TPAs & Financial Advisors are Natural Partners

TPAs & Financial Advisors are Natural Partners

Local Third Party Administration firms (TPAs) and Financial Advisors are natural partners in the employer retirement plan marketplace.  They bring complimentary skills to the partnership and a shared vision of service to their employer and employee clients.  Local TPAs and Financial Advisors:

  • Are passionate professionals who together enhance the probability of their clients achieving their goals.
  • Can have deep roots in their community through their family, friends, and organizations they’re involved with.
  • Have their ear to the ground when it comes to the needs of their community.


The ability of the local TPA and Financial Advisor to personally meet with plan sponsors is a win-win-win for all.  The rise of digital communications makes business interactions easier and faster than ever, however many business owners still prefer face-to-face meetings.


Local employers, especially those with 100 and fewer employees, are used to working with local professionals, (Attorneys, CPAs, PC Agents, Commercial Lenders) to help them run their business.  Those employers appreciate the benefits of delegating. For newer Financial Advisors, a local TPA’s connections to business owners, CPAs and others can offer them a step up as they begin building their business.


Many TPAs rely upon Financial Advisors and other sources for new business referrals.  When prospecting for new business, TPAs and Financial Advisors offer educational workshops for owners and key executives about the importance of employer retirement plans. TPAs also offer workshops specifically for Financial Advisor education, covering a wide variety of topics, from 401(k) plan sales and design, to regulation updates.

TPAs report a far higher close ratio with Financial Advisors when the TPA is present at the sales presentation.  And both have a vested interest in serving the employer and their employees in order to retain the relationship and assist the employer in maintaining a thriving retirement plan.  The service they deliver together produces good results for their community.


It all adds up that local TPAs and Financial Advisors are natural partners!


By: Laina Davidson, Shannon Edwards, TriStar Pension Consulting

Christopher Barlow, KnowHow 401(k)

THE PROSPECTING FLOW: The Discovery Meeting

THE PROSPECTING FLOW: The Discovery Meeting

#4 Profiling

Past articles in the Prospecting Flow series discussed starting the conversation with a 401(k) prospect plan decision maker, posing your initial questions to confirm the research you have on the plan, managing their objections and obtaining their opinion on improvements for the company 401(k) plan.  You are now able to decide whether to move forward with them and set up the Discovery Meeting.

The purpose of the Discovery Meeting is to continue the process of understanding what you need to know about the company, the employees, and the 401(k) plan to enhance the probability of being selected to serve.  Your objectives to accomplish during the Discovery Meeting include:

  • Show your value-added service with your Positioning Presentation.
  • Ask questions and solicit quality responses to fully understand the decision maker’s goals for their plan.
  • Develop a thorough understanding of the hurdles and or objections that you will have to overcome during the upcoming sales presentation.
  • Answer any questions the decision maker asks about you and the services you can provide.
  • Schedule a follow up meeting to present your recommendation, a sales presentation if appropriate.

Conduct the Discovery Meeting at the employer’s location.  By being on location you will be better positioned to gather other information besides the answers to your questions. You can review their office walls for family pictures, diplomas and awards.  You will certainly gain a clearer understanding of them and their company by visiting them.

There are four categories of Discovery Meeting questions to get answered.

  • Plan Demographics
  • Plan Operations
  • Plan Investments
  • Plan Service

I encourage you to end with plan service questions because service is what you have most control over.  By asking the Discovery Meeting questions you will learn about problem areas and features other Advisors may have spoken to them about that they are interested in.

Final questions posed can include a trial close.  You want an understanding if the prospect plan decision makers will move forward if they are presented with a better option.  You are not in the proposal publishing business.  Here is a sample trail close question, “You have provided a great deal of information, with plenty of opportunity for me to suggest improvements when we meet next. If after our next meeting you agree that my recommendations will provide the 401(k) plan that works better than your current plan will you be at a point where you are ready to make the upgrade?”

And a final question to ask as you conclude the Discovery Meeting seeks their assistance setting up the agenda for the next meeting when you will present your recommendations.  Ask, “Prioritize for me what will be important to discuss at our next meeting when I present our recommendations.  And if necessary, “Would all other decision makers agree on that prioritization?”

As you close the Discovery Meeting ask for a copy of their 408(b)(2) Fee Disclosure Form and an Enrollment Kit which includes a Summary Plan Description and investment overview.  A thorough Discovery Meeting enhances the probability of serving the plan.  Look for the next article in the series, when I’ll review the Sales Presentation Flow.

