When most retirement plan advisers want to catch up on industry trends, they go to a conference or webinar; but where do the speakers, leaders in the field, get their information? They may belong to a study group.
More or less formal “adviser study groups” have been around for years, and they have likely impacted the way your trusted retirement plan consultants and advisers work and think. One current group was inspired by one of the founders’ fathers, who, himself, belonged to a study group in the 1970s and ’80s. The appeal of the best groups is the same now as then: Top-tier managing partners have a lot more to gain by sharing ideas, best practices, and challenges than they do by keeping such information to themselves.
The ideas they produce may get shared at conferences and eventually work their way through the industry as best practices. Some advisers will pass them on, some will be unaware of them. “There’s a lot of mediocrity out there,” says Daniel Bryant, who began a study group with Jim O’Shaunessey, his partner at consulting firm Sheridan Road. “The industry is changing at such a breakneck pace that our view is tens of thousands of advisers really don’t have a good sense of where the industry is going. They’re literally trying to advise a committee on their asset allocation and provide some really basic retirement consulting services when, at the end of the day, that’s not what the company needs.”
To stay ahead of plan sponsor needs was, ultimately, why he and Shaunessey began the study group, about eight years ago. The partners hosted a two-day retreat, inviting about 20 advisory firm owners, “leaders in the institutional investing consultant space, to come and just talk about best practices where we could all learn from each other. These were people we trust and respect immensely,” Bryant says. “There was no judging, no competitive or professional jealousy.”
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