PANC 2013: Putting Optimization Front and Center

Superior 401(k) marketing campaigns and designs can help grow your business.

Advisers need to be far more proactive about communicating the need for retirement readiness to plan sponsors and participants, said speakers Tuesday on “The Participant Experience” panel at the 2013 PLANADVISER National Conference in Orlando, Florida. Retirement plan advisers need to find a marketing theme, such as financial wellness, and reach out to the plan sponsor’s human resources (HR) or marketing department to partner on a full-blown retirement readiness marketing campaign, said Jason Chepenik, managing partner with Chepenik Financial.

“I’ve seen too many advisers let the provider control the message,” Chepenik said. “It is not a provider’s plan, and if changing a provider, the message should not change. The campaign should consistently inspire others to be good financial stewards—to save more, save more, save more.”

Noting that data from the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) shows that 47% of workers have saved less than $10,000 for retirement, the time has come to “shock them,” said Kenneth Catanella, senior institutional consultant and managing director of wealth management at The Catanella Institutional Consulting Group at UBS. “Forget charts and graphs,” Catanella said. “Tell them a story. A 65-year-old retiring couple thinks they will need $47,000 in medical costs throughout their retirement. The Center for Retirement Research says they will need $260,000. Tell them the truth.”

Catanella continued: “From day one, the message should be financial wellness. We need to act like doctors and prescribe some medicine they don’t want to take. That will lead to retirement readiness.”

At a recent enrollment meeting for one of his clients, Catanella said he told them: “‘Start saving now, live with your children or become a ward of the state.’ Of the 40 people at the meeting, 35 signed up for the retirement plan within a half an hour.”

The next step is to try to make plan sponsors fully understand  that if they do not inspire their employees to save adequately; have a robust plan design with higher defaults, matches and increases that bring annual savings to 15% or higher; or have a combination of both—their older employees will be a true liability to their bottom line, speakers said. Strategic Retirement Group mainly serves health care clients, said David Hinderstein, president of the practice. This industry, in particular, is able to understand the downsides of retaining older employees without the means to retire, he said.

“Client CFOs [chief financial officers] are figuring out they don’t want a 70-year-old nurse who might drop a patient,” Hinderstein said. “They want their employees to save enough. It’s part of their P&L [profit and loss].”

The Catanella Group works with its plan sponsor clients “on mandatory plan design to make them feel obligated to do the right thing for employees,” Catanella said. “We talk in real terms and are honest. We have a heart-to-heart conversation with our plan sponsors and have them take ownership. We tell them there is a real problem out there. We tell plan participants they are losing out, and it’s up to them to take care of themselves.”

For those plan sponsors that resist bolstering their 401(k) plan, Catanella suggested that advisers focus on the C-suite. “Give a gap analysis to the top executives,” he said. “Sometimes you have to shock people.”

The third part of the equation to improve participant outcomes is totally reworking and automating plan design, Chepenik said. “Financial wellness is something we are only just getting into,” he said. “That is the financial literacy issue we have. We need to get participants to be able to retire. The most impactful thing we can do is improve plan design with better default and match numbers, and then educate. Plan sponsors aren’t doing it, so it’s on our shoulders.”

As Hinderstein put it: “Advisers who only focus on the three F's—fees, funds and fiduciary—will be left in the dust. If we clean up plan design and get retirement plan committees to focus on results, we can make a difference.”