Continued success.

Christopher Barlow

Managing Director

KnowHow 401(k), LLC

June 2018

THE PROSPECTING FLOW: Initial Profiling Questions and Objection Handling

THE PROSPECTING FLOW: Initial Profiling Questions and Objection Handling

#3_Prospecting__Cold_Calling (2)

In my previous article I discussed using your “why you” words when you start the conversation with a prospect plan decision maker about their company 401(k).  Then ask one opening question to get the conversation going.  If they are still chatting with you, your next step is to ask a few initial profiling questions.  Answers to the questions gives you insight to move forward with the prospect plan decision makers and if appropriate, arrange the discovery meeting.

The few initial profiling questions are used to verify what you know about the plan through your initial research and to obtain decision makers perceptions of their company retirement plan.  The research you have on the prospect plan is like a poker hand.  In poker you verify how good or bad your cards are by interacting with the other players.

One of your initial profiling questions and perhaps the most important is one that uncovers any relationship the decision maker may have with any of the current plan providers including the current Advisor.  Ask, “Are their any circumstances or relationships that could cause you to favor one institution or individual over another?”  You can compete against anyone.  You just want to know the levelness of the playing field.  And the prospect plan decision maker appreciates your courage in asking about possible relationships.

Be ready to manage objections as soon as you deliver your opener.  I’ve collected twenty classic objections delivered by prospect plan decision makers heard over several decades.  From the above diagram you can see the flow of managing a prospect objection.  First, relax knowing the prospect isn’t rejecting you or your possible solutions; they are rejecting being interrupted.  Acknowledge their issue with a simple, “I understand.” And if necessary, ask them a question to clarify their issue and respond.  If the prospect plan decision maker states, “Our plan is working fine.”  You might reply, “Fine is on the way towards great.  I can’t make your plan great overnight, but I can work towards it over time.  What do you want to see improved with your company 401(k) plan?”

The next article in the series will review the discovery meeting where you strengthen the relationship with the prospect plan decision maker and learn all you need to know to be chosen to serve their company 401(k) plan.


Christopher Barlow

Managing Director

KnowHow 401(k), LLC

May 2018


THE PROSPECTING FLOW: Starting the Conversation with Prospect 401(k) Plan Decision Makers

THE PROSPECTING FLOW: Starting the Conversation with Prospect 401(k) Plan Decision Makers#3_Prospecting__Cold_Calling (2)

The diagram above shows the evolving steps of a cold call to a prospect plan decision maker from the initial contact to setting up the Discovery Meeting.  No matter if your activity is cold calling, dropping-by or social networking there is the moment when you start the conversation with your prospect plan decision maker about their company 401(k).  I call them the “why you” words.

Why should they take your call and if they do, why should they listen to you?  Why are you different than every other Advisor that calls and why are you different than their current Advisor?  Your prospect plan decision maker must have an initial level of trust before they can respect you and begin a quality conversation.  Your opener is a sentence or two of meaningful words that can cause a trust-based relationship to begin with your prospect plan decision maker.  I suggest you build your opener from your value statement.

Your value statement should contain those one or two sentences that can cause the prospect plan decision maker to want to hear more about what you do.  “My name is          from     .  My team works with companies like yours that believe their 401(k) is too important for they and their employees to manage on their own.  I am hoping to have a conversation with you about how we work to assist you in accomplishing the goals you have for the company 401(k) plan.  Is it possible that we can have that conversation?”

With your opener delivered, the pump is primed.  To keep the conversation flowing you ask them one opening question.  What’s your favorite?   Mine is, “What goals do you want to accomplish with your company 401(k) plan?”  It’s my favorite because when you are chosen to serve you will be part of their answer to the question.

Your next step is to ask the initial profiling questions to verify what you found out about the plan through research, plus any other information that allows you to determine if you want to take your time to go out and conduct the discovery meeting with the prospect plan decision maker.  The next article in the series will review the initial profiling questions you pose to prospect plan decision makers and managing their objections.

