PA: What is your mission statement?
Ellen R. Lander: To help retirement plan sponsors meet and manage their fiduciary responsibilities under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and, in doing so, provide the foundation for their employees to become better prepared for retirement.
PA: How is your team/process/structure unique?
ERL: Renaissance Benefit Advisors prides itself on conducting independent research and providing proprietary reports that fully recognize each of our clients’ unique needs and objectives.
Given the complexity of our industry and the “prudent expert” standard to which plan fiduciaries are held, our goal is to present relevant information in a way that prompts committees to engage in deliberative debate and discussion. The result is fully informed decisionmaking that presents the right solution for their employees and organization.
PA: What have you done in the past year to improve participants’ retirement readiness?
ERL: As the majority of our clients are referred to us by other clients, our practice tends to be focused on certain industries and organizational structures. One of the commonalities among our clients’ plans is a generous company contribution, usually in the form of a large match. As participation tends not to be an issue, our efforts to improve retirement readiness are focused on a combination of automatic escalation of employee contributions, restructuring fund menus to help optimize investment decisionmaking—such as removing redundant choices and structuring tiered menus—defaulting employees into a carefully monitored target-date fund (TDF) and bringing investment costs down.
We also recommend that our clients work with providers whose employee communications and educational materials focus on retirement readiness and have tools in place to make it easy for participants to act.
PA: How have you been able to lower fees for clients?
ERL: We’ve had a lot of success in getting our clients’ fees lowered. As we work with retirement plans on a full-time basis, we have a pretty good sense for where a plan’s fees should be. If we believe our client’s fees are too high, we embark upon a process of: a) removing services—and their related cost—that are not needed or aren’t being delivered; b) negotiating with the service provider to re-price the plan given its current size and service needs; and c) replacing investment funds or share classes to align the indirect fees with the required revenue.
We benchmark our clients’ fees every year and are constantly negotiating with the service providers to recognize growth in assets and average account balances with reduced fees. We enjoy strong and trusting relationships with the service providers we work with, and almost without exception, they are very willing to do what’s needed.
PA: Describe any particularly noteworthy investment initiatives you have led with your customer base in the past 12 months.
ERL: An increasing focus over the past 12 months has been to work with our clients on re-evaluating their choice of target-date fund. Why did they select the TDF they have? Does it represent the best solution for their employees based on demographics? Is it philosophically aligned with the organization’s goals?
As we know, evaluating TDFs is quite complex. As they’re designed to pursue a long-term investment strategy, their performance versus a capital market benchmark may not address their “competitiveness” or whether the TDF is suitable for the plan and employees’ needs. Plan participants who invest in the TDF are entrusting the plan sponsor to determine an appropriate investment solution. We want to make sure that we continue to deserve that trust.
PA: As a retirement plan adviser, what do you take the most pride in?
ERL: Working with clients who truly care—plan sponsors who are willing to take the necessary steps to help their employees achieve a comfortable and dignified retirement. In the end, that’s what it’s all about.
BUSINESS AT A GLANCE
Plan assets under advisement: $1.4 billion
Median plan size (in assets): $38 million
Total plans under advisement: 21
Total participants in plans served: 16,790