Retirement plan advisories working in firms that also have HR benefit and wealth management divisions are having a busy open enrollment season as plan sponsors and their participants are managing through a volatile financial picture, according to retirement experts at OneDigital, Marsh McLellan, and HUB International.
“This year is unique in regard to inflation and how it’s putting pressure on people’s paychecks, as well as market volatility and its impact on decision-making,” says MJ Goss, vice president of retirement and financial wellness with Atlanta-based OneDigital, one of a handful of firms that offers retirement planning, HR consulting, insurance, financial wellness, and wealth management under one roof.
With OneDigital’s full-service model, the retirement team can work directly with the benefits team to create a consistent experience and higher likelihood of action across their full benefit offering, Goss says. This takes open enrollment from a time to be avoided to a time to introduce an employee to their team of retirement advocates and their resources, according to Goss.
Full service firms have been building up their holistic health, wellness, and retirement capabilities in recent years, boosting in particular their wealth management offerings via acquisition. The “adjacent revenue pools” of asset management and retirement are among the key growth trends for wealth management for the next decade, according to a 2022 report from consultancy McKinsey & Company.
Goss says open enrollment provides access to a lot of employees to promote awareness around retirement savings and other financial resources their employer may be providing. That said, the information should be bite-sized, accessible, and timely so participants feel the information is useful and relevant to their needs.
“We want to be timely with what we are providing during this window of time without overwhelming them,” he says. “I think if we do that it gets people saying, ‘my employer gets me and they have a team that is focused on making financial goals a reality.’”
A Family Matter
Katie Hockenmaier, a partner and US defined contribution research director with Mercer—a division of Marsh McLennan—says open enrollment is a time when employees aren’t just considering their own finances, but that of their family.
“From the retirement side, open enrollment is an opportunity because you have your employees making bigger life decisions and tending to engage with a spouse or partner around life planning,” she says.
Mercer looks to guide plan sponsors to provide educational or relevant financial topics that can link to overall retirement planning, Hockenmaier says. For instance, plan sponsors can institute a company match for people investing into a health savings account, or if they already offer that benefit, use open enrollment to remind participants of the advantages to the program.
Mercer’s recent research, she says, shows that financial concerns are even more in mind for people in the current market, with three out of four feeling financially stressed and concerned over having the ability to retire (second only to covering monthly expenses). With the wider network of benefit and wealth management offerings from Marsh McLellan, the retirement group can connect people to their individual needs, she says.
“We can hear the concerns of the employer and then work to implement the right solutions for them, whether that’s a managed account program or general wealth advisement,” Hockenmaier says.
Calls for Help
The current environment has participants looking more closely at their finances than in prior years, says Kim Cochrane, a retirement plan adviser and consultant with Raffa Retirement Services, a division of HUB Retirement and Wealth Management.
She notes that during the pandemic people saved on things like gas for commuting, getting food and coffee out, and happy hour drinks. Now, more people are back in the office, and coupled with inflation, budgets are tighter. People may need consultation and advice beyond just their retirement plan default rate, she says.
HUB, which is based in Chicago, has seen an uptick in participant calls with questions about their finances this year, Cochrane says. Even so, the advancement of retirement savings tools such as target date funds has most people maintaining the course with their savings, according to Cochrane. That’s a course of action she agrees with, at least until things stabilize.
“Most employees think they are more risk averse than they actually are,” Cochrane says. “So we tell them let’s recover, and then let’s readdress. If you’re uncomfortable right now then you’re probably not in the best risk adjusted portfolio, and we’ll look to pull back a little later.”
Cochrane and her team are connected to HUB’s other resources and interact with them for HR needs, insurance offerings, and savings options ranging from 529 college savings plans to retirement income annuities, she says.
“HUB has niche advisers and specialists and we can really channel those experts,” Cochrane says.
Goss of OneDigital says that they seek to get the firm’s resources in front of people as simply as possible. During open enrollment some plan sponsors will get a micro-site link that takes participants to a resource or contact page, or a QR code that brings them to OneDigital’s educational finance platform. Through this approach, participants can identify what is relevant to their situation.
“We really believe everything should be goal based,” Goss says. “It could be that someone wants to save for a new vehicle, or they’ve got kids going to college. The 401k may be the reason the door is open, but tools like Financial Academy, while still maintaining a retirement focus, are able to promote financial literacy across a multitude of topics.”