Year-end checklist: eight tips for financial professionals
The holidays are here, folks are taking the rest of their vacation time, and it’s time to prepare for the new year. Here are eight items for retirement plan financial professionals to focus on as you close the book on this year and start writing next year’s story.
For starters, review your notes coming into the current year and see how you did.
- What did you set out to do, and what did you accomplish?
- Which goals were deprioritized and deemed irrelevant? Is that still the case?
- Which commitments did you fall short on? Is there time to reconcile these or reset expectations?
End the year on a high note by celebrating your successes. Get a leg up on next year’s business plan by carrying over what you couldn’t get to, assuming these items are still relevant.
2 Schedule annual plan reviews
Pull out your calendar and finish scheduling your annual plan reviews with plan sponsors. Review each client’s objectives for this year, the strategies you deployed, and the results.
Group the wins, so you can double down in these areas—and see if there’s anything you can carry over to other clients. Dig into the shortfalls, identify reasons why the outcomes were unsatisfactory, and put together a plan. Use this as an opportunity to illustrate your value proposition when you meet with clients.
Determine what your client wants to focus on for the new year and help them quantify it. Are they focused on greater retirement readiness for plan participants? If so, what’s success look like? What percentage of participants do they want over the threshold in the next year? In three years?
Whether it’s income replacement goals, a smoother plan audit, or lower expenses, measurement is critical to keeping everyone accountable and working toward the same outcomes.
3 Plan your requests for proposals
Know which clients have expiring provider agreements in the coming year and start coordinating the review process with them. Are they happy with their providers, so that a brief benchmarking exercise will suffice? Or are there ongoing issues, and it’s time to initiate a more formal request for proposal? Speak to your clients to ensure you’re aligned, and start gathering details to contact competing providers. Consider spreading your RFPs over the year to balance your workload.
4 Outline your participant education strategy
If you typically leave employee education to the providers you work with, this will be a quick step. If you’re much more hands on when it comes to one-on-one consultations or giving educational seminars, you might consider the following:
- How much time each week or month can you dedicate to education?
- Of that time, what percentage will go toward one-on-one discussions versus giving seminars to larger audiences? Which one gives you the greatest return on your investment (i.e., your time)?
Slot in time for educational seminars to help people join and get the most out of their retirement plans. Take stock of your wealth management clients, too, and see how much of your time you should be giving them throughout the year.
5 Develop a plan for prospecting
If you’re focused on expanding your business, evaluate your prospecting strategies. Consider incorporating online prospecting tools if you haven’t already. From the comfort of your home, you can:
- Locate businesses in a geographic region you want to work within
- Find specific plan types you’re comfortable with
- Identify plans with poor plan metrics and plan design features not currently in place
Once you have a list of prospects, go to LinkedIn to find common interests or connections. Having a mutual bond can make for a warmer introduction. By messaging them on LinkedIn, you also give your prospect a chance to digest your message and learn more about you and your company before responding.
6 Identify ways to optimize your practice
Building a profitable retirement practice is hard. Spend time during the holidays to brainstorm where you can streamline processes, save yourself time, and reduce your costs.
- Which repetitive processes can be automated or eliminated?
- Can you cheaply outsource tasks to a third party or leverage new software that can do them for you?
- How can you enhance your company website to make more tasks self-serviceable to customers and create an inbound marketing strategy—a tactic to bring clients in to you?
- What about your expenses—can you decrease spending in any areas?
Create operational efficiencies, so you can scale your business when things go well. You’ll also free up time to focus on sales and retention when things aren’t going your way.
7 Map out your compliance calendar
If you don’t already have an annual compliance and ERISA calendar, consider creating one. It can help you stay organized, know when your partners are in their busy seasons, and ensure you don’t miss important deadlines. You may help clients avoid penalties for late submissions and stay on top of their fiduciary duties. Many calendars will include key dates, such as:
- March 15: Deadline for highly compensated employees (HCEs) to receive refunds for prior year ADP/ACP testing failures (not applicable for eligible automatic contribution arrangements). Failure to meet the deadline will result in a 10% excise penalty to the plan sponsor for any refund amounts that were due to the HCEs.
- April 1: Deadline for taking your first required minimum distribution (RMD) in the year after you reach age 72, or if later, the year in which you retire
- July 31: Deadline for Form 5500 filings or extension requests
- September 30: Deadline for summary annual reports to be sent to participants (assuming the plan has a December 31 year end and hasn’t filed a Form 5500 extension)
8 Determine your continuing education needs
Do you have certifications or licenses that require continuing education credits between renewals? Know how many hours you have left for each, when you need to complete them, and find events and seminars that will help you get there. Mark any renewal deadlines for the upcoming year, so you don’t let any licenses lapse.
Turning your checklist into a business plan
Business planning is a fluid process throughout the year, but it will be more efficient and strategic if you take the time at the end of each year to pause and evaluate where you are and what you need to do. Celebrate what went well, be critical of what could’ve gone better, and enter the new year with a refreshed perspective and clear path forward.
Use of the tools and resources indicated may be subject to approval by your broker-dealer. Please check with your firm prior to use.
This content is for general information only and is believed to be accurate and reliable as of the posting date, but may be subject to change. It is not intended to provide investment, tax, plan design, or legal advice (unless otherwise indicated). Please consult your own independent advisor as to any investment, tax, or legal statements made herein.