IMHO: “Miss” Perceptions?

Next week we will launch our eighth annual search for the nation’s best retirement plan advisers. 

Each year, we receive a number of inquiries from advisers about the awards, many that fall into a category I tend to think of as “exploratory”—feelers as to what we are looking for.   

Well, at its core, what we hope to acknowledge—and, thus, what we are looking for—hasn’t changed at all from when we first launched the award in 2005: advisers who make a difference by enhancing the nation’s retirement security, through their support of plan sponsor and plan participant information, support, and education.  And, since its inception, we’ve focused on advisers who do so through quantifiable measures: increased participation, higher deferral rates, better plan and participant asset allocation, and delivering expanded service and/or better expense management. 

Now, we’ve always tried to be very transparent about the award, and the process that underlies the selection.  That said, I know that some have questions—and perhaps misperceptions—about the award and how it is administered.  So, based on conversations I have had with some of you over time, not to mention the general inquiries that emerge around an award that garners this much attention, here are five things you should know about PLANSPONSOR’s Retirement Plan Adviser of the Year award: 

(1) It’s NOT a personality contest.  Sure, advisers who are nominated by 30 of their closest friends and wholesalers stand out (though only after you’ve passed the quantitative round).  But even then you get no extra points for having support in the “community.” 

(2) You will have to provide actual data about the impact your firm is making on things that really matter.  We look at participation rates, deferral increases, participant asset allocations, and even fee negotiations.  And we will talk to your plan sponsor clients (and expect them to confirm your data).  If you don’t have, or aren’t monitoring, those kinds of data, you probably aren’t ready for this award. 

(3) Award semi-finalists and finalists are chosen based on a blind review of qualification data.  Our process selects semi-finalists and finalists based solely on data and screened reference checks.  Only after the finalists have been selected are their names known to the judges.   

(4) Our judges sign nondisclosure agreements.  Yes, we have judges for this award—judges who not only know the space, but know how to evaluate the data.  Two of the five judges for each award are advisers; prior winners of the award, in fact.  We have always thought their perspective was important as a “real world” check on the award criteria.  That said, we understand that some advisers might be reluctant about sharing data about their practice1 with potential competitors—and our judges agree, in writing, to respect the confidentiality of that information. 

(5) Those who don’t participate don’t win.  It may be an honor “just to be nominated,” but those who don’t respond completely and accurately to the aforementioned requests for information don’t make it past the nomination round.   

May the best adviser(s) win—and, based on our prior winners,they generally do. 


Editor’s Note:  Those who have additional questions should feel free to e-mail me at, or Alison Cooke-Mintzer at 

More background information on the award is available here.

Additional information is available here.

1 We’re not talking about client lists here; average rates of deferral and savings across your client base, your average client size, that kind of thing.