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Best Practices of Elite DC Advisors

At State Street, we are committed to supporting the advisor community in growing and evolving prosperous retirement practices. In 2018, we consulted with many of the country’s top retirement plan advisors to discuss their business objectives and goals across three key critical practice areas:

  • Building their business, including client acquisition and servicing, from marketing and prospecting to closing and retention.
  • Managing efficient operations by aligning operations and human capital, investing in technology and partnering intelligently with complementary service providers.
  • Succession planning to enable advisors to prepare for the next evolution of their business without fearing for the future of their practice.

Using the business life cycle as a framework, successful retirement plan advisors share their insights and emphases across a range of business activities.

Client Acquisition

Client acquisition is the life force of any business at any stage of maturity. Sustained client growth starts with defining and clarifying your firm’s key differentiators and communicating them to your team. You should analyze close rates for various types of marketing activities so you can ensure your efforts are as efficient as possible. As you reach out, look for centers of influence to boost your referral process, particularly through aligned networks. Don’t forget to look at social media, blogging, videos and speaking engagements to reach as broad an audience as possible.

Once you’ve identified your prospects, maximize your opportunity to close every sale. Well-defined growth targets will help keep you on track. It’s also important to invest in the sales experience from end to end, from building relationships outside of the RFP process to well-designed onboarding programs.

Client Servicing

After the business has been won, you need to be proactive about educating clients, anticipating their needs and offering solutions at every level. Increase the engagement of senior management by helping them set goals and priorities for their organization’s retirement plan. Expanded offerings that include products such as health savings accounts (HSAs) also provide an opportunity to cross-sell complementary strategies and create more durable client relationships that can withstand future leadership changes.

For employees and plan participants, increasing participation and deferral rates through ongoing education are the biggest keys to success. Ensuring plans include all the basics, as well as tailored educational messages, can help keep participants engaged.

Education also plays a role in proactively managing plan committees. Keeping administrators aware of your strategic value creates context for the fees and services you offer. Finally, developing and deploying satisfaction surveys allows you to complete the feedback loop and gain insights from all stakeholders.

Operations and Human Capital

Align your clients, colleagues and processes with your business objectives and expertise to make your practice soar. Getting there requires that you fine-tune your client list and service model for maximum profitability, including establishing pricing criteria for new clients. If client relationships aren’t profitable over time, you should be open to revising service agreements or refining your client list to yield the greatest long-term benefit for your business.

To get the most from your team, all team members need well-delineated roles and responsibilities. Develop a diverse and complementary team and offer employees opportunities to sharpen and expand their skills while improving their performance.


Finding and deploying the right technology can strengthen the client experience, increase visibility into participant engagement and enhance internal operational efficiency. That’s why it’s critical to create and improve systems that aggregate information and automate the insights they produce. For example, analytics can offer insight into participants’ behavior that can inform customized messaging or interactive apps—which in turn boost engagement.

Technology can also improve communications within your team. Well-integrated customer relationship management systems offer an obvious place to start. In addition, enhancements such as integrated recordkeeper data, client dashboards for servicing, or even automated compliance and audit preparation tools can help keep employees focused on higher-value activities and cut down on administrative tasks.


With the right partners delivering complementary capabilities, you can concentrate on building your core business. Who are the right partners? Start by identifying your competencies, and then look for partners who can do the rest—as long as they align with your and your clients’ objectives. Confirm potential partners have the appropriate networks to maximize their relationship value. Don’t go overboard when it comes to recordkeepers, either—create a list of the top three to five based on the plans you offer, and then maintain a small, focused stable that works for your business.

When it comes to broker-dealers or registered investment advisors, be sure to review costs. Specialty groups and advisor aggregator firms may be able to help you deliver more services more efficiently. If you opt for a DCIO partner, make sure you evaluate the best partners by category to ensure a good fit, and check that the strategies and tools they offer align with your clients’ needs.

Succession Planning

While few have succession planning figured out, in today’s changing market environment, strategy to evolve your business is critical to consider. The details for creating a solid succession plan vary widely, but the central themes are fairly consistent. First, understand your firm’s value, both in terms of financials and the value of your client base. Then consider whether your exit from the business affects that value. This exercise provides a basis for exploring your options, from a buy/sell agreement to an internal leadership transition to some version of both. Detail your critical decision areas, assemble a list of potential buyers, acquisition targets, and partners and begin to seriously think about what’s next—even if it feels impossibly far away.

Please contact us for the full report.

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