Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Writing a business plan is one thing, using it is another

Employee Benefit Adviser

By Jack Kwicien

November 1, 2008

...This month we want to talk about the potential uses for a written business plan. Clearly it can be used as a roadmap with your own management team to run your business. ... In addition, it can be referenced when important strategic decisions need to be made. New initiatives need to be consistent with your stated goals and business strategies. Or if your firm is going to branch out in a new direction, at least it should be a conscious strategic decision, and it should be evaluated against the back-drop of your existing written plan. And you will want to periodically update the document as your business evolves so that it remains current and reflective of how you are conducting business at a point in time.

... Consideration should be given to sharing it with your trusted advisers, including your attorney, accountant, and tax adviser. Obviously you will want to have any third parties execute a confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement ...; however, astute business people will expect that request. It will be helpful to them to better understand your business and its plans for the future. As a result, they will be in a better position to provide you solid counsel, and in all likelihood it will be more cost-effective as well.

In addition, if your firm is seeking financing, ... [your] banker will be most interested to see that you have logically developed your business strategy, goals, and financial projections. ... In fact, in most types of financial transactions it will be required. ... A business plan will be critical to explain to a third party how you currently conduct business and what your vision is for the future. And comparing your plan with theirs will enable you to see where any potential synergies may exist.

... Excerpts from your plan can be shared with your entire staff. ... Most employees work better when they understand where they are going and how they are going to get there. ... [Your] business overview, the markets you serve, the products and services that you offer, will be important information for potential recruits to understand. ... Likewise, excerpts could be provided to carriers and important vendor relationships. That will enable all parties to understand their respective roles in your future success.

... [There] are many uses and audiences for a written business plan:

  • Managing your business;
  • Enabling smart strategic decisions;
  • Informing your important business relationships;
  • Raising capital or pursuing a merger;
  • Contemplating a sale;
  • Motivating your staff;
  • Improving your recruiting.


Kwicien is a managing partner at Baltimore-based Daymark Advisors, a consulting and advisory firm. He can be reached at

Averting Disaster

(This article is written for Financial Advisors, but the concepts apply to all businesses.)

Business continuity plans are needed to minimize any risks that would disrupt your firm.

Financial Advisor magazine

By David Lawrence

Business continuity plans have taken on greater importance in recent months after a plethora of natural (or unnatural) disasters afflicted many parts of the nation. August and September ... saw several storms rage across various parts of the eastern and southern United States, causing widespread damage, power loss and subsequent business interruptions. Elsewhere, earthquakes, tornadoes, wildfires, flooding, mudslides and other natural phenomena have created havoc for financial advisors and their clients.

Thus, disaster planning is just one important reason to have a business continuity plan. ... Any potential risk to the continued operation of a firm should be covered in a properly prepared plan. A few questions to ask yourself might include: How prepared is your business to reopen within 24 to 48 hours following a natural or man-made disaster or epidemic? What is your anticipated disaster recovery time...? Have you formulated a plan and strategies to limit the risks to your business? Where will your clients and suppliers go during your downtime if your building is destroyed or damaged or if your employees are quarantined and your business unavailable for some length of time? Does your building have emergency lighting or a generator? What features do you have in place to protect paper files in the event of a fire, water damage or theft? What would happen in the event that you could temporarily not work? ...

The objectives of a business continuity plan should be to protect the firm, its employees and clients; to stay in business no matter what; and to protect the interests of the economy and your community.

A business continuity plan should embrace a planning process that includes: • Vulnerability assessment; • Risk identification and quantification; • Risk transfer; • Protection and mitigation; • Business impact analysis in case of the interruption of operations; • A plan to curtail operational and financial risk; • An emergency response in case of an operational or financial upheaval; and • Plans to resume business and to recover and restore the technological and physical infrastructure that supports a firm.

... The disability or death of key employees could prove to be just as devastating to a firm that has not anticipated it with proper succession planning. Inadequate insurance during a disruption could prove to be a huge vulnerability, too. Many firms carry business insurance, but is it enough? And does it cover the appropriate risks? ...

... In April of 2004, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) approved rules proposed by the NASD (now FINRA) and the New York Stock Exchange that required their member firms to establish procedures to handle an emergency or significant business disruption. ... The rule further required member firms to conduct an annual review of their plans and update them whenever the firms made any major changes such as realigning their business structure or operations or changing location. ...

In May of 2006, FINRA ... [stated] that all firms must include ten critical elements specified in the original NASD Rule 3510:

1. The firms must secure data backup and recovery (both in hard copy and electronic form); 2. The firms must secure all mission-critical systems; 3. The firms must make financial and operational assessments; 4. They must create alternative channels of communication between clients and the firm; 5. They must create alternative channels of communications between the firm and its employees; 6. They must be able to remove their employees to another physical location; 7. They must assess the impact of a disaster on critical business constituents, banks and counterparties; 8. They must maintain regulatory reporting; 9. They must maintain communications with regulators; and 10. They must consider how their firms will assure clients’ prompt access to their funds and securities if the firm determines it is unable to continue business.

... Take into account how much it would cost for any of these things:

• To establish and use a temporary alternative location (which requires equipment costs, rent, start-up expenses, etc.); • To route phone calls to new lines, establish Internet/e-mail connections, etc.; • To pay restoration costs (for rebuilding computers, reinstalling software, recovering electronic files, rebuilding destroyed paper files, replacing equipment, furniture and other office items); • To pay temporary employees; • To suffer the loss or disaffection of clients after a perceived violation of trust; or • To possibly fall out of compliance or compromise your security and private client information.

Many stories have surfaced in recent years about violations of privacy. ... Therefore, it is incumbent on all financial advisors to prepare a properly written plan and share it with their clients to alleviate such fears. It is also simply a best business practice. For more information on the current regulations and to obtain a free small firms template, visit

David L. Lawrence is a practice efficiency consultant and is president of David Lawrence and Associates (DLA), a practice-consulting firm based in Tampa, Fla. DLA publishes a monthly subscription newsletter, The Efficient Practice, which focuses on operational efficiency ( David is a much-sought-after public speaker on a variety of leadership, financial and technical topics. For details, visit

Ten Tiny Things Every Small Business Owner Should Do in 2009

OPEN Forum by American Express OPEN

Guy Kawasaki of How to Change the WorldGuy Kawasaki of How to Change the World December 31st, 2008 - 02:45 AM

On this, the last day of 2008, I provide a list of ten tiny things that every small business owner should do in 2009—hopefully in early 2009. Don’t consider it a New Year’s resolution because there’s a whole psychology behind such things. Just do it.

