PANC 2021: What the Best Plan Sponsors Expect From Their Advisers

Plan sponsors list their top priorities when working with advisers and recordkeepers.

The first day of the virtual 2021 PLANADVISER National Conference (PANC) featured a panel discussion on services and features to consider offering when working with plan sponsor clients.

Several of PLANSPONSOR’s Plan Sponsor of the Year (PSOY) finalists and winners revealed the top services they expect from their adviser and recordkeeper relationships, noting that engagement, financial wellness education and consistent communication are key benefits.

Sharon Kacsits, director of human resources (HR), North America, for COFCO International USA, a 2021 PSOY winner, said a plan sponsor and adviser’s goals for participants should closely align.

“We believe that the 401(k) is the main source for retirement income,” she said. “We focus on having marketable elements and a strong retirement nest egg.”

Communication and adaptability are also strong qualities to have as an adviser, the plan sponsors said. When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down workforces in 2020 and forced in-person meetings to move online, Linda Fraise, payroll manager at Barilla America, a 2021 PSOY finalist, said she saw more participants engaged in online environments. “We found more of our plan participants will attend online [meetings] rather than during an on-site meeting, and we found more participation in the training offered online than on-site,” she said.

Incorporating both digital and in-person elements is increasingly becoming vital to plan sponsors and advisers alike. Valerie Burns, HR director for Iowa Fluid Power (IFP) Group of Companies and a 2021 PSOY finalist, noted that her firm’s advisers incorporated short webinars for participants during the coronavirus lockdown. Participants, she said, could go on a website or a mobile app and watch a presentation on the latest service updates or on the current market climate.

As a result of the pandemic and workforce lockdowns, she said the company saw an increase in mobile usage from participants, as did Barilla America and COFCO, highlighting a need for modern features such as mobile apps.

Plan sponsors said they also look for compatibility with clients. When Barilla America interviewed prospective advisers a few years ago, the company’s goal was to find an adviser whose services could add value to clients and who could offer a one-on-one service, Fraise said.

Burns agreed, adding that IFP had an adviser come into the company’s offices to meet with C-suite executives and employees. “We wanted to see how they would relate to us and our people,” she said. Today, the advisers and recordkeepers that work with IFP regularly review services with clients on a one-on-one basis, whether online or in-person, she noted.

Additionally, Burns said she expects advisers to arrange quarterly reviews on investment performance, services, participation, etc. Services offered outside of the 401(k), such as financial wellness programs, are also a top feature for her.

Fraise also said quarterly meetings are important for Barilla America when it’s looking for advisers and recordkeeping partners. One of Barilla America’s requirements is that the adviser and recordkeeper attend the company’s quarterly meetings together because, she said, “we like the transparency when working with investments.”