner, The Chicago Financial Planner

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Q: How did you start in the retirement plan business?

 

A: Early on I met a local TPA firm and he referred me to a local manufacturer who needed an advisor as they started up a 401(k) plan. That company is still a client and I not only provide advice to the sponsor on that plan, but also on two defined benefit plans as well.

 

Q: When I started on LinkedIn, I noticed you were one of the first advisors who consistently blogged and wrote. How did that happen?

 

A: I started blogging in 2009, the same year that I became active on social media (Twitter and LinkedIn).

I’ve always enjoyed writing and it is something that has come naturally to me since high school. I saw some of my contacts on Twitter and LinkedIn doing blogs and it seemed like a good idea.

Q: From when you started in the business, what’s the biggest thing that’s changed in the retirement plan business?

 

A: Even aside from the DOL fiduciary rules released last year, it seems that plan sponsors are more aware of their fiduciary obligations, perhaps via the news coverage that the various lawsuits against plan sponsors have received.

 

Q: You’ve written a lot about mutual fund and share classes. Is there an end in sight for the alphabet soup of share classes?

 

A: I don’t in fact I think it is getting a bit worse. While thankfully B shares went away a few years ago, I read something on Morningstar.com a few weeks ago, about a new class of front-end load shares that was being proposed in response to the DOL fiduciary rules. With the administration’s attempts to block or delay these rules who knows if this new share class will move forward.

 

Even in the retirement plan space, anecdotally, it seems like there is still a maze of share classes.

 

Q: What has been the impact of fee disclosures on the retirement plan business?

 

A: From my experience, while I view this as a good thing, I sense that neither most plan sponsors nor plan participants understand them. It is critical for financial advisors to these plans to ensure that their sponsor clients understand these disclosures and how to interpret this information.

 

Q: What do you think of the new fiduciary rule and its expected delay/withdrawal?

 

A: I think the new rules were/are a step in the right direction, especially as they pertained to retirement accounts like IRAs and smaller 401(k) plans.

 

In the case of plans who already had a fee-only advisor helping them I don’t think the rules really change things all that much. However, for sponsors working via a broker or registered rep, I’ve talked to some sponsors who have been notified of some drastic changes in the way their plan will be run. All of them have been in the direction of fee-based accounts.

 

Q: Do you think plan sponsors better understand their fiduciary role?

 

A: I think this varies by sponsor and frankly by the advisor they are using. Many advisors have done an excellent job for years explaining their fiduciary obligations to their sponsor clients. In other cases, I’m not so sure.

 

Q: Do you think all the litigation has had an impact on how providers and plan sponsors handle themselves?

 

A: I do think this has had an impact, especially among larger plans. I think attorneys like Jerome Schlichter have done a great service to plan participants everywhere, and I think plan sponsors are taking notice.

 

Q: Is there still a place for revenue sharing in the retirement plan business?

 

A: As long as it is painstakingly disclosed and every dollar can be tracked it can have a place. Too often sponsors don’t understand this and some advisors and providers looking to be paid from this source haven’t always done a great job of being transparent about the details of the revenue sharing process.

 

A good advisor worth their salt will help an advisor seek out the best plan provider for their situation, low costs and top-notch investment choices.

 

Q: How can people learn more about you, your practice, and writings?

 

My blog is The Chicago Financial Planner. I focus on issues for individual investors and my target reader is a Baby Boomer in or approaching retirement. I focus on retirement, investing, 401(k) issues and other aspects of financial planning. I started the blog in 2009.

 

I’m also active on LinkedIn and Twitter.

 

In mid-2015 I decided to focus a significant amount of my time and efforts to freelance writing. I’ve written numerous articles for Investopedia and contribute to Morningstar Magazine, Go Banking Rates and Investor Junkie as well.

 

In addition, I do a lot of ghost writing for various financial services companies and for other financial advisors as well. Click on this link to learn more about my freelance writing services.

 

I still serve as advisor to a number of larger, long-time clients and am very focused on serving their needs.

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