  1. Act like a prospective customer and call your company to see how the phone system and receptionist treat you.

  2. See if your website has a “Contact Us” section. If it doesn’t, add one. Ensure that it has a street address.

  3. Send your company an email asking for customer support and see if someone responds to it.

  4. Answer customer support calls or emails (not the one you sent in) for a day.

  5. Go out on a sales call with your salespeople and a service call with your service people.

  6. Read the documentation or manual that your company provides. Extra credit: See if you can do this without reading glasses.

  7. Pretend that you lost the documentation or manual that came with your product or service and try to find it on your website.

  8. Register your product or service including finding and reading the serial number of your product. Extra credit: See if you can read your serial number without reading glasses. Extra extra credit: If you use a Captcha system for registration, see how many times it takes to get the word right.

  9. Add a signature to your email. A “signature” is a block of text at the end of your emails that contain all your contact information. It saves your recipients the hassle of asking for your address and phone number or searching for them on your website.

  10. Join Twitter and then search for your company name, your product, your competition’s name or product name, or market sector terms from your business. For example, let’s say you’re in the web design business. Extra credit: Use Twitter as a twool.

If these tasks are helpful, you would probably enjoy “The Top Ten Stupid Ways to Hinder Market Adoption” and CustomerService.alltop. Kick butt in 2009!

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

You must show clients how to value your superior service

Employee Benefit Adviser

By Mel Schlesinger

November 1, 2008

Last month one of my coaching clients called with a rather urgent matter. One of his clients had just given an agent of record letter to another broker. ...

My coaching client wanted to know what he could do to save the account and my answer was, "Absolutely nothing. They see you not as their benefits adviser but as a vendor of a product." ... [If] they had seen him as anything more than a vendor they would have called him before signing an agent of record letter. ...

Last month we discussed the art of asking really great questions. ... Without the use of really great questions it is impossible to deliver really great service. More importantly it is impossible to get your client to provide a meaningful analysis of the value of the service that you do provide.

Setting the stage

... So why should you expend the energy necessary to change what you are doing?

And how do you transform customer service into something that is truly great service?

To the first question, my answer is that you want to change what you are doing to accomplish two objectives. First, make your account competitor-proof. Second, generate a massive number of active referrals. Before we can answer question number two we must first define the term "truly great service." ... Great service is defined by the client.

Establish benchmarks of excellence

... The establishment of benchmarks of excellence serves two distinct objectives. First, it creates a significant amount of differentiation between you and every other agent. More importantly it creates a competitor-proof account because the client has a way to measure your effectiveness as their adviser. ... Your goal is to help the client or prospect identify exactly what is important to him in the way of services. ... Begin with a list of your services and create questions that can be answered with a simple one word response or just a yes or no. Your questions might include:

  • Is it important to work with an agent who can provide regulatory updates that impact how you manage your benefits?
  • In choosing your group agent would it be important that he visit with employees on a regular basis to answer questions?
  • Would an online human resources library be of value to you?
  • How important is it to you that your employees have a good understanding of all the benefits that you provide?
  • Can you see where a better understanding of the value of the benefits that you provide would have an impact on employee morale?
  • If I can help reduce employee turnover would that be beneficial to you?

Once you obtain a positive answer to any question immediately follow-up with a request for elaboration. It is critical that the prospect (or client) tell you how a particular service will be helpful to him. This line of questioning not only establishes important benchmarks, but also it provides that tool that eliminates the incumbent. When a prospect identifies a particular service as having value and then explains how it impacts the company you need only ask, "So what has your current broker suggested to deal with this?" ...

You close the process by asking that the client or prospect commit to a meeting every six months to review this list of expected services. By using this list at the evaluation you are providing the client a frame of reference for use in evaluating the level of service that you are providing. This will also be a great time to ask for referrals. Follow these instructions and you will never lose a client to an agent of record letter.

Schlesinger has more than 23 years of insurance industry experience, with the last decade focused on helping other insurance agents achieve success. He is a 2002 graduate of CoachU and he completed the Certified Guerrilla Marketing Coach program the same year. Schlesinger runs the Certified Employee Benefit Consultant Academy, which is dedicated to teaching benefit professionals how to differentiate themselves by engaging prospects in a Compelling ConversationTM. He can be reached by telephone at 336/774-3075 or e-mail at

Advisers can do much with 'set it and forget it' investment options

Employee Benefit Adviser

By Michael Kaplan

November 1, 2008

... Much has been written about how the proliferation of fund options in DC plans leads to "analysis paralysis," in which participants are overwhelmed by the number of choices and choose not to participate in the 401(k) plan at all - or make an inefficient allocation, such as putting all their assets in one fund option.

By offering lifecycle funds, plan sponsors can make it easier for participants to select an appropriate portfolio that optimizes their risk/return preferences.

Four main decisions

Plan sponsors have four main decisions to make in choosing lifecycle funds for their DC plans ...: target-date versus target-risk funds; customized way of using the plan's core funds versus an off-the-shelf product; actively managed versus indexed underlying strategies; a fund with or without a tactical asset allocation component.

Target-date funds typically link each investment portfolio to an expected retirement date, with the asset allocation adjusted periodically to reduce investment risk and protect assets for the retirement years. Target-age funds operate similarly, but instead of focusing on a selected retirement date, the asset allocation changes in tandem with the participant's age.

Target-risk funds (categorized as conservative, moderate or aggressive) maintain a specific asset allocation to provide an even exposure to investment risk.

With target-risk funds, participants typically need to initiate transfers to more conservative funds as they approach retirement. But with target-date funds, the shift to a more conservative allocation is accomplished systematically by the investment manager. A potential problem with target-date funds is that participants may place too much emphasis on the date in the fund's name when deciding their selection. ...

Depending on a participant's circumstances (such as investment assets outside the plan, spending habits or the value of their home relative to the mortgage), a more aggressive or less aggressive fund may be a better fit. ...

Meanwhile, there is increased interest in custom lifecycle funds. A sponsor's custom lifecycle fund uses a combination of the core funds, ensuring the same group of funds is offered to all participants. ...

