You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
Everyone has to start somewhere.
I started my career in the 401k industry standing in the middle of a room at a finals presentation trying to convince 12 board members that they should hire me, fresh out of brokerage training with no knowledge of ERISA what-so-ever.
I was not qualified to service that plan as I was what industry specialists refer to as a “blind squirrel.”
Good thing they didn’t hire me and good thing it’s not too difficult to shake that status with an ample selection of retirement designation and certification programs that can provide the knowledge necessary to be a valuable 401k advisor.
The second part of the value equation in the retirement industry is, of course, experience but you can leverage that by partnering with other experienced and knowledgeable advisors and providers until you’ve got a few plans under your belt.
What programs should you take if you want to become a 401k specialist?
When advisors ask me what programs they should start with, I typically recommend they first go through the process of understanding that what drives the decision when choosing a designation ultimately needs to be based on what they’re trying to accomplish.
Then I refer them to the Retirement Plan Professional’s Designation & Certification Guide to understand what’s available.
And finally, I provide the following recommendation.
If you’re just starting out, then I’d recommend you go through the 401(k) Practice Builder Certificate Program by National Association of Plan Advisors (NAPA). Here’s how it’s described on the NAPA website:
If you are an advisor who is new to 401(k) plan sales and need some help getting started, or if you have some experience but want to grow your assets, the NAPA 401(k) Practice Builder is just for you. This five-module, fully interactive online course is simple, practical, fast, convenient and cost-effective.
The NAPA 401(k) Practice Builder provides straightforward explanations of complex industry topics. Every topic is explained in relation to your day-to-day sales encounters. Work on the modules at your own pace on your PC or tablet — the whole course should take you less than three hours. The Practice Builder Course costs just $275 but is free to NAPA members. NAPA Members should register and sign in to their account receive the free course.
I strongly feel the Professional Plan Consultant (PPC) Program is the next logical step since this program begins to build on your knowledge by laying out a process for servicing retirement plans that cover an overview of ERISA at a high level, best practices for implementing a prudent process, and shares resources and strategies for developing a service model that meets industry best practices.
This program is meant to help advisors that want to work at the plan level to take a consultative approach and go in as the quarterback to help plan sponsors understand and manage their key responsibilities. It is a very practical look at how to service a 401k plan.
Disclaimer – I created the PPC program based on my experience in seeing a gap where the technical knowledge failed to lead to practical application so I’m completely biased here, but I have no financial or other incentive to recommend this program.
If you’re ready to jump in full boat and become a true 401k plan specialist, the third program I’d recommend on your quest would be the Accredited Fiduciary Investment Analyst (AIFA) by fi360.
They’re both excellent next steps.
After having completed the AIFA program, I will tell you that this program will give you a big advantage over other advisors because you’ll learn how to audit a plan by going through real case studies. This gives you the ability to not only identify the gaps (and fix them) in your own plans, but prospect more successfully by knowing where the common gaps are and how to find them.
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