Advisers Give Providers Low Satisfaction Scores

Surveyed advisers of employer-sponsored retirement plans (ESRPs) do not seem overjoyed with providers they work with, data from Cogent Research indicates.

ESRP providers received high satisfaction scores from less than half of surveyed advisers in 15 categories (including areas such as fund performance, fees, and education materials), according to Cogent’s annual Advisor Brandscape report. Providers scored the highest satisfaction (40%) for their “online participant capabilities” and the lowest (27%) for their “mutual fund performance.”

The data show that all providers are getting pretty low satisfaction scores, and could lose producers, Tony Ferreira, managing director at Cogent Research, told “There’s a lot of chance for movement to occur.”

Choosing a Provider

The level of involvement with ESRPs seems to affect a financial adviser’s choice of provider for managing retirement assets, according to the research.

When it comes to managing ESRP assets, more than half (60%) of advisers said they use only one provider, but that may be because they only have a small number of plans. Advisers with a larger proportion of their book of business in retirement plans are more likely to use more than one provider.

Across all channels and size of ESRP assets, advisers are most likely to use Fidelity Investments to manage retirement assets (20%), followed by John Hancock Retirement Plan Services (18%), ADP Retirement Services (15%), The Hartford (14%), ING (14%), and Nationwide Financial (13%).

John Hancock is more prominent among advisers who are “heavy users” of retirement plans, or hold 20% or more of their assets in ESRPs, with a quarter of advisers in that category using John Hancock to manage retirement assets. Principal Financial Group is also more visible with heavy users, with 18% of advisers using the firm.

On the other end of the spectrum, The Hartford shows prominence among “light users,” or advisers with less than 5% of their assets in ESRPs (24% of advisers).

Changing Channels

Provider usage of ESRP advisers is different by channel, according to Cogent. For instance, bank and registered investment advisers (RIAs) favor Fidelity Investments even more than advisers across all channels, with 30% and 32%, respectively, using Fidelity. Other examples of providers more prominent within channels include The Hartford (used by 36% of bank advisers and 18% of regional advisers), ADP (used by 32% of national advisers), and Charles Schwab (used by 35% of RIAs).

Overall, more than half (55%) of advisers in all channels are managing at least one ESRP. Of the advisers who say they are not managing ESRP assets, 14% said they are likely to begin doing so in the next two years (see “Independent Advisers Prominent in Retirement Plans”)

John Meunier, principal at Cogent Research, LLC, noted the opportunity for providers to reach out to regional advisers, who show the most interest in the ESRP business (24% said they are likely to sell retirement plans in the future). "It looks like there's plenty of potential traction in that channel.”

Cogent Research surveyed 1,500 registered financial advisers in March.

The 2009 Advisor Brandscape is available for purchase at