A customized approach provides the opportunity to include higher-risk and alternative asset classes in a lifecycle vehicle. This can be more appropriate than having these asset classes as a stand alone option, and their risk can be minimized, since the lifecycle vehicle will be highly diversified.

Advisers should help sponsors consider the additional costs associated with creating and managing a custom lifecycle-funds program, compared to an off-the-shelf product. Plans of sufficient size construct their lifecycle funds using separate and commingled accounts, rather than mutual funds. The use of these vehicles may offset some or all of these costs through lower investment management fees. ...

There's also the issue of fiduciary risk in a custom program, since the plan sponsor needs to develop the asset allocation and roll-down strategies (resetting the target asset allocation over time by shifting assets out of stocks and into bonds and cash), thus opening the door for criticism if they turn out to be unsuccessful.

Where creating custom lifecycle funds is desired, but not practical, some plan sponsors are turning to indexed or passive off-the-shelf lifecycle funds. ...

... Participants who prefer lifecycle investing may prefer indexed strategies. Lifecycle investors seek to minimize their active involvement.

With index funds, there is minimal risk of style drift or underperformance due to active management decisions. On the other hand, there are disadvantages to indexed lifecycle funds. Participants choosing these funds do not benefit from active management, which can outperform passive investing. Fund expenses ensure passive lifecycle funds will always underperform their benchmark on a net-of-fee basis.

Obtaining exposures to classes that offer diversification benefits but are not easily indexed, such as real estate or infrastructure, may be difficult.

Lifecycle funds may strictly adhere to or tactically deviate from their asset allocation targets, based on the manager's market outlook. Tactical shifts are usually enacted within a narrow range. ... Managers want to avoid the risk of underperforming due to poor tactical decisions. However, a manager with strong tactical asset allocation capabilities can add value while maintaining an allocation close to the strategic targets for each target year. ...

Kaplan leads Mercer's DC investment consulting business in the U.S. Northeast region. He can be reached at

More than half of employers offer auto 401(k) enrollment

Study shows that more plan to, or are mulling, adding the feature


By Lisa Shidler November 16, 2008, 6:01 AM EST

Automatic enrollment of employees into defined contribution retirement plans such as 401(k)s has grown so quickly that more than half of employers now offer it to their employees, according to a new study.

The analysis from Mercer LLC of New York showed that 51% of employers surveyed offer auto enrollment. It also found that 6% of the employers planned to add auto enrollment in the coming months and another 18% were still evaluating the feature. ...


The study showed that employers have embraced auto enrollment, said Amy Reynolds, a Mercer principal and DC retirement plan consultant.

It also found that 45% of employers that offer auto enrollment have participation rates of 90% or more. Just 7% of employers that don't offer auto enrollment achieve these levels of participation. ...

In addition, 70% of employers that use auto enrollment also used the automatic increase feature, in which plan sponsors increase participant deferral rates each year by a given amount.

Industry leaders wonder if auto enrollment may slow down, especially if the economy worsens.

"It's possible it could slow down, certainly when plan sponsors look at the cost implication," Ms. Reynolds said.

Employers that didn't use auto enrollment cited cost as a reason for not offering the feature. Employers that offer matching contributions have to pay more money if the participation level rises, which usually occurs with auto enrollment. ...

Auto enrollment has soared in recent months, said Kevin Crain, managing director of institutional client relationships for the Merrill Lynch Retirement Group in Pennington, N.J. He is based in Hopewell, N.J.

Merrill's DC business serves about 1,700 employers with about $90 billion in assets and 2.7 million participants.

Merrill's auto enrollment business has increased by 85% between October 2007 and October 2008.

Mr. Crain said that overall, about 20% of companies offer auto enrollment. Among larger companies, about 35% offer it, he said.

So far the economy has not caused employers to slow down on their auto enrollment, [said Kevin Crain, managing director of institutional client relationships for the Merrill Lynch Retirement Group in Pennington, N.J.]

Mr. Crain also said that he has seen significant growth in companies that might choose not to use auto enrollment but have instead changed their procedures so that it is easy for participants to enroll. Many companies are offering 401(k) enrollment alongside online enrollment for health benefits.

"I really see momentum building," Mr. Crain said. "I see pretty creative thoughts on the best way to get people enrolled in a 401(k) plan."

Auto enrollment is definitely increasing, agreed Joe Ready, senior vice president of retirement services at Charlotte, N.C.-based Wachovia Corp.

He said that employers are split between offering auto enrollment to new employees and those that make auto enrollment retroactive to all employees. ...

Joseph Leonard, an adviser with Coastal Investment Advisors LLC in Southport, N.C., ... is concerned that going forward more employers may be reluctant to offer it because of the economy. Mr. Leonard also wrote "Retirement Vault: A Guide to Protecting Your Assets in an Age of Uncertainty," (Second River Healthcare Press, 2008).

"They're debating it because of the finances," he said. "Companies are looking to cut costs in any way they can. Period."

E-mail Lisa Shidler at

Monday, December 29, 2008

'Unbundled' 401(k) providers to expand offerings

Small companies like having choices from many sources


By Lisa Shidler November 9, 2008

... Chicago's Spectrem Group found that 54% of companies that featured unbundled plans intended to add investment options, compared with 35% of full-service purchasers.

Most companies hire a single financial provider to offer such "bundled" 401(k) services as investment products, administration and employee education. About 12%, or 63,000, plans are unbundled — that is, they offer services from a variety of companies, according to Spectrem. ...

Companies most likely to use an unbundled plan structure are those with plans whose assets are below $200 million, the survey found. For example, 61% of plans with less than $5 million in assets offered unbundled platforms, compared with 2% of plans with $200 million or more in assets, according to the survey.


Sixty-one percent of employers that used an unbundled structure involved an outside consultant in their decision making, compared with 58% of those that used a bundled format. ...

"There are consultants who are particularly focused on the investment side of things," said Gerald O'Connor, a director at Spectrem. "They're not as much involved in setting up the record keeping.

Often, advisers who provide unbundled services to employers bring in TPAs and other firms to provide these additional services, Mr. O'Connor said.

There are benefits to both bundled and unbundled plan structures, said Geoff Mettler, an adviser and vice president of retirement services with Jenkins Insurance Group, a Concord, Calif., firm that manages about $300 million in assets. ...

