An Inside Preview of ‘Empower’

The launch of the “Empower” brand by Great-West Financial will be closely watched by the retirement services industry. PLANADVISER spoke with industry professionals who had a chance to preview the brand to hear what sponsors, advisers, and participants can expect to see from Empower.

Empower combines the resources of Great-West Financial, Putnam Investments and Great-West Financial Retirement Plan Services, formerly J.P. Morgan Retirement Plan Services. The brand comes into being with nearly 7 million defined contribution participants and more than $400 billion in plan assets.

Great-West gave a preview of the new strategy and brand materials to some of its defined contribution specialist advisers and others in the industry. One of those people is Jim O’Shaughnessy, managing partner of Sheridan Road Financial, which serves clients across all plan sizes. He tells PLANADVISER that he is excited about what his firm has seen so far about Empower, adding that Sheridan already works with all three of the organizations coming together under the new brand.

“We work with all three entities across the board—Great-West is our partner in the small market, Putnam in the mid-market, and J.P. Morgan in the large market,” O’Shaughnessy explained. “It’s a positive brand image and I think it’s going to work well with plan sponsors, participants, and advisers. From a client service standpoint we are really looking forward to what they’re going to be bringing to us.”

O’Shaughnessy says his firm will now be serviced by a single team at Empower, meaning better efficiency and unity across the entire advisory business. “That’s going to help us, as the adviser, to be more strategic about how we grow and support our business,” he said. “Most important is that they have retained the talent in all three organizations and they’re getting them excited to work together as one powerful entity.”

O’Shaughnessy also predicted Empower will be a hit among multi-office advisory firms distributed across multiple states and regions—firms like his own.

“We’re multi-office across a number of different states, so we’re also excited about their ability to centralize everything across the business in one place. We can now deal with one core team across our entire business,” he said. “And that’s not just across plan sizes but also across market segments—private plans and non-profits, higher education and government plans can all be serviced together.”

O’Shaughnessy said it’s important for plan advisers and sponsors working with any of the affected companies to inform their participants about the brand change, and the new vision being promoted by the Great-West leadership team. The change won’t be earthshattering over night, he noted along with Murphy and Reynolds. All three said they expect the full development of the Empower brand to play out over the next 24 to 36 months.

“So now that they’ve formally announced the name of the organization they have been building out, that’s a big step,” O’Shaughnessy said. “We will be making an effort to get the key information out there for our clients and prospects. It’s something we’ve already been communicating in advance of the announcement that this new group was coming into play.”

Another industry veteran who had a chance to review the Empower brand concept before its official launch is Steven Miyao, founder and CEO of kasina. In an interview with PLANADVISER, Miyao suggested the launch of Empower will be an exciting event for plan sponsors, advisers and consultants.

“It’s a great opportunity to work with the combined firm because they’re going to be focusing on their power of innovation, hence the name,” Miyao said. “Also, it’s important because the combined organization will be able to provide plan participants with a lot of tools that will enable them to make better, more holistic financial planning decisions.”

Miyao said he expects the technology and participant experience capabilities of Empower will be especially compelling.

“As we all know, this is a tough market to compete in on product alone, so you have to have a lot of other things you’re bringing to the market to really be competitive,” Miyao observed. “Our most recent analysis of the various websites that are out there for plan participants and plan sponsors shows there is just a huge gap between the few firms that are really good for their customers, and then most firms have invested shockingly little in the online user experience.”

Miyao noted that Putnam has consistently been among the top-ranked firms in kasina’s periodic reviews of defined contribution plan sponsor and participant websites—a fact Miyao pins on the leadership of Robert L. Reynolds, president and chief executive officer of Great-West Lifeco U.S.

Miyao pointed specifically to what Putnam has developed in terms of tying together the holistic retirement income picture, giving participants and sponsors the ability to factor in things like health care costs and other sources of post-work income and expenses directly in the account management dashboard.

“Being able to deliver and unify these technology tools across all three underlying organizations will be a big step forward,” Miyao said. “It’s going to provide a lot more advisers and sponsors with those kind of tools—and we know that they can help improve the retirement income picture.” 

In terms of participant and sponsor experience during the rollout process, Miyao and others don’t anticipant major hurdles or challenges, given the long-term timeframe for establishing the new brand.

“I think it will be very exciting for the advisers and sponsors already working with one or more of the three firms going into Empower,” he concluded. “They obviously want to ensure their end customers, the participants, have a good experience and have good outcomes throughout the transition. I don’t think this will be a major challenge, given their willingness to invest in participant outcomes.”