As I write this, we have just selected our 2017 PLANSPONSOR
Retirement Plan Sponsors of the Year. Once again, it was incredibly difficult
for the judges to pick finalists and winners, as so many of the sponsors that
entered this year’s awards program are doing a remarkable job in providing more
secure financial outcomes for U.S. workers.
To be considered, a sponsor must first be recommended for
the award. We receive nominations from across the industry—though most commonly
they come from provider partners and retirement plan advisers. After a plan is
nominated, the sponsor is asked to complete an online form, confirming a desire
to be considered and supplying details about its plan’s administration,
participant statistics and data, as well as significant improvements it has
made. A committee of PLANSPONSOR/PLANADVISER editors reviews the submissions
and selects the finalists and winners from among the various categories.
One thing I’ve noticed is the difference in tone between
nominations and entries. Many of the nominations talk about how remarkable the
plan sponsors are. As I mentioned, being mostly from providers and advisers,
the nominators are comparing these plan sponsors with their peers and
recognizing how unusual some of the plan design elements might be or how rare
the sponsoring company’s generosity is, for example.
However, when plan sponsors are asked to complete an entry,
they are much more demure in their writing. So demure and humble sometimes that
it seems as if the nominator and the entrant are talking about two different
I’ve wondered why this is so. Why would a provider or
adviser go on and on about a plan when the plan sponsor just writes a couple of
sentences or states a few bullet points?
In talking with the other judges and in discussing the plans
with the nominators, what I have come to realize is: Plan sponsors often don’t
realize that what they are doing is unique or special. We are often struck by
the generosity of the sponsor—in terms of crafting matches or nonelective
contributions or both. We have also been impressed by the plan design elements
that recognize the unique participant and employee demographics—such as
ensuring mobile delivery for those without access to computers aside from their
phones, or ensuring all employee languages are covered. This year, we also
noticed attention to details that affect those who are no longer employees—such
as the plans that are allowing participants to pay off loans even after they
have left the company.
Trying to choose finalists and winners is difficult, not
because it is hard to find plans that are doing great things, but the
opposite—when plan providers and advisers have taken the time to single out
their plan clients, you know these plans are special! I admit that I often wish
we could recognize more than our usual percentage of total applicants (my team
keeps me in check, though), and, due to the high quality of the entries, I
encourage everyone who isn’t selected as a finalist this year to consider
Each plan sponsor recognized has a story of success—and yet,
many of these sponsors still consider their plan to be a work in progress.
There is something else in these entries that advisers should all be proud of.
In nearly every entry from a plan sponsor that works with a retirement plan
adviser, the sponsor references the adviser, usually alluding to the value
brought by his skilled advice and guidance. They say things such as “together
with our adviser” and “thanks to our adviser” the plan design changes were
The skill set you bring is respected and appreciated by your
clients. The plan sponsors that take part in our Plan Sponsor of the Year
process see their advisers as true partners in helping participants achieve a
more secure retirement. It’s clear those plan sponsors that embrace their
advisers as partners are more willing to try some new things—whether
considering plan design options or embracing a new approach to participant
There are many plan sponsors that are passionate about
improving participant retirement readiness but don’t know where to start.
Advisers, with their overall view of the industry and their ongoing work with
different plan providers, are able to bring solutions and ideas that plan
sponsors may not have considered. The opportunities for advisers are therefore
endless—after all, plan sponsors are correct, the work is never done and
improvements can always be made. You have the opportunity to encourage that
improvement, and I hope you all do so.