15th Anniversary of RPAY: Capital Strategies Investment Group

The practice’s leaders say all decisions made for a plan must improve participants’ retirement readiness, which they describe as a top priority.

Alison Bettonville

What sets Capital Strategies Investment Group—which was named the 2013 PLANSPONSOR Retirement Plan Adviser Team of the Year—apart from its competitors is that it is “really unique to other firms in truly taking a teams-based approach,” says Alison Bettonville, principal, director of investment strategy and research at the firm.

Since winning the award eight years ago, Capital Strategies Investment Group, which is based in Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois, has reassigned its staff in order to “deliver more expertise to clients in a timely manner” and embraced more technology and automation, particularly for day-to-day processes, Bettonville says. “This has dramatically freed up team members to work more closely with clients,” she adds.

Will Woodall

Capital Strategies Investment Group has also expanded its focus from “investments and governance to really think hard and deliver on plan design and outcomes,” says Will Woodall, managing principal.

Bettonville agrees. “We no longer focus just on investment analytics. We cover plan design, participant behavior and fees—and deliver consistently on every point in order to successfully oversee each client’s retirement plan,” she says.

What is also notable about how the practice has evolved since 2013 is that assets have grown nearly four-fold, from $4 billion to $15 billion, Woodall notes. That growth is particularly noteworthy as Capital Strategies Investment Group is very selective about the clients it partners with, choosing only those that indicate they are truly interested in the best possible outcomes for participants, he says.

Bettonville adds: “The other thing we focus on, from a client perspective, is that many of the issues our clients are grappling with are complex, such as helping them with plan integration as they go through mergers or acquisitions.”

Yet another challenge that Capital Strategies Investment Group is willing to take on, she continues, is that each client has between 1,000 and 5,000 participants.

As to how the industry has changed in the years since the practice won the PLANSPONSOR award, Bettonville says the “trend of the RIA [registered investment adviser] aggregators has had some impact on what I will call ‘generational turnover.’ The first generation of advisers that were working with DC [defined contribution] plans are now looking toward retiring, and that impacts M&A [mergers and acquisitions] activity. We are now beginning to lose a lot of talent with long-tenured experience—but that is opening up plenty of room for new ideas.”

For his part, Woodall says today’s retirement planning industry is far more competitive than it was in 2013. “There is constant pressure on fees due to fee compression, and it has become more difficult for retirement plan practices to differentiate themselves in a market where plan sponsors are so focused on fees.” Woodall also believes that as pooled employer plans (PEPs) begin to take hold, they will create more competition for retirement plan advisers.

While many other practices are struggling to recruit new talent, particularly diverse talent, Bettonville says, Capital Strategies Investment Group has developed “a comprehensive recruiting process and in-house analyst training process to grow new hires into successful advisers and consultants. We think that is the best way to acquire new talent.”

Bettonville says that because of the service model her firm delivers, she is very optimistic about its future prospects. “We make it a point to partner with companies that value our expertise—not just someone coming in four times a year just to talk about financial markets and investment returns,” she says. “We really are looking for companies committed to being fiduciaries and serve them by keeping them up to speed on emerging trends among retirement plans. That is where we add a lot of value.”

As for what advisers can do to improve DC plans and participants’ outcomes, Bettonville says their role must expand well beyond just being an investment adviser. “From our perspective, we think of plan health in terms of retirement readiness and outcomes—and ensuring there is an alignment between the solutions we bring to a plan and the sponsor’s goals. Plan design is important, as is education for committees—not just fiduciary education but how to help participants successfully retire. Everything needs to be brought back to the all-important question of retirement readiness.”