November Top Advisor by Participant Outcomes (TAPO)—Jeffery Acheson – The 401(k) Specialist

Let’s Retire Retirement

It’s immediately apparent why Jeff Acheson is a highly regarded industry thought-leader.

Having put his first 401(k) plan in place in 1982 (when it was still “a little-known tax loophole”) his experience allows him to see things from several different angles.

“The word retirement is overused and has lost its place,” Acheson, Chief Business Development Officer with Tampa-based Independent Financial Partners, bluntly says. “It’s really about financial independence, not retirement, because with younger people, in particular, that word doesn’t mean much to them.”

A worker might retire, he adds, but it doesn’t mean they’ll be financially independent, and the industry has to rethink the entire dynamic around financial wellness and how it leads to financial independence.

“I have a heretical mindset,” Acheson notes, by now somewhat obviously. “I believe the next winner on the participant outcome side will be whoever institutes a platform that is autonomous, ubiquitous, holistic and not tied to any recordkeeper. It will become a thing unto itself, and the retirement plan platform will give way to the financial wellness platform that’s built for the full lifecycle.”

It’s the reason he and his team are so focused on the holistic approach to financial wellness, which he says is a prerequisite to financial independence.

“Frankly, the only time we talk about retirement is with someone who’s in their late 50s and 60s.”

For those skeptical of the holistic wellness buzz phrase, there’s another equally important reason for a comprehensive focus that’s more practical.

“From a regulatory standpoint, if we don’t start to show better results and outcomes, they’ll think we’re just a special interest group making more money than we should,” Acheson warns. “Financial wellness is something that we can measure with more immediacy. A retirement plan projection is far off—20, 30 or 40 years from now, but whether someone reduces their debt or accumulates money for their children’s education is much more measurable in the short run.”

And as in so many other areas, it’s something the current pandemic has accelerated.

“Right now, people aren’t really thinking about retirement, financial independence, or even financial wellness. In some cases, they’re thinking about financial survival.”

His passion for the industry, still strong 40-plus years in, means he conducts employee enrollment meetings “to stay sharp and actively involved at the participant level.”

“As an industry, we went from being generalists to specialists,” he argues. “There’s going to be a movement back to being generalists, because focusing on fees, funds and fiduciary won’t get you much.”

He and his team recently rolled out a financial wellness program to one client with 400 employees, out of which nearly 200 went on to establish varying plans around financial independence.

“The success with that company has been exceptionally satisfying, because all the other things we did to try to get people to go to the website and use the tools were met with minimal success, but this program was so well received,” Acheson concludes. “Anytime we can have 40% or 50% utilization of the tools and resources as financial independence coaches, I take great satisfaction in that.”

Jeffery Acheson is Chief Business Development Officer with Tampa, Fla.-based Independent Financial Partners. 

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