Practice Management

TPA View: Drop the Pitch and Listen

By Leila Martin

Really want to impress your clients? Start by ditching the PowerPoint.

“The only time I ever use a PowerPoint is if someone says to bring one,” said Rob Wisner, owner of the Paragon Alliance Group, a third-party administrator in Souderton, Pennsylvania, in an interview. “Using a presentation shows clients our agenda – but we want to know theirs.”

Wisner’s company works primarily with unbundled retirement plan advisors in a consultative role, helping employers design and build the best retirement plan to meet their workforce’s needs. Part of Wisner’s success comes out of his wide range of experience, having worn several hats in the retirement sphere over the years before settling in the third-party administration business. But far from making assumptions based on that experience, Wisner boils down his group’s success to two key actions that open up a world of possibility: listening, and integration.

Knowing When to Say ‘No’

Wisner always starts by talking to clients, finding out what problems they’re trying to solve. His team will then run projections using client data and match the retirement plan provider to the client’s specific needs and goals. This allows Wisner’s team to customize the plan to the employer, creating stronger plans and stronger client relationships.

“We don’t do all the same things for every client,” Wisner said. “We customize solutions based on each client’s needs.”

That client data also comes in handy when advisors perform year-end or quarterly plan reviews, he said. “We’re in a position to help, because of our database. Advisors are on the move all the time, so if they know they can get information fast, that helps them out quite a bit.”

Another piece of Wisner’s success is knowing when to say “no.” If clients come looking for a 401(k) but it turns out that’s not the best solution to meet their needs, Wisner and his team aren’t afraid to say so, and to recommend something that might suit the client better.

Helping clients get past what they think they want and find what they need helps to build trust with them, said Wisner, and with advisors as well.

Adding Value through Teamwork, Integration

With so many parties involved behind the scenes of a retirement plan, teamwork is a must, Wisner said, noting that when one part of a team tries to go a different way, things tend to break down. And to Wisner, “team” doesn’t just mean the Paragon group – it’s everyone involved in the process.

“The whole Paragon staff is very clear that the advisor, the client, the record keeper, the auditor, the payroll companies – they’re all our clients,” said Wisner. “The minute we think any differently, our value proposition is eroded. No one company can handle a 401(k) and do it really well and protect the client; you need to work together.”

Wisner views his team as integrators, bringing together the right pieces to make sure everything works as a whole for everyone involved. “It seems like everyone’s just running around throwing out cheap prices,” he said, “but when we kick over cheap plans, we can often see where the various parties aren’t working together.”

The best part, though, Wisner said, is that this kind of integration, despite sounding like it might be more expensive, has helped his clients to save money.

“If you have any construction companies,” he said, “let’s talk about prevailing wage. We have a bit of a niche there. It’s not just a retirement plan where you get a tax deduction; it also makes the client’s pricing for jobs less expensive. Being able to help clients be more competitive when they’re quoting business is a big differentiator.”

Embrace Experience, but Remember the Basics

Wisner is well-suited to his role, partly because he’s acted in several others. He started in the early ‘80s building some of the first 401(k) plans from scratch. There were no forms back then, Wisner said, no templates. “Which was actually great,” he added, “because having to figure it out, you learn a lot more than having someone just tell you what to do.”

Wisner got the chance to really understand how a company works during his stint as an internal auditor with a CPA firm. He got licensed as an advisor, too, to better understand that piece of the business. “I know what every single party does in a retirement plan: sponsor, internal workings, advisor, auditor. It gave me a really good perspective of what a 401(k) needs.”

All that experience definitely helps, but for Wisner and his group, success still comes down to the basics: building lasting relationships by listening to client needs and building the right team of stakeholders to provide the appropriate solutions.

“We’re not trying to get business from all sources,” Wisner said. “We’re not trying to be all things to all people. We’re trying to add the best value we can with the providers we work with.”

The information provided is not written or intended as specific tax or legal advice. MassMutual, its employees and representatives are not authorized to give tax or legal advice. You are encouraged to seek advice from your own tax or legal counsel. Opinions expressed by those interviewed are their own, and do not necessarily represent the views of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company.