Christopher Barlow

Managing Director

KnowHow 401(k), LLC

May 2018



No-Advisor 401(k) Programs

No Advisor

No-Advisor 401(k) Programs

I know there are employers that believe Advisors can’t add any value to their company 401(k) plan.  The no-Advisor 401(k) programs provide them everything they need, except an Advisor, at the lowest cost possible.  A chase to the bottom.  Employers and employees will never physically have anyone working with them to maximize this very important employee benefit program.  The no-Advisor providers boast about being the best 401(k) program for “small employers”.  Employers with fewer than 100 employees rely on local professionals to assist them to run their business, including CPAs, Attorneys, Bankers, Group Benefit Agents and suppliers to name a few.  And the employer can look in their eyes when speaking with them, possibly the same person over the long term.

I believe disgruntled employers have never worked with an effective Advisor to serve their 401(k) plan.  Effective Advisors are the one’s when asked, what’s your favorite part of serving 401(k) plans answer, “Working with employers and their employees to accomplish their goals.”  I believe effective Advisors can enhance the probability of a company’s profitability by working with employees to use the 401(k) plan to confidently prepare for their retirement.  The retirement readiness of employees promotes the long term viability of a company by facilitating the replacement of their workforce with younger, better skilled and less expensive employees.

All 40(k) plans should have an effective Advisor working with the employer and employees.  A Chief Retirement Officer to assist the employer to define plan goals, activities to accomplish those goals, monitoring outcomes and reporting back for next steps.  And a retirement coach for the employees who will work with them to confidently use the 401(k) to be ready to retire when they choose.

February 19th, 2018

Crossing The Line

Crossing The Line

We all know what the line is, the separation between lawful ethical and unlawful unethical actions.  No matter if the act is personal or professional we all know when we approach the line.  An unlawful unethical retirement plan industry professional negatively impacts the plan participants, their beneficiaries, plan sponsors and their employer.

The individual in our industry that commits an unlawful unethical act is always caught and pays a far greater price than the amount of money they absconded.  Where they may be held to repay the money, the value of their reputation will never recover.

Through all of my personal experiences and witnessing other’s decision as they approach the line, it’s apparent that if one catches themselves and doesn’t cross the line, or if they do and through the torment of their conscious or imprisonment they realize it isn’t worth the cost, they are better able to step back from the line in the future.

February 2nd, 2018

40 Years and 11 Days

40 Years and 11 Days

The 40th anniversary of the Revenue Act of 1978 is nearing. The act added Internal Revenue Code Sec. 401(k).  Forty years from obscure code to $6 Trillion.  The reports are that early backers of the code created it as a way individuals could supplement their retirement income from a defined benefit plan.  They never intended 401(k) plans to become the primary retirement wealth accumulation vehicle it has become for about 50% of tax paying Americans.  It was 1981 before the first plan was submitted for approval.  I encourage you to read, The Day I Designed The First 401(k) Savings Plan, by Ted Benna.

Congress has tried to repeal or alter IRC 401(k) several times over the years when it realized the growing amount of taxes that would not be collected. Over eleven days in October this year IRC 401(k) went from budget bargaining chip to a non-negotiable topic.

Tankersley, Jim. “Republicans Consider Sharp Cut in 401(k) Contribution Limits.” NY Times, October 20, 2017

Weiss, Miles. “Here’s How Money Managers Plan To Battle 401(k) Cuts in Trump’s Tax Plan.” Bloomberg, October 22, 2017

Bryan, Bob. “Trump says ‘there will be NO change to your 401(k)’ after reports Republicans want new caps on retirement savings.” Business Insider, October 23rd, 2017

Lenzner, Robert. “Slashing Pre-Tax 401(k) Contributions Would Be A Big Middle Class Double Cross.” Forbes, October 30th, 2017

Bolden-Barrett, Valerie. “Update: GOP tax plan released, no cuts to 401k contributions.” HRDIVE, October 31st, 2017

There may be changes in the amount of pre-tax contributions and a major re-construction of the American Retirement Savings System in the future. If you are a financial sales professional currently serving or considering to serve the 401(k) marketplace you should have comfort knowing your career is on solid ground based on the duration, ferocity and quickness to protect the current 401(k) structure.  Time is on your side.

December 1st, 2017

Happy Anniversary!

Happy Anniversary!

What were you doing 30 years ago today, October 19th, 1987?  I was in my fifth year as an Account Executive at Merrill Lynch in Dayton.  We had been told for months by the firms’ chief technical strategist, Robert Farrell that there could be a major downward move in the stock market.  I learned that tree’s don’t grow to the sky thirty years ago today.

