15th Anniversary of RPAY: Christopher Kulick

In the three years since winning the award, Kulick says his practice has deepened its client relationships while increasing capacity for business development.

Christopher Kulick

Since being named 2018 PLANSPONSOR Retirement Plan Adviser of the Year, Christopher Kulick of CAPTRUST says sponsors are increasingly looking for the kind of “independent and objective retirement plan advice” that firms like his can provide.

“Since 2018, we have experienced increasing demand for independent and objective retirement plan advice and continue to focus our efforts on defined contribution [DC], defined benefit [DB] and nonqualified deferred compensation [NQDC] plans,” Kulick says. “We have expanded our team to include Molly Thompson, financial adviser/relationship manager, and Sean Teesdale, vice president/financial adviser. This division of labor has assisted with our ongoing client service efforts and has allowed us to deepen our client relationships. It has also increased capacity for business development.”

The practice has more than doubled its assets, from $6.3 billion in 2018 to $13 billion today, Kulick notes. “Our team works with 42 clients, many with multiple plans, covering 401(k), 403(b), 401(a), DB, cash balance and NQDC plans,” he says. “We have also assisted our publicly traded clients with equity plan provider searches. Having a team has allowed me to focus on a smaller number of, yet more complex, clients as their primary contact, while providing all clients access to the expertise they require, when it is most needed.”

Along these lines, Kulick adds, as the practice has grown, he has paid particular attention to the division of labor.

“At CAPTRUST, we are fortunate to have dedicated teams responsible for investment and provider research, reporting, trading, operations, legal and participants’ financial well-being and advice, so we can focus on our clients, understanding and solving for their unique goals and objectives,” he says.

Kulick says he is heartened to see more retirement plan specialists expand their service offerings “to include financial wellness, help with student debt, health savings accounts [HSAs], financial planning, budgeting, managed accounts and retirement income options.”

Looking ahead, Kulick expects more positive changes for retirement plans from the Biden administration with respect to the fiduciary rule; environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing; and the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act 2.0, now in the House.

However, he notes that lawsuits against retirement plans were up four-fold in 2020.

Overall, Kulick says he is very optimistic about the future of the retirement planning industry—“especially for firms that specialize in retirement, such as CAPTRUST, that have the durability and scale to continue to evolve and set best practices for the industry. The industry is becoming more complicated, not less, and it’s never been harder to be a plan sponsor.” This is where CAPTRUST and other retirement plan specialists can readily step in, Kulick says.

Since the pandemic set in, demand for CAPTRUST’s employee investment adviser and financial well-being offerings has risen, Kulick says. “Financial stress in the workplace has been proven to impact productivity, and we foresee these services becoming as common as sponsoring a 401(k) plan in the future, to help attract, retain and retire hard-working Americans.”

The CAPTRUST team is also having new conversations with its clients, Kulick notes. “Clients are interested in keeping retirees in their plans to benefit the group from an economy of scale perspective. We have been talking to clients over the past few quarters about services and solutions to cater to this group, specifically. This includes managed payout products, retirement income products, cash management tools and resources, and employee advice.”

As to how retirement plan advisers can improve DC plans and participant outcomes, Kulick says they can do several things.

“Educate on plan design enhancements, assist with cost analysis and return on investment [ROI] for things that we know work, such as automatic features and enhanced stretch matches,” he says. “Advisers need to not only review the plan demographic information but provide proactive recommendations to address shortcomings that the adviser sees that the plan sponsor may not. Advisers also should maximize providers’ education, communication and advice offerings and encourage participants to contribute at least up to their company’s match so that they are not leaving money on the table.”

One-on-one participant advice is also critical, Kulick says, “to address savings needs, investments and financial stress in the workplace as an independent alternative to recordkeeper offerings.”