business people smiling Advisorsmay be undeniably correct in their advice, but does good advicematter if it falls on deaf (or bored, or confused) ears? (Photo:Shutterstock)

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If last week's column was about advisers listening to themselves, this week'scolumn is about plan sponsors listening to advisers.

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But with a twist.

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It's clear retirement plan advisers who live and breathe allthings 401(k) know the score when it comes to what aplan needs. It's also pretty clear plan sponsors don't. Not becausethey don't want to, but because they're too busy. If they're smart,they'll listen to what the professional advises (see “Must Read for the Summer: Top Fiduciary Questions401k Plan Sponsors Must Ask (But Sometimes Don't),”FiduciaryNews.com, June 19, 2018).

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That's the problem. Sometimes the pros – especially the verygood ones – immerse themselves so deep into their area of expertisethey lose touch with the laity. They may be undeniably correct intheir advice, but does it matter if that advice falls on deafears?

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So the challenge for every retirement adviser is to resist thetemptation to ascend that ivy-covered tower (or descend it ifyou're already up there). You must learn to speak“plan-sponsor-speak.”

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What is “plan-sponsor-speak”? It's exactly the same speak yourfirst boss expected you to speak. It has only threerequirements:

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1. Avoid jargon – This is the one rule everyonealready knows (and believes they're obeying). Of course, the wholepoint of identifying this rule comes about because many pros don'thave the same definition of “jargon” that plan sponsors do. Youshouldn't blame the pros for this. Blame the broader community ofprofessionals (including folks like me who write these articles).We use jargon because it allows us to communicate quicker and more clearly with ourprofessional peers. We've got to be more mindful of this and toneit down.

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2.  Avoid length – Keep yourexplanations short and to the point. Word count may matter whenyou're trying to fill a column. Conversations, on the other hand,flow more smoothly when they come in small bites of sound. Sure,“sound bites” get a bad rap (mostly because the media abuses them).Again, we should give the retirement pros a bit of a pass on this.Plan sponsors usually allot a specific amount of time for meeting.Professionals often put pressure on themselves to fill thiscomplete meeting time with content, lest they be attacked for “notproviding ample service.” The problem is, verbosity tends to leadto a violation of our last rule.

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3.  Avoid bull – This is one thingyour first boss always hated. It comes from our combined desire tokeep our compliance department happy (and an innate fear of whatwould happen if we didn't). Taking longer to tell your story (seeRule #2) makes it easier to break Rule #3. Hand in hand with thisis, again, thanks to our friendly neighborhood compliancedepartment, defying Rule #1. After all, what's “jargon” to a plansponsor is a “legal requirement” to the compliance department.

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How do retirement professionals sidestep this dilemma? Well thisis the why we have marketing departments. It's their job toconvince the compliance department to “keep it real.”

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Having found myself on both sides of this equation, I can speakfrom experience that it is possible for marketing and compliance towork successfully. I can also tell you that it may not be possiblein certain business models.

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Christopher Carosa

Chris Carosa has been writing a weekly article and monthly column for BenefitsPRO online and BenefitsPRO Magazine since 2011 and is a nationally recognized award-winning writer, researcher and speaker. He’s written seven books, including From Cradle to Retire: The Child IRA; Hey! What’s My Number? – How to Increase the Odds You Will Retire in Comfort; A Pizza The Action: Everything I Ever Learned About Business I Learned By Working in a Pizza Stand at the Erie County Fair; and the widely acclaimed 401(k) Fiduciary Solutions. Carosa is also Chief Contributing Editor of the authoritative trade journal FiduciaryNews.com and publisher of the Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, a weekly community newspaper he founded in 1989. Currently serving as President of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and with more than 1,000 articles published in various publications, he appears regularly in the national media. A “parallel” entrepreneur, he actively runs a handful of businesses, including a small boutique investment adviser, providing hands-on experience for his writing. A trained astrophysicist, he also holds an MBA and has been designated a Certified Trust and Financial Advisor. Share your thoughts and story ideas with him through Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/christophercarosa/)and Twitter (https://twitter.com/ChrisCarosa).