Are you ready for retirement? Small business owners need retirement plans not only for themselves, but often for their employees. On the latest episode of, “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” Merrill Edge executive and retirement pro, Matt Gellene, discusses what you should look for in a retirement plan for yourself and for your team.




“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.


The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.


Matt Gellene:              Any company, even a sole proprietorship, can implement a retirement plan, just like a large company. In fact, they can implement a 401K plan, and that can really benefit their business, not only personally and what they can save for themselves, but also their employees and really help their business overall not only attract great talent, but really help them through a variety of different ways. Deductions for their potential taxes, you can deduct contributions, etc. It's something that I think a lot of small business owners don't realize.


Narrator:                      Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” with ForbesBooks at and Bank of America at


Gregg Stebben:          I'm here on “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America. Matt Gellene joins me. He is the head of Financial Center Merrill Edge and National Performance Executive. We are going to talk about retirement planning, particularly for small business owners. But Matt, before we go there, I want to welcome you, and I also want to have you tell us a little bit about your job and your title.


Matt Gellene:              Yeah, well first, Gregg, thanks for having me. I appreciate that, joining you today. Yeah, as far as what I do, I'm in charge of all of the Financial Solutions Advisors. These would be the financial advisors that are out in our financial centers, our banking centers throughout the entire country. We have 2500 of these individuals, and they're out there helping our clients solve their financial problems.


Gregg Stebben:          Well, that's a huge job that you have. You must know on a day-to-day basis how you're doing, because you must get a lot of customer feedback.


Matt Gellene:              Yeah, we do. It's great. We've had lots of our clients speak to us through, certainly the way that they interact through our client experience partners, but even directly with me, they talk about all the great things that our advisors are doing, the way that they are helping with their financial lives. It's really gratifying to see the work literally every day.


Gregg Stebben:          Well, one of the things I want to talk about today is the difference between retirement planning for someone who's an employee, say an executive, and for the person who actually owns the company, because it's very different when someone else has created the plan for you than when you are, in a sense, in charge of both running the company and creating the plan for yourself.


Matt Gellene:              Yeah, without a doubt. I mean, most people participate through the retirement plan through their company. In that case, it's already set up for you. It's a way for you to participate in your retirement savings through a really prescriptive way. But if you are your own business owner, if you are running your own company, now you really have to think differently about the way you engage with it, because in most cases, it's not already set up.


                                   The good news, Gregg, is any company, virtually any business, even a sole proprietorship, can implement a retirement plan like a large company. In fact, they can implement a 401K plan, and that can really benefit their business, not only personally and what they can save for themselves, but also their employees and really help their business overall not only attract great talent, but really them through a variety of different ways. Deductions for their potential taxes, you can deduct contributions, etc. It's something that I think a lot of small business owners don't realize. We would be happy to explain that to anyone who is interested.


Gregg Stebben:          So let's say I'm a small business owner, I'm listening, and I just heard you say, "Gee, Gregg, this is something you should be doing, because you own a small business, and there's some real advantages to it." Who do I call and what do I ask for? Can you help me with that first step so that I start talking to the right person to get the kind of assistance I need?


Matt Gellene:              Absolutely, absolutely, Gregg. Thanks for bringing that up. As I mentioned on the outset, we have more than 2500 individuals throughout the country that actually have the ability to help any small business owner go over their options and talk through these types of solutions. The first step is trying to understand, really, what the plan is, what the small business owner is trying to accomplish. Then we can direct them to ways that they can use some of these things I said to help them do that plan. It's certainly something we do here at Bank of America Merrill Edge. We'd be more than happy to help.


Gregg Stebben:          Do you find that this is a common thing, that small business owners are so wrapped up in running the business and keeping it growing and successful that they actually neglect to think about themselves and their own future?


Matt Gellene:              Yeah, completely. I think any small business owner would tell you that so much of their time and their energy, really all of their mind share, is spent trying to grow and build their business. Even more so, I think many small business owners think that this business, in and of itself, is their retirement plan. They think that everything they do to grow that business ultimately will have some sort of retirement payoff, if you will. But it's important for everyone to sort of separate out their great work they might be doing to build their business and the plan they have to put in place for themselves for retirement, really separate and apart from what they're driving with their business. This is really a challenge for many small business owners.


Gregg Stebben:          Well, let's dig into those challenges a little bit. So, let's say I own a small business, I've been thinking that, you know, at some point this is the retirement nest egg that I need to grow for myself. You're saying, "Well, that's probably not the right way to be thinking about it." What kind of things can go wrong if that is the extent of by retirement planning?


Matt Gellene:              Yeah, if you really don't think separately about the way you save and the way you plan for your retirement, you could be overemphasizing your current projects for your business, and you might not have the right discipline to create that separation over time. So what I would always suggest, and frankly this goes not only for small business owner, but frankly anyone who is looking to save for a very specific goal to get, as I said, specific. Think about how much needs to be put away, how you're going to account for that, and really separate and apart from your other endeavors. Make the time and the energy to build a plan around that goal. You're going to be able to have a much better discipline over time to insure you reach that goal.


Gregg Stebben:          Well, as I'm listening to you, I'm also realizing that if I own a small business and I'm counting on it to support me in retirement, I'm also banking on the fact that my business is going to continue to be successful without me there, because now I'm retired, or I'm counting on the fact that there will be a successful exit.


Matt Gellene:              Right. I mean, I think ultimately every small business owner certainly has to have that optimism about the future, but in order to make sure that you can, as you say, continue on either after you've left the business, post retirement, you have to make sure that you have a great plan in place in case that doesn't come to pass. To your point, there are some businesses where you have succession challenges, and what's going to happen after I leave or directing the business—that's why we really, really want to sit down with the business owner. Create that plan, make sure that they have that benefit laid out, and really start to work through the contingencies that might happen if it weren't to come to pass as they envisioned.


