Pete Bush's career in the financial services industry began in 1991, soon after he graduated from Louisiana State University. Back then, very few financial professionals focused on serving 401(k) plans. So when his manager handed him a binder containing information about 401(k) plans and told him to start studying, Bush seized the opportunity.
Today, 25 years later, Bush runs Baton Rouge-based ensemble firm Horizon Wealth Management, along with a 30-financial professional Office of Supervisory Jurisdiction branch for Cetera Advisors. The ensemble practice focuses on three target markets: business owners and executives, professional athletes, and retirement plan sponsors. The retirement plan division, headed up by Pete Bush's brother, Andy Bush, and assisted by brother Bill Bush, currently serves 65 plans, representing more than $100 million in assets under management and 2,100 participants. These businesses range from small- and medium-sized professional services firms to mid-sized companies with more than 500 employees.
We spoke with Pete Bush recently to learn more about his firm's approach to competing and succeeding in the retirement plan space.
Q: What sets your firm apart from other firms that are competing to service 401(k) plans?
Pete Bush: The approach we take with our retirement plan clients is very similar to our approach to personal wealth management. It's based on figuring out what's most important to the person or the plan sponsor. What's going to make them happy and confident?
When some financial professionals go in to speak with a business owner about the company's 401(k) plan, they are selling someone else's intellectual capital or a particular platform. At Horizon, we take a product-agnostic approach. We help our clients understand the nuances of the various platforms available today and allow them to choose one that best matches their needs. In many cases, we find that plan sponsors are not taking full advantage of their existing platform's capabilities. So instead of blowing the whole thing up, we first try to see if we can optimize their current platform. If not, we'll then take them through a detailed process to find a better platform.
Q: Can you talk more about your process for recommending the right technology platform?
Bush: Our Plan Partner SolutionTM takes a process-driven approach to managing the retirement plan needs of companies. It is designed to work with virtually any platform. Each step in the Plan Partner Solution is designed to educate plan sponsors about key issues, identify each plan's particular needs, help plan sponsors document their decisions and create a clear course of action for the ongoing management of their plan.
Q: What impacts do you expect the new DOL fiduciary rule will have on the industry?
Bush: I believe the days are over when a financial professional could simply be golfing buddies with a business owner and, as a result, manage the company's 401(k) plan. Firms that serve 401(k) plans will need to serve in a full fiduciary capacity or they'll be out of this space. Firms that operate without a clear process are also very risky to broker-dealers, and I expect we'll start to see broker-dealers initiate their own set of requirements to reduce their liability. So if you're a financial professional who is dabbling in the 401(k) business, your broker-dealer may ultimately require you to affiliate with a firm that specializes in serving retirement plan sponsors. As a result, I believe the aggregators will gain market share and firms that service just a few plans will sell or merge.
Q: How will the new DOL fiduciary rule affect your firm's growth strategy?
Bush: Many plan sponsors are in the process of making sure they can comply with the new rules when they take effect in April 2017. They are looking at issues such as fiduciary responsibilities, levelized fees and their ability to defend against potential lawsuits. If their current financial professional is not delivering in those areas, they may start looking elsewhere. So for us, we see the impact of the new regulations as a huge opportunity and not a step back. Due to fee compression, firms are going to have to have more assets under management and more scale in order to maintain profitability. As some financial professionals decide to leave the retirement plan market, firms like ours will ramp up to take advantage of the opportunity.
Q: What's your vision for the future of your firm?
Bush: We're seeking exponential growth rather than incremental growth. Some of the conversations we're having with potential partners and acquisition candidates could grow our firm by a multiple of five within a few years. You would never be able to achieve that type of growth with an incremental approach, plan by plan. Within a few years, I think you'll see fewer, bigger, regional providers of these types of services, and we plan to be part of that group. Small RIA firms that are serving a handful of plans will have to think hard about what their strategy is going to be to stay in this market. If they don't have a big growth strategy, then they need to get out or align themselves with a firm that has a greater set of capabilities and access to resources.
Q: How will you go about achieving your vision for the future of your firm?
Bush: You have to go and ask people to do business with you or to join forces with you to build something special. There's no shortcut to that. That means still growing organically to some degree, but also taking it to another level by being a resource for those financial professionals looking to get out of the space or to combine their retirement plan practices with ours to form a bigger footprint. The sales process within financial services sometimes gets a bad reputation. But those who do it with integrity are simply influencing people in a positive way to make a decision that's good for them — a decision they probably wouldn't make on their own without some guidance. What you're selling them on is their own better future and their own confidence. If you can see it through that lens, it makes it easier to “sell” because you're in essence giving them a gift. But probably the main way to make any vision a reality is to get real clear about what that future picture looks like so that you can “sell” your entire team on it and they can embrace it and strive toward it as well.
Neither Nationwide or any of its affiliates are related to, or affiliated with, Horizon Wealth Management.
Securities and advisory services offered through Cetera Advisors LLC, member FINRA/SIPC. Cetera is under separate ownership from any other named entity.