Interview Conducted by Roberta Hess of Princeton Marketing
Creating a Culture of Competitive Collaboration
In an exclusive interview, Brady Onsager, Plan Implementation Manager at The Retirement Advantage, Inc. (TRA), shares the reasons for his team’s consistent success in a fast-paced and challenging environment.
When did you join TRA – and why?
I joined TRA in the fall of 2013. After spending most of my career in the mortgage-lending industry, I wanted to make a move into a different business in financial services. I started at TRA as an Implementation Specialist, and found that I liked the third-party administration (TPA) business — and TRA — right from the start.
How did you know TRA was the right company for you?
When I joined TRA, I got to see the company’s “big picture” from the perspective of a new employee. And what I saw was that everyone — from managers, to team leaders, to individual contributors — had the opportunity to voice their ideas, whether they were designed to improve the way we work or to enhance our growth. Everyone was (and is) respected and listened to, and the best ideas get implemented. That’s pretty unusual in the corporate world.
This mindset flows through to career development at TRA. From the beginning, my answer to the old question: “Do you want a job or a profession?” was “I want a profession.” That’s why I jumped at the chance to get my QKA and QPA certifications. TRA covered the expenses and even provided some time to study. The company gives all of us the opportunity to invest in ourselves and build our careers.
Can you give us a brief description of your responsibilities as Plan Implementation Manager at TRA?
We have a very successful Sales team at TRA (so successful that they broke their record for new sales in 2020). Our job in Plan Implementation is to get those plans they’ve sold up and running, quickly, and transitioned to a dedicated Client Relationship Manager (CRM) who’ll be the main point of contact going forward. We’ve got to do our work fast — with no sacrifice in quality or consistency.
New business — whether it’s a start up or takeover plan — runs the gamut from easy to challenging. Our Implementation Specialists are continuously improving, identifying what’s working well and replicating it, while also identifying and getting better at what needs to improve.
What kind of incentives do you have to measure the Plan Implementation team’s successes?
We’ve got quarterly metrics, with a defined bonus for Implementation Specialists when they meet or exceed goals. We also run 30-day challenges, as well.
Our team members have a very healthy, yet very friendly, sense of competition. We have a private page on the TRA Intranet with a dashboard showing how many plans each of the Implementation Specialists has checked out — no one wants to get left behind!
What are the most important things an advisor should know about or do prior to a plan implementation?
Advisors should know that we want to partner with them to get a plan live as soon as possible. We appreciate that they have entrusted us with this complicated process. We work hard so that advisors can be confident that a new plan they bring to us will be handled expertly by an Implementation Specialist and transitioned quickly to a CRM.
Then we make sure that they have the same experience with the second, third — and hopefully more! — plans that they bring to us. That’s the kind of consistency we aim for.
For plan sponsors, what are the top things they can do to help an implementation move forward as smoothly as possible?
Setting up a new 401(k) plan is an exciting time for employers. They’ve gotten big enough that they are ready to offer their employees this important benefit. In the excitement, it’s easy to forget that plan documents are legal documents, and accuracy is important. For example, something as simple as using a trustee’s nickname instead of their legal name can hold up the implementation process. Using a full, legal company name is important, too.
The other point I’d make is to be as responsive as possible to our requests during the implementation period. It’s tough because employers and their teams are full on with responsibilities that have nothing to do with their 401(k) plans. We understand! But when they can get back signed plan documents and forms to us, as well as census information, during the specified timeframes, it makes all the difference.
Were there any noteworthy challenges you and your team had to deal with during the pandemic? Any successes you’re particularly proud of?
I’m very proud of the way the Plan Implementation team performed during this time. Since many of us were already working remotely, the biggest change came about not because of the pandemic, but because of the SECURE Act, which extended the period of time for a company to adopt a new plan beyond the end of the year to the due date for their tax return.
As a result, there was no slack off in new plan business in the first quarter of 2021. Our team managed through this big bounce in new business, exceeding everyone’s expectations. By the end of Q1 2021 the Plan Implementation Specialists were exhausted, but in good spirits because of their check-out accomplishments and the satisfaction of a job well done.
Our team is competitive, but we keep our focus on “one team, one goal.” We work hard individually — and we want to break records! — but we back each other up. We meet regularly and also use instant messaging and the TRA Intranet to stay in touch. No one is afraid to share what’s working for them and the challenges they’re working through. We probably collaborate more virtually than if we would if we were in one office, gathered around the proverbial water cooler!