"I think the appeal of the bundled is, it's a lot simpler," Mr. Mettler said. "It's cheaper and a turnkey solution.

"But when things go a bit wrong, ... [they] don't have the resources to fix the problem," he said. "There's a lack of accountability on the bundled side. When it's unbundled, everyone's accountable."

Also, employers tend to get more attention from each service provider when they choose an unbundled solution, Mr. Mettler added.

Using a bundled solution is typically easier for employers and advisers, said Terrence Morgan, an adviser and president of Oklahoma City-based OK401k Inc., which advises companies on their 401(k) plans.

"It makes more sense to the adviser to have everything under one roof," he said. ...

Still, Mr. Morgan said, there are times when savvy employers want specific fund choices and pick an unbundled solution. Employers often don't have as much choice over the plan's investment options in a bundled plan, said Mr. Morgan, ...

"It's not to say you don't do as good of a job if you use a bundled vendor; you just don't have as much freedom," he added.

But advisers should realize that if they negotiate with vendors, they can obtain more options in a bundled solution, and typically, it's more cost-effective for smaller employers, said Barbara Delaney, an adviser with StoneStreet Equity Inc., a Pearl River, N.Y., firm that manages about $2 billion in assets.

Many providers of bundled plans are willing to offer customized services to employers, she added. ...

E-mail Lisa Shidler at

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Retirement plan fiduciaries face new risks in historically safe investment options


By Keith Soranno November 9, 2008

In the wake of the market meltdown and the current credit crisis, 401(k) plan participants are agonizing over the dramatic decline in the value of their portfolios. Investment options previously considered safe — fixed-income and cash equivalents — have proven to be highly volatile.

And, while investors in their 20s and 30s may have time to make up even a 30% loss, a boomer retiree can suffer permanent financial damage with a 10% loss. The underlying fact is that all variable investment options, even fixed-income and cash-based options, carry market risk, and always have.

Plan sponsors typically have been very concerned about lawsuits pertaining to suitability of equity investment options ... and less concerned about the cash and fixed-income options and the holdings within those options. ...

They have focused intently on benchmarking the equity funds versus their peers and indexes, with little concern about the potential volatility of fixed and cash options. In this environment, fiduciaries need to focus at least as much effort on fixed-income and cash investment options as they do on the equity options in their retirement plans.


Plan sponsors can mitigate this risk by taking an active look at the overall makeup of their fixed-income and cash portfolios. Here are some steps to take:

• Ask your vendors and managers for their views on the market and their investment strategies for weathering the storm.

• Add additional fixed and cash accounts that allow your plan participants to fully diversify. If necessary, add options whose holdings are materially different to ensure that participants have a well-diversified safe harbor to help weather financial storms.

• Monitor your fixed-income investment options closely, applying the same logic to monitoring these options as you do with your equity strategies.

While risk in equity funds is more transparent than ever in retirement plans, fixed-income and cash accounts may be the next big wave of fiduciary exposure for plan sponsors. They need to be aware of all risks and strategies they can use to reduce their exposure, then take steps to offer diversity and reduce risk.

Keith Soranno is a regional sales executive with Securian Retirement Distributors of St. Paul, Minn.

10 Ways to Get More Business During Your Lunch Hour


By Lori Tripoli

... asked experts for their ideas for drumming up new business in as little as an hour. Here’s what they told us:

1. Put on a seminar. Give a talk to potential clients at a lunch-time meeting. “Some of our representatives do informational meetings on parent-care solutions that deal with the challenge of aging parents,” explains Kim Richardson, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Associated Securities Corp. in Los Angeles. “They’re a good draw for new clients because everyone deals with the issue at some point in time,” she explains.

2. Set up your own study group. “A group of our representatives runs a practice management group that meets informally,” Richardson says. “About six associates share their best practices and network with each other,” she continues.

3. Research potential clients. “For us, it’s about targeting the segment of the market we want to go after,” explains Sylvia Diez, team director for PNC Wealth Management in Pittsburgh. If, for instance, you’re interested in getting business from executives at large public companies, you might research ... those companies so ... observes Bill Stone, senior vice president and director of investment for PNC Wealth Management in Pittsburgh. ...

4. Practice your pitch. One mistake financial advisors sometimes make is not branding themselves well, observes Richardson. “Have your elevator speech ready” should you come across a potential client, she suggests. ...

“Ensure that your opening description about your services to a potential prospect offers a clear definition of who you serve and the value you bring,’ says Richard Steiny, president of AssetMark Investment Services in San Mateo, Calif.. “Don’t allow your definition to be a ‘catch all,’ which will not excite anyone and will only attract ‘average’ clients,” Steiny says.

5. Read a company’s annual report. ... Reading them can help you “know more about them before you ever meet,” observes Stone.

6. Return phone calls and e-mails. “It’s easy to do business with us because we are accessible,” Diez says. ...

7. Ask for a referral. ... “The willingness for a client to refer builds from the very first meeting in terms of the trust and service level that is perceived,” says Steiny. “Some advisors like the phrase, ‘Please don’t keep me a secret; who else do you know that could benefit from my service?” Steiny notes.

8. Draw more business from your current clients. “So many representatives ... don’t go back to their existing book of clients. Go back to that same group of individuals and re-engage them,” suggests Ryan Shanks, vice president for business and practice development at Associated Securities Corp. in Los Angeles. “Let them know what new services you can provide,” he says.

9. Get a lawyer. “Lunch hour is a great time to begin to meet other professionals within your community to develop joint business referrals,” explains Steiny. ...

10. Meet the press. Get your name out there. A great thing to do during lunch is “to phone local reporters and leave a comment about that day’s financial news on their voice mail,” Finora says. “When done with discretion and consistency, more often than not, this leads to a press relationship, which is a great draw for new clients,” he says.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Consider Collaborating With Other Business Owners for Increased Profits

December 23, 2008 by Christian Fea

... Collaboration Marketing may not be a must for your business, but it’s certainly something worth exploring. ... But even if you are not looking to grow, change, or expand, a collaboration strategy may help you maintain the smooth running of your current operations, which could mean less day to day work for you.

There are two distinct types of Collaboration Marketing that are important to understand. One deals with the actual advertising and marketing of your products, the other relates to the market in which you sell and distribute your products. Before making a decision about whether a collaboration strategy is right for your business, it is important to understand and explore both aspects of this type of marketing.

