A lot of broker-dealers have invested in the retirement income space. No surprise there. But nothing comes close to Symetra Investment Services, which has boldly branded itself—and its advisors—as retirement income specialists.

Leading the charge? Industry veteran Richard Moran, who has spent the past 14 months creating a business model that takes the retirement income planning niche to a whole new level.

“We’ve put our flag in the ground,” says Moran, 53. “We’re staking out our position as a thriving midsize independent broker-dealer with a strong, binding culture amongst advisors that deliver retirement income and planning advice. Our unique focus and resources allow us to help clients grow their business by differentiating themselves in their communities as retirement income experts.”

The makeover of the 26-year-old broker-dealer is being watched closely by retirement income industry leaders like François Gadenne, chairman of the Retirement Income Industry Association.

“There are three types of companies looking at the retirement income space. There’s the accumulation, asset-under-management gathering model, which isn’t going to change. It doesn’t matter that same-old, same-old won’t work. There is another group that talks the retirement talk but doesn’t walk the retirement walk—and there’s a whole bunch of them,” observes Gadenne. “Then there is a third category that talks the retirement talk and walks the retirement walk. Symetra is in that group. At the moment, they are talking their story, building their story. It’s only just started.”

Moran, hired as president of the Bellevue, Wash.-based broker-dealer in December 2011, spent his first months assembling an executive team. This past June, Symetra hosted a retirement income summit for industry leaders in Seattle that served as the firm’s formal introduction as a retirement income-focused broker-dealer. During the past year, Symetra has also forged strategic alliances with firms such as Pershing, Russell Investments, PIMCO and Envestnet. 

“We are committed to being leaders in the retirement income thought leadership community,” says Moran, who serves as senior vice president of Symetra Life Insurance Co. in addition to the top spot at the broker-dealer. The firms are subsidiaries of Symetra Financial Corp. “We’ve laid out our ambitions as a company to engage everybody to collectively work together and to enable advisors to learn better how to provide for retirement income needs. We know who we are, where we are going and how to get there.”

In Moran, Symetra has a longtime pro whose early interest in the global economy has led to varied engagements across the financial services industry. After earning an undergraduate degree in economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Moran in 1981 founded a company that bought and sold small businesses in the state. He sold it in the late 1980s, then joined Merrill Lynch as an advisor—his first foray into financial services.

Later, from 1997 to 2004, as senior vice president and director of investment consulting services for UBS, Moran led a team that transformed how advisors there were delivering advice—moving them from a transactional model to something more holistic. The result, he said, was “terrific,” with a record number of recruits and increased market share for the firm. 

Moran has also held sales and marketing positions with Bear Stearns, Smith Barney and MassMutual Financial Group, where he headed a retirement income sales team. Prior to joining Symetra, he founded and operated Westlake Investment Advisors, a wealth management advisory firm.

At present, Moran is focused on building an ideal corporate home for Symetra’s 400 advisors. He is also personally involved in recruiting efforts. The attributes of a model Symetra advisor include a clean regulatory record, a client-first philosophy, an at least three-year track record with a demonstrated ability to grow the business, and a planning-type process. As for clients, they are typically 10 years in front of retirement or 10 years into it.

“That 20-year time period is our sweet spot,” Moran says. “If you look at where Americans need the most help today, it’s in working with their financial advisors to establish a consistent income stream that will last their lifetime. That’s where the great opportunity is for advisors, meeting that need. It’s a different world than it was 10 or 20 years ago. Americans are facing a lot of challenges: longevity risk, a low interest rate environment, choppy markets and, frankly, a lot of uncertainty. We’re teaching advisors, for instance, how to have the best conversations with a client—conversations that bring to the surface what the client really needs to accomplish to have income for their retirement years.”

Going forward, Moran says the advisor who can help the American investor maximize future retirement income will be the advisor who succeeds in capturing all of a client’s investable assets. That strategy, he adds, is a central focus of Symetra’s growth plan.

“We’re not pressing for growth for growth’s sake. We want to build out a group of like-minded advisors who want to be affiliated with the same broker-dealer because they have the same advisory model,” he says. “The fact is we are reputationally very, very sound and we are financially very, very sound. This is a distinct offering. What we’ve started to see is people begin to self-select. Advisors hear our story and some people just really want to be a part of it.”