Monday, September 01, 2008

“Gold” Mettle

The Olympics are already a distant memory for many, but despite the challenges of trying to keep up with events that are occurring halfway across the world, there were exciting finishes and new world records (and the ability to catch it all at a more convenient hour via the Internet).

The moment that stands out for me most, however, was the American team's performance in the 400 freestyle relay—the one where Jason Lezak, 32, came from out of nowhere in the final leg to win the gold for his team (yes, the one that positioned Michael Phelps to keep his gold medal streak alive). Yet, as incredible as that finish was (that he managed to take it from the team that was "talking trash" ahead of the event was even more satisfying), I was most struck by another statistic from that event: While the top five teams all finished under the previous world-record time, two of them (Italy and Sweden) didn't even get a medal.

Watching that event unfold, particularly the top two finishers in the lanes adjacent to each other, you could see how the strong performance of each team—of every team in the race—served to spur each athlete to what may have been his best performance. That it wasn't enough on that particular night to win a gold medal in no way diminishes their accomplishment—but, IMHO, it says something about how the best can inspire us all to new heights.

That is why, in 2005, we launched our Retirement Plan Adviser of the Year award: to acknowledge "the contributions of the nation's best financial advisers in helping make retirement security a reality for workers across the nation." It has always been our goal to bring to light the very best practices of the nation's very best advisers (and adviser teams), and in so doing, to set—by example—new standards for excellence in dealing with workplace retirement plans. One need look no further than the advisers who have been honored with that recognition to appreciate the impact.

This month, it is both my honor and privilege to launch the nomination process for our fifth annual campaign to acknowledge the contributions of the very best financial advisers in the nation, both individuals and teams.

Impact Statement

The criteria that underlie the award are simple but impactful: We want to recognize advisers who make a difference through increasing participation, boosting deferral rates, enhancing asset allocation, and/or providing better programs through expanded service or expense management. However, as we acknowledged a year ago, those criteria also underlie the Pension Protection Act’s designs for defined contribution plans. Consequently, while those objective standards will continue to establish a foundation for excellence, this year, we will be placing an even greater emphasis on the evaluations of plan sponsors, as well as the quality of consultative materials, leadership in the industry, and transparency of revenue-sharing practices. This year we hope, for the first time, to highlight specific excellence in working with 403(b) and 457 programs.

Once again this year, we will acknowledge the finalists in PLANSPONSOR magazine, as well as PLANADVISER, and profile the winners in early 2009. The finalists also will be recognized at PLANSPONSOR’s Annual Awards for Excellence celebration in New York City.

There is nothing like tumultuous times to highlight the value of, and reinforce the need for, expert help for plan fiduciaries. It is also the kind of challenging environment that tends to separate the chaff from the wheat—that sorts out the committed from the merely intrigued. And, yes, it surely plays to the advantage of a profession dedicated to helping plan sponsors construct the right programs and participants make the best of them.

While these awards are designed to recognize financial adviser excellence, we trust the standards they embody will continue to provide a source of inspiration for those who make a difference every day. As always, I look forward to getting to know more about the advisers you work with—and how they are making a difference with your programs.

A copy of the nomination form is online HERE

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