Advertising Collaborations focus on shared industry resources and word of mouth partnerships. If you have a small business specializing in making wedding cakes, you will benefit by making contact with other wedding industry professionals such as photographers, caterers and consultants. If a photographer has a client who has not yet decided on a bakery for their special cake, the advertising collaboration creates a point of contact and referral to recommend your wedding cake business to the client.

By the same token, if you have clients who have not yet selected a photographer for their wedding, you can recommend your collaboration partner, who is a wedding photographer. The success of your Advertising Collaboration will depend on your ability to form and develop successful business relationships.

Market Share Collaboration deals directly with the market in which your products are bought and sold ... This type of collaboration has to do with banding together with other small businesses in your area, and forming a small cooperative to maximize cost savings for products you all use or need to do business.

For example, the Central Minnesota Buckwheat Growers formed a 16 member cooperative in order to market their buckwheat directly to larger buyers, and they received a substantially higher price for their product than they could have received individually.

... If you are a small business, you may benefit from partnerships with other small businesses in your same industry just like the Buckwheat Growers did when they formed a collective.

Collaboration Marketing is a model I believe you will find merits exploration. If done properly, it will provide a helpful way of expanding and solidifying your business for years to come.

Christian Fea is CEO of Synertegic, Inc. A Joint Venture Marketing firm. He exemplifies how to profit from Joint Venture relationships by creating profit centers with minimal risk and maximum profitability.

Join his JV Wealth e-zine at

Monday, December 22, 2008

Tackling Longevity Risk

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could use 401(k) money to buy annuities with pretax dollars?

Financial Advisor Magazine

By Mary Rowland

When I have questions about changes in the retirement landscape, I go first to Ethan Kra, worldwide partner and chief actuary for retirement at Mercer, the New York-based benefits consultants. Kra has been—for nearly 20 years—an infallible guide to what’s going on in this marketplace. ...

... The biggest danger is longevity risk—the possibility retirees will outlive their money. ...

He has done considerable work on longevity risk, and says the average 65-year-old has no concept of how much risk he has. There’s a one-in-four chance, for instance, that one of the spouses in a 65-year-old couple will celebrate his or her 95th birthday—and there is a one-in-ten chance that one of the spouses will live into the 100th year of life.

“For a 65-year-old couple, the odds are greater that one will see their 100th birthday than that the house will burn down,” Kra says. “How many people don’t carry fire insurance?” And, he asks: “How many don’t carry longevity insurance?”

Not only are the chances for an extremely long life good, but as people pass the age of 85, their ability to manage their finances decreases. “We’re asking people to do something they’re not capable of doing,” Kra says.

His solution? Longevity insurance in the form of an annuity that starts paying at age 85 and pays for life. He suggests that a person at age 60 take 10% of the money from his 401(k) plan or IRA, go to an insurance company and buy an annuity that spreads the money across the risk pool—an annuity that starts paying out when the client is age 85. The client then takes the other 90% of the money and spends it down over his expected remaining life. There is no provision yet for someone to do this with pretax dollars, Kra says. ... “That would require an act of Congress,” he says. “They’re looking at it.” ...

... “It doesn’t pay anything to those who die.” That means there is less possibility of “adverse selection” against the insurance company, in other words, for the less risky policyholders to opt out and the more risky ones to opt in and inflate premiums. Therefore the product would pay out two to three times what you would expect to get for a life annuity. ...

Although it seems that it might be difficult to persuade people to buy a product that might not result in a payoff, Kra points out, “When you buy fire insurance, you pray you don’t need it.” ...

Having A Reliable Income Stream These questions come amid vast changes in the way people are retiring.

Kra frets, for instance, that over the last generation we’ve moved from annuities to lump sum distributions. ... And if you are pondering whether lump sums are better for society, Kra says consider this: Half the people who take one will outlive their money.

People’s anxiety about how much they might have after retirement can also be seen in the re-emergence of the defined benefit plan. Since their introduction 25 years ago, defined contribution plans such as the 401(k) have slowly eclipsed DB plans and been touted for portability. In a defined contribution plan, the amount of the annual contribution is defined instead of the amount of the ultimate benefit (the pretax contribution limit was at $15,500 for 2008).

For young people who moved to new jobs often and got nothing from a DB plan, the 401(k) once looked good because the money you put aside could travel with you. But now that bias has flipped, according to Kra. “Today American workers appreciate the defined benefit plan,” Kra says. For instance, in Florida and Nebraska, he says, state workers were offered a choice between the defined contribution plan and the defined benefit plan, and 97% chose the latter.

Kra says people start thinking about their pensions in their 40s. Baby boomers are now beginning to retire. The next generation, Generation X or the baby busters, born between 1965 and 1979, will demand better pensions. Thus he predicts defined benefit plans will be a competitive draw for companies, especially those that are going to see a talent drain with so many employees retiring. ...

Dealing With A 401(k) With a 401(k) plan, on the other hand, employees have an increasing responsibility for their own retirement. Still, it is the responsibility of the employer to look at fees and performance and determine whether they are acceptable. The employer must decide that the funds it offers are good ones so that a diligent employee could build up an adequate retirement stake by contributing to the 401(k) plan.

Kra says the government is focusing more and more on the details of 401(k) plans. ... Now under new law, employers can automatically enroll their workers. When enrollment was voluntary, the employer had to do complex nondiscrimination testing to demonstrate that the plan did not favor highly compensated employees over the lower-paid ones. But automatic enrollment eliminates the requirement for such testing.

Kra says that the touted Roth IRAs and Roth 401(k)s offer no advantage over their non-Roth predecessors if all the assumptions remain the same. ... For example, if you receive $3,000 in regular income and you pay one third in tax, you can put in $2,000, and in 20 years, you have $8,000. If you put the entire $3,000 into a regular IRA, in 20 years you have $12,000. But then you pay one third in taxes and have $8,000 left. “As long as the tax bracket is the same and earnings are the same, there’s no difference in the amount of money you have,” Kra says. ...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Recession Cost-Cutting No-Nos - Business in Recession

Resist the temptation to make these bad business decisions during the downturn.

By Jennifer Wang December 15, 2008

In a sluggish economy, running leaner is a must, but not every money-saving measure is a good one. These experts discuss the moves you shouldn't make during tough times, even if they seem like easy ways to cut costs.

