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Learning From Past Mistakes

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Jennifer Daknis will never forget her introduction to the world of 401(k)s. Fresh out of college and starting a new job, she was handed a thick envelope and told to pick out some investments. Naturally, she did what too many 401(k) participants do. She called a friend and asked her what investments she chose.

Forget the fact that the friend worked for a different company, had different investment choices, and was much older than she was, Daknis figured any advice was better than trying to figure out the complicated information packet on her own.

“When I asked her how she had made her selection, she told me she just used what someone else at work had done,” Daknis laughs.

Even then, she knew there had to be a better way for people to make some of the most important financial decisions of their lives, and when she became a financial advisor she was determined to find it. Six years ago she joined MICG Investment Advisors in Newport News, Virginia, and was given free rein over the firm’s 401(k) business. Since then, she has gone from working with half a dozen retirement accounts to nearly 80.

Her first meeting with every prospect focuses on setting expectations–her expectations. She wants regular meetings with the trustee to make sure they have the right plan in place and to ensure that the plan continues to meet the needs of the company and its employees.

It’s a time-consuming process. Since MICG doesn’t have its own retirement plan platform, Daknis researches the one that best suits each plan sponsor. When choosing a platform, she looks beyond the investment choices and digs into the type of service they provide to the employer, the participants, and the advisor.

“I will do anything I can to help them reduce their fiduciary responsibility,” she says. “After I start reviewing a plan, I think the trustee feels better, and I do too.”

She also spends time with the plan’s participants–lots of time. After the standard introductory meeting, she sets up individual meetings with any employees who want personalized advice. Then she comes back for follow-up meetings–quarterly, if possible–so that she can provide ongoing education on general investment topics, such as understanding risk tolerance and structuring a retirement income.

“If I didn’t know any of this when I was starting out, I can’t assume anyone else does,” she says. “A little bit of education can go a long way.”

Using a five-question quiz, Daknis helps participants determine their true risk tolerance and offers them a series of asset allocation models she developed to help them meet their individual goals.

As a result, the majority of Daknis’s individual clients are people she started working with through a retirement plan. From senior executives to rank-and-file employees, she gets to know as many of the participants as possible, so that when they have a life-changing event and need additional financial help they call her.

“There are a lot of advisors who don’t want to work with 401(k)s, because they are a lot of work and don’t pay a lot,” she says. “You need to take a long-term perspective. It is a lot of work, but developing a relationship with those participants benefits me in the long run.”