The most memorable moments of the 19th and for the next few days was speaking with individual clients.  They were interested in their account values, but they wanted to make sure I was doing OK.  They knew that in addition to managing the emotion of the market, I was getting married in five days.

Thirty years after the biggest one day percentage drop in stock market history, the US economy has withstood incredible highs and lows as today the DJIA is 10x the value it was at the close of the market on October 19th, 1987.  Similar to marriage you have to have long term belief and commitment.  Happy Anniversary to my wife.

Continued Success.

Chris Barlow

Managing Director

KnowHow 401(k)

Founded in 2000, KnowHow 401(k)’s purpose is to increase the number of effective Advisors that serve the 401(k) marketplace.

October 19th, 2017

Treasury Terminates myRA and Congress Reverses Rules on State Sponsored Starter Savings Plans

Treasury Terminates myRA and Congress Reverses Rules on State Sponsored Starter Savings Plans

The Trump Treasury and Republican Congress have eliminated or weakened two initiatives, a federal program and various State programs, created specially to provide starter savings options for any employee not covered by a private employer retirement plan. These plans charge no fees to employees or employers and employers do not assume any fiduciary responsibility for their employee’s participation. The main benefit for employees is accumulating their savings thru payroll deduction at their employer, the ability to automate their savings. Payroll deduction is the feature that behavioral finance tells us removes a major impediment – inertia – for an individual to begin and develop a saving habit, encouraging them to more fully participate in our free enterprise society.

I wrote an article posted in December 2015 titled, “Let All Save”, in which I bemoaned comments by several retirement industry professionals that federal and State sponsored savings programs would take business away from for profit firms. The Treasury just did away with the myRA program for cost cutting reasons and Congress took away the State’s exemption from ERISA, causing several states to pause their programs.  Other states are still moving forward with their plans including California, Illinois and Oregon.

The myRA and State plans are designed for low and middle income tax paying Americans that work at one of the 96% of US companies that employ fifty or fewer employees that don’t sponsor a retirement plan. This segment of employer size has the most failures, employee turnover and the lowest percentage with a company retirement plan.  This is also the employer segment where most employees are low and middle income tax paying Americans.  58% of those Americans with the lowest 10% of income have access to a private employer retirement plan according to a March 2017 Bureau of Labor Statistics report.  myRA and State programs are for the 42% of the lowest paid and other middle income tax paying Americans not covered by an employer plan.

There will always be employers that chose to never sponsor a retirement plan at their company, and most employers have to believe they will have an ongoing enterprise before they offer a retirement plan. That could be ten years or more.  All the while employing low and middle income tax paying Americans that need to save automatically from their first day of employment.

We should be improving and encouraging participation in employer based payroll deduct savings programs, even any federal or State program we don’t get paid on. Without alternatives, the elimination and dismantling of these starter savings plans make no sense and opposes a core way we grow our economy, promoting the ability of the individual to accumulate capital for future investment.  These voluntary federal and State sponsored programs incubate future clients for Advisors.  Even the myRA program mandated that once a participant’s account balance reached $15,000, it had to be transferred to a private sector financial services firm that could involve an Advisor. As investors account balances grow so does their belief that they need the assistance of an Advisor.  Let’s give the lowest income employees the opportunity to more fully participate in the American dream.

August 2nd, 2017

A Perfect 401(k) Prospecting Tool

A Perfect 401(k) Prospecting Tool

401(k) Advisors are active at this time of the year prospecting, profiling and delivering sales presentations in the hope of acquiring new plan clients. Selling season is once again upon us.  I want to make you aware, if you’re not already, of one of the most perfect prospecting tools ever and it’s supplied by the Department of Labor.

Follow this link to the Internal Revenue Service instructions for Form 5500,

Scroll to page 81 where you will find the ERISA COMPLIANCE QUICK CHECKLIST. The checklist was prepared by the IRS in partnership with the DoL’s Employee Benefit Security Administration and contains fourteen questions, eleven of which if the employer answers any “No”, and three of which if they answer any “Yes”, are instructed to “ your plan’s operations because you may not be in full compliance with ERISA’s requirements.”  This perfect prospecting tool is a great guide for you in the development of your service model.  Explain to the employer how your service will help them to compliantly answer the questions.  Few employers read the instructions for Form 5500 and have not seen the checklist. It’s a great community service you can provide.  Best of luck and persist with your prospecting activities.

July 18th, 2017