Finances Having started his own business during the 2001 economic recession, Virgin Money USA CEO Asheesh Advani knows how to trim expenditures to keep a company afloat through a downturn.

"The natural thing for business owners to ask is, 'Do you cut marketing, overhead or staff?' I think the right answer is to do a little bit of all three, but to be very careful on cutting what actually protects you on the downside," he says, noting that cost savings should never come at the expense of the ability to execute a long-term vision. ...

Human Resources Penny Morey, founder of human resources consulting firm RemarkAbleHR, believes that the biggest errors in judgment relate to poor communication on management's part.

"Instead of [employees] focusing on what they're supposed to be doing and helping the company to succeed . . . they tend to be looking for jobs, panicking and spending their time talking to each other about the bad news in the economy," she says.

Morey suggests regular meetings with employees--weekly if possible. And certainly if the work force has been reduced, management should sit down with those left behind and acknowledge the changes.

"It's not easy, but you can still boost morale," Morey says. "To me, people can be on your side or feel excluded, and most people want to be part of the solution if given the chance."...

"If management is taking a salary cut along with everyone else, communicate it. People just want to know they're being treated fairly."

Putting together a benefits statement is another way to emphasize positive thinking. "Include a summary of vacation, paid time off, insurance--show what the company is still doing to take the focus off what's being taken away."

It's important to think long-term, Performance evaluations, even if no longer tied to monetary incentives, still need to be done. ...

"You need to make sure people are still setting goals and working toward them, and employees will want to know how they're doing and what's expected of them going forward," Morey says.

Technology Business owners with websites shouldn't cut corners on things that relate to quality of service, says Todd Thibodeaux, president and CEO of the Computing Technology Industry Association.

"Don't downgrade from T1 to DSL," he says. "Make sure you're maintaining the security of customers' data, and keep your infrastructure in place. Don't hold off on buying a better piece of equipment."

... "Companies can offload obligation to maintain equipment and software through managed services and bring stability to their bottom lines," he says.

According to Thibodeux, it's also an opportunity for businesses to reposition themselves for the anticipated green technology revolution.

"It's a good time to see how you can increase energy efficiency and look for better sustainable technology."

Marketing "Mistake No. 1 is thinking that marketing is the best place to cut when businesses are looking to tighten their belts," says Ann Hadley, chief content officer at MarketProfs. "But it's not the time to jettison marketing. If business is slow and you're reining in your plan to get your name out there, it means fewer leads, less business and, ultimately, less income."

In fact, increasing the frequency of communications with customers can boost revenue and stimulate demand for your offerings, especially if competitors are busy slashing prices instead of promoting the quality of their services. ...

In addition, Hadley cautions business owners against taking on marketing responsibilities themselves.

"For an entrepreneur, what you contribute first and foremost is your vision and leadership, and if you get mired in taking over someone else's job, you'll probably be less effective as a leader."

To Hadley, the most important thing is to think past the immediate pain and position for the post-recession period. "The economy will go up and down, but now is a good time to be an industry leader, just like it is in every kind of environment."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Real estate impact to be 'massive'


By Arleen Jacobius October 5, 2008, 6:01 AM EST

The credit collapse and the ensuing de-leveraging from financial institutions are expected to have a colossal impact on the real estate investment market.

If industry executives are right, fortunes could be made, but also the number of real estate investment managers will shrink because of the lack of available capital, and portfolio returns might suffer.

"I don't think anybody has lived through what we are living through right now unless they are 100 years old. The magnitude is so massive," said Tim Ballard, chief investment officer of Buchanan Street Partners, a Newport Beach, Calif.-based real estate subsidiary of The TCW Group Inc. of Los Angeles.

"This will affect ... job growth, consumption and other things. The [savings and loan] collapse did not have nearly the same effect," he said.

Commercial real estate is in the second or third inning of a game that might go into extra innings, industry insiders said. ...


Financial institutions nationwide might have to reduce leverage by trillions of dollars, insiders said.

According to Buchanan Street estimates, that reduction could amount to $5 trillion.

"There will be some fabulous opportunities in this," Mr. Ballard said.

"There will be folks who are forced to sell because they can't refinance," he said. "There will be more sellers than buyers, and purchase prices will decline."

But observers say that while bargains will abound, buyers shouldn't expect fire sale prices.

For one thing, managers are sitting on billions of dollars, waiting to scoop up distressed assets.

For another, under the administration's $700 billion bailout plan, the government would be paying higher-than-market prices for securities financial institutions haven't been able to unravel and sell, thus keeping their securities from hitting rock-bottom pricing. ...


In the medium term, real estate professionals expect that the credit collapse will lead to a meeting of the minds between real estate buyers and sellers on price. ...

"Some real estate investors expect distressed sales to come within the next few months when short-term debt comes due and owners can't refinance and have to sell assets," said Susan M. Smith, director in the real estate advisory group of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP of New York.

Deals will be different, though. There will be a "flight to quality," with well-located fully leased properties' fetching the best prices, Ms. Smith said.

Real estate with empty space will be tough to sell, because the banks that are still lending will lend only to the top-quality properties, she said.

Still, real estate investors won't see appreciation in their return equations, and they will have to shift their growth assumptions downward, said Sarah Snyder, vice president of Callan Associates Inc., a San Francisco-based consulting firm.

"I think you will have some good opportunities. We are starting to see some distressed debt filter back into opportunistic strategies that are more diversified," Ms. Snyder said.

"I think investors will look closer at how managers leverage and structure their debt," she said. ...

Mezzanine funds will become extremely important to lenders because they will be among the few with money. ...

"The amount of equity needed will be twofold what it was in 2006 and early 2007, impacting valuations and impacting the speed of transactions, which will be much, much slower," Mr. Ballard said. ...


Commercial real estate across the board will face significant challenges because capital issues are creating lower valuations, Mr. Ballard said.

The number of real estate investment managers will shrink because "capital will not be available for everybody," he said.

Philip J. McAndrews, managing director and head of global real estate at TIAA-CREF of New York agrees: "As we move further into the cycle, there will be fewer players."

The field will be left to investment managers with ready cash who can move quickly and who can make returns with a minimum of debt, he said.

"You need the acumen to find the best relative value among the opportunities. A distressed transaction is not always an excellent transaction because it's under distress," Mr. McAndrews said.

