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Does your retirement trainer pass the test? 5 questions to ask

How to spot the warning signs of an insurance salesperson, instead of a trainer

Retirement classes are few and far between for most employees, so they jump at the opportunity to sign up.

Most people assume a trainer is a trainer. 

But that’s not the case.  I’m going to give you 5 questions you can ask so you can spot trouble ahead of time.

If the trainer were an annuity or financial salesperson, when would you want to know about it?

1. How long have you been a retirement trainer?

The value of this question almost goes without saying.  Maybe decades of experience isn’t necessary, but if they’re new to training and left on their own without a lead trainer, that might not be the best learning experience for you.

2. Where did you learn this material and how do you stay up to date on changes?

A knowledgeable trainer will be able to give you a clear and easy to follow answer—likely backed by ample experience in the field.  They should also articulate the defined process they use to keep up with benefits changes beyond just the annual TSP contribution limits!

If they “hem and ha” that’s a potential sign that maybe they lack the depth of knowledge needed to deliver that class—or maybe they’re an insurance agent (see Q 5).

3. Did you create or write any part of this program?  If not, where did you get it?

Professional trainers often create their own program and workbooks based upon the depth of their benefits knowledge and classroom experience.  The materials are carefully tailored to each lesson and will be useful beyond that day of training.

Presenters, however, may have to purchase or use another’s training and be more apt to read from the slides—and give you a printout of the slides as their course materials.

4. Are you being paid to be here and by whom?  

It’s expected that a professional trainer will be compensated for the training as a government contractor, or as an employee if working for the agency.

Free isn’t free.  Follow up with Question 5 if they say they’re “sponsoring” the training and/or there’s 'no cost."

5. Did you pay a fee so that you could be in this room today?  Who did you pay?

This is how you uncover an insurance agent (or financial salesperson) who has a vested interest in selling products and services to the employees after class, and possibly a sales quota to meet as well.

This is often called “sponsoring the training” which is a code word for lead generation and marketing.

Complaints of high-pressure selling are not uncommon—or worse yet, limited FERS knowledge but “slick” sounding TSP or life insurance presentations.

Ask All trainers in the room.

It’s your call.

Is every professional trainer who is paid great?  Is every insurance agent/financial salesperson bad?  No and no, of course not.

Shouldn't you know more about the person who is teaching you about your retirement?  I believe you do deserve to know.

I’m glad you asked.

As a retirement trainer, here are my answers:

  1. How long have you been a retirement trainer?

    I have been a retirement trainer for 12 years.

  2. Where did you learn this material and how do you stay up to date on changes?

    At the urging of a retired HR Retirement Specialist, I took an introductory Federal benefits course in 2006. It didn’t take me long to realize that FERS and CSRS benefits are powerful in retirement—but complicated and complex!  I’ve been studying FERS and CSRS benefits ever since.  I’ve built my knowledge through providing over 2,300 retirement consultations with employees.  Even after all these years, there’s always something new to research and learn.

    I keep my benefits knowledge up to date in a couple of ways.  First, there are predictable annual changes (like TSP contributions or Medicare Part B premium announcements) that are easy to find.

    Finding the other type of benefits changes requires me to keep up on the related retirement publications, tax law changes, and reading articles and talking with HR specialists and other professionals.

    I liken it to being both curious and committed to helping employees to have the most up-to-date knowledge AND making it easily understood.  It’s a balance.

  3. Did you create or write any part of this program? If not, where did you get it?

    Yes. I am the founder and creator of the FERS Blueprint Retirement Training System.  I’ve written every curriculum, worksheet and resource. 

    I’ve created the teaching methodology that many employees have said this about: “Wow, that’s not bad at all. You make it easy!”  By combing visual explanations with retirement concepts, people learn faster and easier than with PowerPoint bullets on endless slides.

  4. Are you being paid to be here and by whom?

    Yes. I am paid as a professional trainer.  I offer retirement training services as both a government contractor and for individual employees who wish to enroll in our publicly available courses.

  5. Did you or anyone in this room pay a fee so that you could be in this room today? Who did you pay?

    No.  I do not sell financial services nor insurance products to our students, even if requested.  It is expressly forbidden in our course terms and conditions.

Grading the trainer

In my experience, retirement training, or as OPM calls it, Financial Literacy and Retirement Education, should help you do 3 things:

  • Achieve your retirement goals
  • Use the FERS benefits to your best advantage
  • Make independent decisions without a conflict of interest cropping up

You should walk away with the know-how, resources and ability to forge your own path—and if you choose to hire a financial professional, it should be because you want to, not because you’re stuck and don’t understand.

© 2020 The Monroe Team, Inc. 

FERS Blueprinttm is an educational division of The Monroe Team, Inc. DUNS Number: 032 057260. CAGE Code: 735L3. NAICS Code: 611710 Educational Support Services. Woman-owned, small business.

FERS Blueprinttm is not affiliated with, endorsed or sponsored by the Federal Government or any US Government agency. FERS Blueprinttm is educational only. No specific financial, retirement nor tax advice is being offered. The material presented is as current as possible, but is necessarily generalized. Facts and opinions are based on research and experience, but are not endorsed by the Federal Government. It is recommended to consult with your personnel office and/or the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Retirement Office, Thrift Savings Plan, Social Security, Medicare, Internal Revenue Service, your legal, tax and/or other advisor(s).

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