Carson Partners with “Conflict Free” Vestwell on 401(k) Offering

Vestwell will provide financial advisory Carson Group with small and midsize business 401(k) and 403(b) plan programs for its investment and wealth management adviser network.

Investment advisory Carson Group has paired up with small and midsize retirement plan provider Vestwell to power a defined contribution retirement offering for advisers, the company’s said Tuesday.

The two firms are partnering on a program called Carson Complete 401(k), designed to help Carson-affiliated advisers add or scale small and medium retirement plan practices, according to the Omaha, Nebraska-based Carson.

“Vestwell offers a robust, technology forward platform for Carson to advise on 401(k)s,” Jamie Hopkins, managing partner of wealth solutions for Carson Group, said in an emailed response.

Hopkins said that Carson considered numerous recordkeepers and plan providers before deciding on Vestwell, in part due to its ability to integrate technology to enhance the customer experience. He also said a draw was that Vestwell does not have its own proprietary investment offerings, allowing for an open platform to design client portfolios.

“We were looking for a partner free from conflict,” Carson said. “Finding a partner without constraint on investment choices, and not having any proprietary investments, gave Carson the ability to design solutions that were in the best interest of the participants.”

The partnership comes shortly after the passage of SECURE 2.0 legislation, designed in part to encourage small businesses to offer new retirement plans through tax incentives and automatic enrollment features. Vestwell and other low-cost, often flat-fee retirement plan providers have touted strong growth in 2022, noting demand for low-cost options that can help meet fiduciary obligations as well as state mandates in places like California and Oregon.

“With significant tax credit expansion offered to small businesses through the SECURE Act, along with affordable fintech solutions driving down the costs for advisers, now is the time to take advantage of this market opportunity,” Aaron Schumm CEO and founder of Vestwell, said in the release.

Carson Complete 401(k) was created to address key friction points for advisers, such as back-office and data integrations and a 3(38) fiduciary solution, according to the firms.

New York-based Vestwell will provide the program with features such as payroll integrations, 3(16) services to act as a plan administrator, and streamlined onboarding and enrollment, the firms said.

Carson, which bill itself as “an outsource provider,” is a registered investment advisory with a limited broker dealer practice run through Cetera Financial Group, according to its website.

“This partnership provides advisers with the tools they need to rapidly grow their retirement plan practices, while delivering a state-of-the-art experience to clients,” Carson’s Hopkins said in the release.

Carson Group runs Carson Wealth, Carson Coaching, and Carson Partners, which combined to provide services that include marketing, compliance, technology, investment strategies, succession planning, M&A support, and coaching.

Vestwell currently serves nearly 25,000 businesses, 1 million savers, and $27 billion in assets, according to the company.