Arleen Jacobius is a reporter for sister publication Pensions & Investments.

Monday, December 15, 2008

I got tagged...


Seems I got tagged for a meme! I don't know what that is--I guess it's what too busy people do when they really should be doing something else. FreshFocus tagged me, so I'm researching and emulating (i.e., stealing) her blog post layout.

For those who are in the dark, like I am, I think these are the rules:

a. Write a blog entry about yourself that lists 7 things that may not be known about you.

b. Add links to 7 blogsites and notify the owner that they have been tagged.

c. Tell your tagger something they don't know about you.

d. I guess the purpose of this exercise is to spread your blogsite. Check out your tagger's 7 entries--perhaps you'll find something you really like!

  1. I cycle to work.
  2. I'll be paying for my kid's college with my Social Security check.
  3. Wife and I will be married 25 years in March.
  4. We have 3 kids- girl, boy, girl.
  5. I was trained as a chef.
  6. I was a radio announcer.
  7. I work on the Sunday New York Times crossword all week (with 3 kids I don't have a lot of open time).

Well there are seven useless things that you now know about me! Tell me one thing that I don’t know about you!

Oh, and I get to tag seven people:

David Altizer

Penny Aronson

Julia Atkinson

Austin Baker

Spencer Dillard

Michael Graber

The Magic Doug Sparkman

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Give Til It Hurts

Private Wealth

By Hannah Shaw Grove , Russ Alan Prince - 10/3/2008

Despite the wide appeal of philanthropy, most of the wealthy don’t capture the benefits of planned charitable gifts.

... In an effort to understand how actively the wealthy are involved in the stages of the giving process, we surveyed 446 individuals with a net worth of $5 million or more and a history of giving at least $50,000 a year to non-profit organizations.

One of the first issues that surfaced in our study was how much authority and control affluent givers want in the selection of the charities they support and, then, how the contributions are used. Almost three-quarters of survey respondents characterized themselves as wanting a high degree of both—we refer to them as high-influence givers. By contrast, the remaining quarter were less interested in participating in the process—low-influence givers (Exhibit 1).

Typically, most charitable gifts—regardless of the total wealth of the donor—can be considered “checkbook philanthropy,” meaning monetary gifts made in response to fundraising requests or one-off situations such as benefit events and auctions. While this form of giving is no less important, it often occurs without much advance thinking or planning and may not allow either the donor or the charitable organization to benefit as much as possible.

To ensure maximum effect, many wealthy individuals have begun planned giving to structure their philanthropic activities. More than half of our survey participants had already established a planned gift, but there was a greater disparity when viewed by segment. About two-thirds, or 62%, of the high-influence individuals had established a planned gift, while just 39% of low-influence givers had done so (Exhibit 2). ...

The opportunity to proactively reduce taxes was of material importance for 87% of high-influence givers, but far less significant to low-influence givers. Just 35% of that group cited tax implications as one of the major drivers in their decision to establish a planned gift (Exhibit 3).

A large portion of both segments, however, cited a broader planning effort as playing a principal role in their decision to create a planned gift. Of high-influence givers, 97% said the planned giving process was part of a broader effort that focused on financial planning, estate planning or both, as did 90% of low-influence givers (Exhibit 4). ...

... The most popular vehicle for high-influence givers was the charitable remainder trust, with 60% having established one. The second most frequently used structures were private foundations and supporting organizations, used by 34% of high-influence respondents. By contrast, almost three-quarters of low-influence givers used a simple will bequest as the way to structure their charitable gifts.

Donor-advised funds were the second most frequently used vehicle, established by 29% of the low-influence segment (Exhibit 5). ...

About half of the 247 wealthy individuals that have established planned gifts have additional planned giving needs. A much larger percentage of high-influence givers, 58 percent, expect to enhance their existing gifts or established additional gifts as compared to just 19% of the low-influence givers (Exhibit 6).

While high-influence givers cited the same gifting vehicles—private foundations, charitable remainder trusts and charitable lead trusts ... The vehicle of greatest interest to the low-influence group was a private foundation, as cited by 52% of the segment. After that, interest in other giving structures dropped off considerably with just 13% identifying the donor advised fund as a product of interest (Exhibit 7).

... The planned giving process can help all types of donors get the maximum benefit from their gifts as it provides a forum to have a dialogue with selected charities, creates opportunities to involve family members, and can ensure tax codes are interpreted and leveraged to the greatest degree possible. Still, many affluent givers continue to make contributions without any advance planning and, as a result, may be sacrificing some substantial benefits.

Hannah Shaw Grove

Ms. Grove is a respected author, columnist and speaker and a leading authority on the mindset, behavior, concerns, preferences and finances of high-net-worth individuals. She is the executive editor of Private Wealth, the first and only magazine for professionals with ultra-affluent clients, and Cultivating the Affluent, a practice management newsletter for financial professionals.

View all articles by Hannah Shaw Grove

Russ Alan Prince

Russ is an editor of Private Wealth magazine and the president of Prince & Associates, Inc., the leading market research firm specializing in private wealth. He is a highly sought consultant to the ultra-high-net-worth and elite advisors and originated the use of high-net-worth psychology in the financial services sector. He is the author of more than 40 books on private wealth and is frequently cited as an expert in the national and international press.

View all articles by Russ Alan Prince

Friday, December 12, 2008

Driving Business Value

Helping owners understand the strengths and weaknesses of their businesses can provide a blueprint for increasing value.

Private Wealth

By Grover Rutter - 10/3/2008

As business owners approach retirement, many begin to realize that they know very little about the value of the asset into which they have invested significant money, time, sweat and tears. ... In short, a seller’s perception of business value ... is [not] based on the marketplace’s perceptions [but] the seller’s idea of phantom value. Fortunately, huge value enhancement opportunities exist for business owners ... and the implementation of timely strategies can replace “phantom” business value with real and bankable wealth.

Managing The Client ... I’ve found that most business owners have one of three common mind-sets when it comes to their understanding (or misunderstanding) of business valuation issues, as discussed in the [first] chart [below].

... A variety of things can impact the actual or perceived value of a business... Fortunately, there are ways for a business owner to increase the value and at the same time manage risks ... An understanding of these issues ... will help advisors better prepare their clients for the valuation, and, ideally, for a highly profitable transaction.

