Larry Jones and his son, Taylor, financial advisors in Southern California, have developed a specialized niche market providing retirement plans for American Indian tribes, which are sovereign nations within the United States.

“A lot of people do not understand that American Indian tribes are sovereign nations, and their retirement plans have to be set up to protect that sovereignty,” says Larry Jones.

The tribes provide all of the same services that a municipality or state would provide, including police and fire protection, schools and administrators, and therefore have employees who receive retirement benefits.

Because of the special nature of the tribes, many have two different sets of rules for retirement plans. The government or tribal plans are based on the same rules that apply to employees of other governmental agencies in the United States. The employees of casinos and other commercial enterprises are subject to ERISA rules like employees of businesses located elsewhere in the United States, Larry Jones says.

The thing that advisors need to keep in mind when dealing with a special niche market such as Indian tribes is the difference in culture that can affect the plans, says Larry Jones.

“Each Native American tribe’s culture is unique with traditions dating back thousands of years—this uniqueness can have impact on each plan design and investment choices,” he says.

“Historically, Native Americans have a deep respect for the land they live on and work very hard to preserve it,” Larry Jones says. “Accordingly, tribes may require that investments offered to their members and employees be socially responsible investments that do not harm the earth or its inhabitants.”

In addition, “plan design is often modified to reflect tribal customs that recognizes both traditional and ceremonial marriages,” he adds.

Advisors dealing with American Indian tribes must realize that every decision has to be approved by the tribal councils.

“There also is an element of trust that needs to be built between the tribal councils and other communities,” says Larry Jones. He and his son now work with five tribes. The two also work with individual Native Americans through their retirement plan work.

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