LAS VEGAS -- Advisors packed the ballroom at the NAPA 401(k) Summit to hear three industry experts discuss the rule that is on everyone's minds.
Morgan Stanley director Edward O’Conner, Prudential Investments VP Joe Gill, and GRP Associates CEO William Chetney offered a lively discussion of the Labor Department’s fiduciary rule.
In the brave new world of fee transparency that has emerged, advisors are forced to be specific about the value they offer, even as technology rears its threatening head in the form of robo-advisors.
How can advisors add value and thereby justify their fees?
How about Health Savings Accounts?
Chetney asked how many in the audience were considering incorporating HSAs. A few hands went up among the thousand-plus in attendance – maybe 25 percent, if even that.
“With HSAs, the economics would be a challenge. The vast majority will be cash management accounts,” O’Connor said. “Are they economically viable for an advisor? I don’t know. Maybe you need to get into HSAs and figure out how to make a decent living and bolt it onto a 401(k).”
How about partnering?
Gill polled the audience: “Do you think partnering with non-specialist advisors is effective?” The audience was nearly evenly split, Yes and No.
“Conceptually, it makes sense,” Chetney said. He pointed out what has already been accomplished in the industry: “We got people to join plans. Employers didn’t want to do it. Employees didn’t want to do it. It was all the foot soldiers. To have those conversations, to make them better consumers, we can’t do it—the partnerships are where it can be done. If we want to talk to 75 million Americans, we have to engage in these partnerships.”
But it’s not easy, O’Connor added. “Building a proposition to those generalists, packing it, making sure they don’t get you in trouble, proving and showing success -- you have to grind this out.” Still, he said, “I encourage you to leverage other generalists to get more business.”
Will the fiduciary rule affect how firms are recruiting?
Even if the rule is killed, a higher standard of care has been established in the industry. Recruiting deals will have to be restructured, O’Connor said.
But the challenge, Gill pointed out, is “How are we going to organically grow advisors in the DC business if we’re headed toward the specialist model?”
It’s hard for a young professional to enter the field and build a viable business, O’Connor said. “The days of ‘here’s a phone book, good luck,’ are gone. Bring in those young professionals, have them work together with the 50 year olds, have them partner together. You get the best of both worlds—working for a big company but on a team you’re building up.”
The advisor role
So what is the role of the advisor in a post-fiduciary-rule world?
Pulling everything together, Gill said. “Cracking the code – ‘you’ll get X from Social Security, you’ll get X from this plan, X from that plan.”
Posing questions, O’Connor said. See it as an opportunity. “We need to talk more broadly about retirement. We need to position ourselves a lot more broadly than the DOL is 'wonking about' right now.”
“If you stake out your territory, say okay this is coming, presell it to clients, you’re doing better and creating value to support the fees you want to charge,” Chetney said.