Gregg Stebben:          We're talking with Matt Gellene. He's the head of Financial Center Merrill Edge and National Performance Executive. This is “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America. I want to ask you a more general question, Matt. That is we've been focusing so far on small business owners, but let's broaden the scope. What is it that most people get wrong when it comes to retirement planning? Then I went you to drill in and say, "This is what most people do wrong. Now this is what most small business people do wrong." Because I think we're either going to learn that they make the same mistakes or very different mistakes, but it will very, very useful, either way.


Matt Gellene:              Yeah, thanks Gregg. I think that there's sort of two big areas that most people, as you say, quote on quote, "get wrong," when they're thinking about retirement planning. The first is they begin to save, but they save just to save. What I mean by that is they're not laying out a full plan. They're not laying out an end goal and starting to plan for how much they'll need, how much they need to put away, what the rate of return will be necessary to get to that number. Unfortunately, they think, well, just putting a little bit away or making it a regular activity is going to get them to their goal. Frankly, it's because they haven't thought through the plan or the end result. That's the first thing.


                                   The second thing is a little bit of a derivative of that. It's the whole notion of, "Well, set it and forget it." I will tell you, this happens to a lot of people who have a 401K and are contributing regularly. They are doing the right thing by setting that savings plan in place, but they're not looking at where that money is going or looking at where those investments have led them and what the returns are. I will tell you, as you go through your sort of economic life as you're proceeding through your career, you have to make sure that you're constantly looking at your portfolio and getting advice as to how it might need to be rebalanced. As you know, the investments and the markets change. The allocations of where you want to put your money will certainly change over time based on your risk tolerance and when you're going to need it. Too many people do the, "Set it and forget it," notion, and then when they go back to look at it when they're now ready to access it, it might not be where they need it to be. So saving to save and setting it and forgetting it are the two big items that I think many good savers who are planning don't do enough analysis to insure that they're going to be okay.


Gregg Stebben:          It also seems to me that for a small business owner, their success in business could be very helpful here if they were focused, but I would imagine for some successful business owners, it could also be a trap. In other words, I know how to build a successful business. If I apply those lessons to my retirement, I'm probably going to have a very successful retirement plan. But on the other hand, you may think you know how to plan a retirement plan because you've been successful in business, but what made you successful in business may require a whole other set of skills.


Matt Gellene:              You said it really well. I mean, ultimately, what you should be looking to do is seek out expertise in the areas that you really need help. In fact, the small business owner who's great at running his or her business may not necessarily have the right level of expertise to do the things that I just said. Set the right plan, make sure you're doing the rebalancing, re-evaluate the investments to make sure that they come out the right way, so to speak, when retirement comes around. That core is the expertise that we offer here at Bank of American and Merrill Edge. So we can deliver that for our clients while they spend all of their time building their business.


Gregg Stebben:          I would also imagine that not all investing is about retirement, either. I mean, in many cases, when you're a successful business owner, you have money you should be investing for things other than retirement. Can you talk about things you've learned by dealing with small business people?


Matt Gellene:              Completely. You know, I think one of the things that we will find is when you talk to a client, whether it's a small business client or an individual client, the most important thing is to find out what their priorities are. What's their, what we like to call, "their life priorities," where they're putting their energy and what's most important to them, because as we will talk to, especially business owners, we know that clearly their work and their business is probably an overarching, if not the first, priority, but there are going to be others as well. It could be how they educate their children, it could be, as you say, retirement planning. It could be simply to create some extra wealth to pass on to future generations.


                                   We have to get to those pieces as well, because once you create that life priority framework, then you begin to be able to plan appropriately for each need. As I said earlier, you can sort of separate out the way you're approaching that, because they may have different plans, they may have different sort of investment profiles, so to say, they may have different risk tolerances. They could be customized depending on what the goal is. It's so important to have that perspective so someone can really own their financial life.


Gregg Stebben:          Well and what's interesting here ... again, I'm talking with Matt Gellene. This is “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America. What's interesting here is that thing that makes successful business owners successful, in many cases, starts with this vision and drive to accomplish the goal. Really, what you're saying is broaden your ability to make goals, and make a goal for yourself personally financially as well, not just a goal for your business.


Matt Gellene:              Yeah, that's really well said. You know, ultimately, you have to make sure that you set the right goal, create the right plan, and make sure you've got the right level of priorities. Along with your advisor, create the right level of interaction and constantly evaluate so you can get to those goals, whatever they may be.


Gregg Stebben:          I'm going to ask you one more question, Matt. I want to boil this down into one thing to do today. So for anyone listening who realizes now, "I have not been planning adequately for myself, and my family, and even my business," the one piece of retirement advice you'd like to leave them with. I want you to close with, "Here's how you can reach out to us at Bank of America and Merrill Edge."


Matt Gellene:              Yeah, well, thank you for that. I think the most important thing I would say is ... and you've heard it throughout thematically here ... is make sure that you have the right level of plan in place to meet that life priority. For us, I think the best way to do that is to be informed and to access the right level of expertise. At Bank of America Merrill Edge, we have that for you. Certainly, as I mentioned, we have 2500 Financial Solutions Advisors that are out in our banking centers, our financial centers, as we call them, but you could do it simply by going to to begin the journey, see what we have to offer to help you in that regard. If you so desire to speak to someone, we can connect you right through that website to someone locally to help you.


Gregg Stebben:          He's Matt Gellene. This is “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America. Matt is the head of Financial Center Merrill Edge and National Performance Executive. Thanks so much for joining us. Great tips.


Matt Gellene:              My pleasure. Thanks, Gregg.


Narrator:                     Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at and Bank of America at

Learn more about Merrill Edge® at


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