Value Drivers Informed buyers will engage in a thorough due diligence process designed to find both the assets and the risks in a business. ... When business owners know what characteristics about the business offer value and how to improve on these advantages, it strengthens the overall performance of a business and can result in a better price at the point of sale. You should work with your business owner clients to ... substantiate these “value drivers” and, when possible, position them so they can be transferred to a buyer.

The [second] chart [below] discusses some common value drivers and how they can be developed more fully.

Value Detractors Risks, or problems, can detract from the value of a business in many ways. ... [Potential] buyers will respond to high perceived risk by decreasing their offering price. ...[When] risks are eliminated or mitigated it can increase the price of a business. ...

The [third] chart [below] includes potential risks facing a business and some questions to determine if the situation can be improved or requires attention.

... Furthermore, an owner’s personal style and stated goals can heavily influence how the opportunities and issues identified during the valuation planning process are handled. ... More information and educational tools on business valuation is available through The National Association of Certified Valuation Analysts at

Grover Rutter, CPA/ABV, CVA, BVA, is a partner in the firm of Grover Rutter Mergers, Acquisitions and Valuation in Findlay, Ohio, which specializes in valuing and selling middle-market companies. With more than 30 years of experience in accounting, taxation, valuation and business sale transaction experience, Mr. Rutter is the author of numerous articles and books, and a frequent speaker at industry events.

Captives save business owners money

Special-purpose insurer ideal for pretax wealth accumulation, asset protection, other goals


By David T. Phillips October 5, 2008

Through the creation of a captive insurance company, businesses can cut their taxes and increase the value of their estate. [The] business can also use the captive for pretax wealth accumulation, to protect assets, for efficient estate planning and to retain key employees. ... The strategy works best for companies that generate at least $1 million in annual net income, making it viable for physician groups, associations, franchisees and other businesses. ...

Captives were established more than 30 years ago, and today, there are more than 6,000 captives and $100 billion in annual insurance premiums.

There are two broad ways to employ a captive.

First, a captive can replace existing insurance, such as workers' compensation, general liability, medical malpractice, auto liability, property or other conventional insurance.

Through a captive, the overall cost of insurance is reduced, and the captive owner can capture underwriting profit and investment income.

Second, the captive can purchase insurance that covers exclusions, deductibles and self-insured risk.

In the event that claims don't materialize, the captive will capture a substantial pretax nest egg that can be used for future business risks, or it can be used for distributions to owners, family members or key executives at favorable tax rates.

Moreover, under the U.S. tax code, if the captive receives less than $1.2 million in insurance premiums a year, the entire amount is received tax-free by the captive. The insured business might then deduct the $1.2 million annually, saving about $500,000 a year in taxes.

Remember that premiums paid to a captive ...can be invested in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, real estate and other investments. A captive can also hold life insurance.

Generally, these are specialized life insurance policies with a high cash surrender value to ensure that the policies qualify as a proper investment under insurance regulations. The captive can hold the life insurance directly or loan money to a life insurance trust to buy the insurance.

Also, the death benefit of the life insurance is outside the estate. This means that because of the captive, a $10 million or even $25 million death benefit is created for the estate's beneficiaries without any gift or estate tax liabilities.

David T. Phillips is the founder and chief executive of Estate Planning Specialists LLC in Chandler, Ariz., a national network of estate planners. He can be reached at

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Retirement Experts Urge Plan Sponsors to Shift Focus

HARTFORD, CT, December 2, 2008 -- Generating secure lifetime retirement income should become an urgent priority for plan sponsors and participants, according to the Institutional Retirement Income Research Council (IRIRC).

In its first white paper, Institutional Retirement Income Solutions: A Call to Action, available through the organization's website,, the IRIRC discusses why defined contribution plan sponsors should consider adding retirement income solutions to their plans.

"We realize that the current defined contribution approach is leaving retiring participants unprepared to construct a sustainable draw down of their assets in order to generate secure lifetime income that they will not be able to outlive," said IRIRC co-chair Martha Spano, who is the West Division Practice Leader for the consulting firm Watson Wyatt. ...

"The current economic crisis has exposed the flaws in the existing retirement system and the IRIRC can provide tools and information to help plan sponsors and participants fill in the gaps, and capably manage the ever-changing defined contribution marketplace," Spano said.

...[Defined]contribution plan assets are projected to be the primary source of retirement income for future retirees, and the responsibility to save for and generate a guaranteed retirement income has transferred from institutions to individuals.

"The shift toward individual responsibility has swung too far," said Dr. Jeffrey Brown, William G. Karnes professor, Department of Finance at the University of Illinois and Director of the Center for Business and Public Policy in the College of Business. "Participants are unprepared to manage the dizzying amount of choices and decisions they must make in order to prepare for retirement." ...

Institutional Retirement Income Solutions: A Call to Action suggests:

  • Increasing longevity, poor financial literacy and behavioral biases are compounding the challenge for plan participants;
  • Plan designs should evolve ... and expand to encourage participant behavior that accomplishes the goal of securing lifetime income during retirement; and
  • Success of the DC plan should be based on whether the plan facilitates adequate retirement income versus participation rates.

"The only way to quell the increasing public angst around the ability of Americans to retire in the future is for stakeholders from all areas of the retirement industry to come together and encourage plan sponsors to implement optimal retirement income solutions that address many of the problems retirees face in generating secure lifetime income," said Spano.

About the Institutional Retirement Income Research Council

The Institutional Retirement Income Research Council, an independent think tank, was established in 2007 to advance the interests of retirement savings plan participants, plan sponsors, plan advisors and consultants by: analyzing innovative approaches to in-plan, institutional retirement income solutions; creating acceptable best practices and evaluation tools to supplement the decision making; discussing and identifying regulatory, legislative, and fiduciary issues pertinent to in-plan, institutional income solutions; and producing and publishing relevant findings through various media outlets.


Click here for more material dealing with current trends, opinion, news, legislative action, investments, marketing, sales, consulting, and legal issues on 401k plans.

This is a press release provided by the company or its representatives., LLC is not the author of this release and is not associated or affiliated with any firm or organization mentioned unless otherwise noted. Use of any information obtained from this release is voluntary, and reliance on it should only be undertaken after an independent review of its accuracy, completeness, efficacy, and timeliness. Reference to any specific commercial product, process, or service by trade name, trademark, service mark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by, LLC.