The Prince Group of Stifel Nicolaus in Indianapolis won the PLANSPONSOR Retirement Plan Adviser Team of the Year award in 2010. The practice name was changed to ProCourse Fiduciary Advisors in 2012.
The reason, says Doug Prince, chief executive officer, is that was firm was closely linked to the brokerage world.
“We divested ourselves of all of our individual clients, as well as foundations and endowments, and we are now 100% fee-based and 100% focused on retirement,” Prince says. “All of our thinking revolves around that. We realized we could be more innovative across one line of business.”
Since winning the award in 2010, the practice has grown from five employees serving 60 retirement plans with $1.3 billion in assets to 15 employees serving 169 retirement plan with $4 billion in assets. The practice’s target market has continued to be retirement plans between $20 million and $300 million, Prince says.
“We avoid mega plans and are not wedded to serving any one industry,” Prince says.
As to how the practice’s service model has morphed in the past 10 years, Prince says he and his colleagues didn’t do any 3(38) fiduciary business back in 2010, whereas 20% of the assets they manage today are serviced as a 3(38) fiduciary. Prince says the practice’s work with strategic partners hasn’t changed much, other than the fact that the team is spending more time working with health care advisers.
“We have started looking at benefits as a whole,” Prince says. “You can’t just look at retirement anymore. You have to look at both retirement and health care, and while we don’t offer 529 college savings plans, we work with vendors that do. We have gone beyond the 3 F’s of fees, funds and fiduciary guidance. While reporting and documenting fiduciary actions was important 10 years ago, we now consider many more decision points around plan design.”
Looking ahead to how the retirement plan industry is likely to change in the next five to 10 years, Prince says he thinks artificial intelligence (AI) and investment analytics will play an exciting role.
“When you move past historical factors and start looking at predictive and more proactive measures, that idea is really exciting,” Prince says. “This will take us way beyond automatic enrollment and escalation, as important as these were.”
Prince also says he believes that adviser fees will continue to compress.
Asked if he is optimistic about the industry’s future, Prince doesn’t hesitate to give a strong “Yes.”
“Absolutely,” he says. “We challenge ourselves every day to bring value to our clients and participants. The more things get automated and commoditized, the more fun we can have because we can make truly positive changes.”
Prince says he believes that financial wellness programs, as pervasive as they are today, will become even more important in the future.
“You can’t get people to save for retirement without first really trying to figure out their other financial challenges,” Prince says. “We recently did a study with a health care advisory firm to look at the correlations between those who are financially unhealthy and those who are physically unhealthy, and found an 80% correlation. Taking care of someone financially is more than looking at what they have in their 401(k) plan.”
Prince also points to a case study his firm conducted with a client to figure out why 28 people in its workforce of 500 were financially troubled. The practice dove in with human resources (HR) to figure out the issues. It turned out that those 28 people were caring for aging parents who were living with them at home. The employer decided that, instead of increasing the company match in the 401(k) plan, it would use that money to offer a resource to those employees to help them with their caregiving.
“There are many changes that we can help employers make to help folks get past barriers to save for retirement,” Prince says.
ProCourse Fiduciary Advisors is faring well amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Prince says, but that would not necessarily have been the case if COVID-19 happened 10 years ago.
“Back then, it could have shut us down,” he muses. “Now, with Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Webex, our employees can work seamlessly from home, and I expect this will continue to change how we deliver services to sponsors and participants. So many sponsors thought face-to-face meetings with employees were important. We now use webinars, recorded videos or one-on-one chat to reach participants—and all of this has made us far more efficient. This has actually revolutionized how employee communications are done.”
As to what types of new communications Prince is having with clients, he says many sponsors are discouraging their employees from dipping into their 401(k) savings by pointing out other resources available to them, such as unemployment insurance and cutting expenses. “There is a laundry list of things employees can do to cut costs,” he says.
Prince adds that he was proud to see the firm participate this year in the 4.01k Race for Financial Fitness—though it had to do so virtually. The race raised more than $30,000 for Junior Achievement, a nonprofit youth organization. Prince says he hopes the virtual approach will gain steam, as it will enable more clients’ employees to participate.
“As to what retirement plan advisers can do to improve outcomes, it is helping participants think beyond the retirement plan,” Prince concludes. “Look at things holistically and try to figure out ways to help employees get over the hurdles that are stopping them from making positive decisions about their retirement plans.”
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