15th Anniversary of RPAY: The Catanella Institutional Consulting Team

The practice, overseen by a father-son pair, has experienced strong growth while staying committed to the middle-market segment.

Photo by Ryan Smith

Brian Catanella and Ken G. Catanella

Since The Catanella Institutional Consulting Team won the PLANSPONSOR Retirement Plan Small Team Adviser of the Year award in 2016, the Philadelphia-based group has seen its assets more than double, from $1.9 billion to $4.3 billion, while the number of plans served has risen to 32, up from 19, and the average size of the plans served has reached $100 million in assets.

What has not changed, says Ken Catanella, managing director, wealth management, is “our discipline on the type of plan that is right for us and the client,” and that is typically a medium-sized plan.

Brian Catanella, senior vice president, wealth management, adds that the father-and-son team’s clients are in many types of industries with very different demographics, “which is why we customize our approach for each and every client.”

He adds that The Catanella Institutional Consulting Team puts client service first in all that the practice does. “We believe that if you take great care of your clients and meet them where their needs are—giving them A+ service—they will be supremely satisfied, and we are likely to be referred other business. A significant portion of our growth has occurred because of that, sometimes from a private equity firm, other times when our key contact moves to another company and we are their first call, or from the private wealth advisers at our parent firm, UBS. Ten or 15 years ago, our focus was more on marketing, which we did through seminars and promoting ourselves through cold calls and mailers, as opposed to the organic growth we are seeing now.”

Ken Catanella adds: “The best referral you can get is from your existing clients. It doesn’t get better than that.”

The practice has been able to expand without adding new staff, primarily because, as Brian Catanella puts it, “We have a great infrastructure and people behind the scenes, a senior analyst and client service specialist, plus the support from UBS to help us service our clients.”

As to how the practice responded when the pandemic hit the nation in March, Ken Catanella says, “We stepped up with a series of conference calls aimed at both participants and at sponsors. We have always tried to help participants understand the market and the history of the market and to maintain a long-term view. If they have any emotions that could cause them to make a poor decision with respect to asset allocation, we are right there for them. I view that portion of our model as critical.”

Brian Catanella says the pandemic crisis “has given us time to enhance many aspects of our service model, including laser-focused fiduciary training for retirement plan committee members.”

In the four years since winning the award, he continues, “financial wellness education has become a significant focus for us, and for UBS, which has made a significant investment in time and assets to develop a holistic financial wellness program that includes education about budgeting. We believe, especially in a crisis, it is so much harder for someone to consider increasing their deferrals to their retirement plan if they are having difficulty making ends meet. The financial coaching program that UBS has developed is incredibly unique. Our team has become much more well versed in the importance of individualized coaching for plan participants and understanding the needs of different age groups and demographics—in understanding what can really move the needle for a person’s financial success. This personalized education is how retirement plan advisers can make a difference.”

Another way that the practice and the industry have changed in the past four years, Ken Catanella says, “is due diligence, scrutiny, of target-date and stable value funds. We have made a concerted effort to show our clients various performance ratios and benchmarks for these two types of funds. It used to be you buy it and forget it, but that is not the case anymore. Advisers need to be able to respond, thoughtfully and insightfully, to sponsor questions about why you selected these funds.”

Yet another concern today that is top of mind that wasn’t as recently as 2016 is cybersecurity and the risks associated with that, Brian Catanella says. “We have intricate conversations with our recordkeepers about making plans safer for plan participants, and this is only going to continue for every plan we work with.”

Ken Catanella says he and his son are “resoundingly” optimistic about the future of the retirement planning industry because of the “need for personalized advice and our unique model in delivering that. We think that is why we have been successful, and we hear that in the feedback we get from our clients.”