Active investment management’s weekly magazine for fee-based advisors

Mark Mensack, AIFA • Malvern, PA
Phronetic Retirement Advisors • Prudent Champion Inc. • Securities America Inc.

I am the founder of two firms in the financial-services industry. The first is my advisory practice, Phronetic Retirement Advisors, which focuses on delivering retirement and investment planning to pre-retirees and retirees.

The second is the consulting practice I began in 2009, called Prudent Champion Inc. Through this firm, I provide fiduciary education and assessments that enable retirement plan sponsors—as well as the trustees of foundations, endowments, and nonprofit organizations—to ensure compliance with fiduciary best practices.

The name “Prudent Champion” was carefully selected and carries meaning that is important in defining the firm’s mission.

In medieval times, knighthood was associated with the ideals of chivalry and honor. From this era, we also get the original definition of “champion.” A champion fought on behalf of another to protect their honor or rights. Today, a champion might also be defined as an advocate.

“Prudent” comes from the Latin “prudens,” meaning foresight. It can also mean cautious, wary, reasonable, or of sound judgment. Prudence also describes the primary duty of all fiduciaries according to the Uniform Prudent Investor Act (UPIA) and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

Whether you have fiduciary responsibility as a 401(k) plan sponsor, as a member of a nonprofit board of directors, or as some other sort of trustee, your first fiduciary duty is that of prudence. Prudence demands one to act “with the care, skill, prudence, and diligence under the circumstances then prevailing that a prudent man acting in a like capacity and familiar with such matters would use in the conduct of an enterprise of a like character and with like aims,” ERISA 404(a)(1)(B).

My educational and professional background has informed my deep interest in all matters related to fiduciary responsibility.

I majored in philosophy in college at the University of Scranton and hold a master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania. I spent 11 years as an officer in the U.S. Army, and my final assignment was teaching philosophy, critical thinking, and ethics at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York.

I believe in continuing education, and I have earned several important credentials that have helped me become a more effective financial advisor and fiduciary consultant. These have included the Accredited Investment Fiduciary Analyst (AIFA) designation through the Center for Fiduciary Studies, the Accredited Wealth Management Advisor (AWMA) designation, the Global Financial Steward (GFS) designation, and the Certificate in Fiduciary Governance. I have also been certified by the Centre for Fiduciary Excellence to conduct CEFEX certifications.

I think it is fairly evident that I have a deep respect and passion for fiduciary stewardship. In addition to consulting with a variety of organizations, I have always believed in giving back to the financial-services industry through sharing my perspective and knowledge in industry publications and speaking in front of many industry organizations.

I have written the “401k Ethicist” column for the Journal of Compensation & Benefits, and I have contributed to the Paladin Registry, Investor Watchdog, and HuffPost (formerly The Huffington Post). I am also a co-author of the “Fiduciary Handbook for Understanding and Selecting Target Date Funds.” Two of my articles were required reading for the Certified Employee Benefits Specialist course taught at the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania.

I have been called an “outspoken fiduciary advocate” and was proud of that description, even if it has meant occasionally “ruffling a few feathers” in the industry.

Similarly, I take a somewhat unique approach to consulting on fiduciary issues. My approach is that, to understand best practices, a plan sponsor has to compare them to bad practices. To this end, I have a two-step process: Helping clients target any vulnerabilities in their operating environment that use bad practices and then helping them obtain independent certification that their firm adheres to best practices.

As the noted professor Dr. Robert Kennedy has written, “Society depends upon professionals to provide reliable fixed standards in situations where the facts are murky or the temptations too strong. Their principal contribution is an ability to bring sound judgment to bear on these situations.”

Those words have been an inspiration to me in my professional consulting career. I look forward to many more years of serving clients in this capacity.

Disclosure: Securities America Inc., a registered broker-dealer, member FINRA/SIPC. Advisory services offered through Securities America Advisors Inc., an SEC registered investment advisory firm. 507 Holywell Drive, Malvern, PA 19355. 609-792-4974.

Photography by Michael Branscom

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