Since being named the PLANSPONSOR Retirement Plan Adviser of the Year in 2015, Rita Fiumara, senior vice president of investments at UBS Financial Services Inc. in Chicago, says her goals have not changed.
“The focus of my practice is to be service-oriented,” she says. “We remain committed to assisting our clients with projects that include all operations and administration of their plans, and to serving as an intermediary alongside their recordkeeping providers.”
Fiumara says she has long prided herself in serving as a “full-service retirement plan adviser—and that consistency of service, experience and expertise remains at the forefront of each client experience.”
She says she and her staff of four focus on the four pillars of their business: “employee financial wellness, plan administration, operational support and investment analytics for ongoing asset manager performance reviews.”
Fiumara recalls that she first started working in the retirement plan industry in 1997, when the 401(k) market was just beginning to adopt bundled recordkeeping platforms. “I seized the opportunity to work with plan sponsors to improve their recordkeeping service models and the cost structure of their investment lineups,” Fiumara says.
Asked what her service model is, Fiumara says, “It starts with getting to know each client and becoming familiar with their ecosystem. I try to gain an understanding of their organizations and the needs of their employees.”
Fiumara says she is well aware of the financial stresses many people are under and, as such, she encourages her team to be empathetic in their dealings with plan participants and to “work toward finding practical solutions that benefit each individual.”
The financial wellness program that UBS has developed to help alleviate some of those financial stresses is all inclusive, “from the single parent, to same-sex couples to all races.” She says UBS’ financial wellness program is also notable in that it lays out “a plan of action to help participants accomplish their goals [and has] recurring accountability check-ins.”
As to how the industry has changed in the past five years since she won the award, Fiumara says sponsors and participants alike have a greater appreciation for the importance of retirement plans: “More employers feel that workplace plans enhance employee commitment,” she says. Sponsors are also more committed to financial wellness and education and are starting to think about ways to help people who are retired, she says.
Fiumara says she has also been encouraged to see the professionalism of retirement plan advisory practices improve in the past five years, noting that “the advisory business has evolved to include more expertise and skill sets in well-rounded teams.” Fiumara says she feels fortunate to work for a firm that has so many resources to support her practice “with legal and compliance resources, marketing, economic investment outlook reports, a service contracting team and investment reporting software. This has allowed me to stay focused on each client’s individual objectives and goals—and has benefited the growth of my practice significantly.”
Today, Fiumara says financial wellness programs are more important to participants than ever.
“Not only have they become more holistic, but they now include topics that take every single employee’s personal situation into account,” she says.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further underscored the benefits of financial wellness programs. According to a recent UBS study, employees who participate in such programs feel positive about their money and make better financial decisions, especially when they’re faced with short-term financial challenges, including monthly savings, expenses and credit card debt. They also take more proactive steps to ensure their long-term and short-term financial security, including taking advantage of other employer-provided benefits.
Fiumara says that with the COVID-19 restrictions turning all meetings with participants and sponsors into virtual meetings, she has missed being “surrounded with the energy of being among clients and their employees.”
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, UBS’ community affairs team has donated food to several food banks, Fiumara notes. In the past 10 years, nearly 4,000 of UBS’ employees have volunteered 13,800 hours, benefiting more than 300 organizations, she says.
Outside of volunteer work, when it comes to what advisers can do to improve the health and prospects of defined contribution (DC) plans and their participants, Fiumara says she believes advisers should begin with employee engagement and provide customized financial resources.