Retirement Seminars: Summit Path or Slippery Slope, Part 1?

Prospects usually hate to be “sold.” But they love to be taught. That’s why seminars remain a staple of advisor marketing plans. By sharing helpful insights, tools, and processes, advisors build good will, credibility, and motivation for prospects to book an appointment.

But here’s the problem. Putting together a content-rich, compliant, and current seminar (pardon our “C’s”) is a full-time job. Consequently, most advisors outsource development by purchasing a program from a seminar publisher or getting one from their FMO. This can be a great solution. But when the developers use deceptive practices to attract attendees, trouble can ensue. Consider this real-life case:

One of our E&O For Less colleagues received a seminar insert in his Sunday newspaper touting the importance for boomers to “take another look” at their planning given recent events. Offered by “The Prosperity Foundation” (not its real name), the multi-week program was positioned as a highly academic opportunity—developed by a nonprofit organization, based on extensive academic research, delivered by “instructors,” and taking place on college campuses.

Approaching retirement himself, our colleague decided to pay the $50 fee to attend. But first he did some due diligence. Here’s what he found:

  • The nonprofit sponsor was indeed a not-for-profit LLC, registered with its secretary of state. However, he couldn’t find the touted nonprofit initiatives on the Internet.
  • The nonprofit sponsor’s phone and address matched those of an industry FMO.

Ethical alarms ringing, he decided to attend anyway to see what the program entailed. After paying online, he received a confirming e-mail for the “University of XXX Retirement Planning Course,” from “The Prosperity Foundation.” And then a couple days before the seminar, he received a voicemail from the “instructor”, giving logistical details and his phone number. Googling that number revealed the instructor worked at a local tax planning and financial advisory firm. Surprised?

Our colleague attended all three classes. Want to hear what he encountered? Watch for Part 2 of this series. Then learn what constitutes an ethical and compliant seminar in Part 3. Until then, here are some ethical pointers to consider before building or buying a prospecting seminar:

  • Whether a sales or marketing tactic works and whether or not it’s ethically appropriate are two separate questions. Don’t confuse them.
  • You never have a second chance to make a first impression. Why attempt to attract customers through misrepresentation when you can do it on your true merits.
  • It just takes one attendee to file an insurance-department complaint to ruin your online reputation. Once your reputation is damaged, it’s very difficult to fix.
  • Never say anything to seminar attendees that isn’t 100% true. Anything else is a slippery slope for your credibility and serious E&O risk exposure.
  • Finally, opt for quality, not gimmicks, in your seminar package. That’s the surest, straightest path to the marketing summit.

For more information on reducing your errors-and-omissions insurance liabilities, please visit our E&O Headquarters at E& (financial professionals only). For more information on ethical selling practices, visit National Ethics Association’s Ethics Center.