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Learn to say no

I always believe that regardless of whether it’s business or in regular day-to-day life, that you can’t be everything for everybody. Being honest with that is only half the battle.

A lot of times, I met folks who are interested in starting a registered investment advisory (RIA) firm.  I get calls for my insight on the retirement plan business, as well as my work in drafting advisory agreements for RIA firms and their retirement plan clients to comply with the fee disclosure regulations (which I do for $1,500 on a flat fee basis, cheap plug) here.  I also get asked whether I could work on their RIA registration or whether they should use one of those businesses that only deal with RIA set-ups and registration. Looking at my experience in doing that and comparing myself to these businesses, I politely tell them that these firms would be a better fit for their RIA registration. It’s not that I couldn’t do the work; it’s just that the fees and length of time in doing the work is probably better by using a business that does nothing but RIA registrations. Perhaps these new RIAs will be a client of mine, perhaps not, but at least I was honest with them.  Again, you can’t be everything for everybody.

I have a friend of mine who works for a great third party administration (TPA) firm in the Northeast. The only problem is that when it comes to smaller plans, the fees are high. Nothing wrong with that, except if you are a smaller plan and were dead set on getting this TPA to handle your plan. Anyway, this salesperson met one of the accountants he was familiar with. The accountant had a lot of opportunity in single employee, defined benefit plans. With a $4,000 minimum for the actuarial work, the salesperson told the accountant that they were better off finding another firm for these plans at less than half what his minimum fee was. Again, you can’t be everything for everybody.

Contrast this with a case at my old TPA. We had a 401(k) plan where the human resources director hated us from day one because we wouldn’t do the work she received from the previous TPA she liked. She was a problem from Day 1, but we took the case because we had a great relationship with a southern RIA firm. So this client was a problem from Day 1, but they seemed to be interested in changing the plan by making it a K-SOP, basically adding an employer stock ownership feature (ESOP) to it.  The client’s advisors asked me about our experience with it and I was honest, I said we had a couple of those cases. Our lack of experience showed up in some of the presentations to the client (of which I was not invited to attend). Story cut short, our lack of knowledge was exposed and not only did we lose the client, the RIA who referred us the client lost the client as well.

Regardless of whether it’s a TPA, RIA, and an ERISA attorney, you know you found an honest provider when they basically tell you that they can’t handle your plan because the plan is not a right fit for their book of business. As a plan provider, you also need to be honest and forthcoming when you can’t do the work. Know your limits and let the potential clients know what they are.


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