PA: What have you done in the past year to improve participants’ retirement readiness?
Joe Connell: When we work with our clients, our process begins with a review of all previous communications and employee education meetings. We analyze what has been successful in the past and what has not worked for an organization. Then we build a five- to six-question survey to ask employees how they would like to receive communications and topics that interested them. A small raffle prize gets response rates to exceed 75%.
We review this information with the employer, and we devise a customized approach to begin delivering a new employee education and communication program. We document our baseline for our goals and establish a target for our objectives, then implement the new strategy. After six months, we review the progress and tweak anything we may need to adjust, and then we continue for the next six months.
By developing education programs that are targeted to different demographic groups and created to meet specific employee requests—and that will also allow for changes as needed at the six-month mark—we have been successful in helping our clients to better prepare their participants for retirement and improve the overall health of their plans. A typical new client with retirement readiness percentages in the low 40% area will see a retirement-readiness improvement of more than 25% in the first year of the program.
PA: Describe any particularly noteworthy investment initiatives you have led with your customer base in the past 12 months.
JC: Our goal when working with our new clients in 2013 was to accomplish better diversification with fewer funds in most of the plan menus we inherited with our new clients. The typical fund menu we saw was using 30 to 32 funds. We have effectively used overlap analysis and correlation measurements to eliminate the use of unnecessary additional asset classes in many of our new plan clients. This has allowed us to better focus our education efforts in our employee meetings on proper asset allocation or using a managed account—and to not spend as much time trying to explain how to use many of the sector-specific funds in an appropriate manner to employees who may have invested in just one or two of those options.
Our investment committee’s review process is also shorter, and we feel we can add an asset class much more easily if we have streamlined our fund menu back down to 17 to 19 investment options.
PA: As a retirement plan adviser, what do you take the most pride in?
JC: Our role as a 401(k) plan adviser is a truly specialized one. Being a 401(k) plan adviser is about the participants and their beneficiaries. All of our decisions need to be based on that simple premise. We want our services to be measured in how we are able to help an organization’s employees reach their retirement dreams. Being able to work with employees over the course of many years, to be able to see those employees retire and have them thank you for helping them reach their retirement goals, provides us with all the incentive we need to stay passionate and motivated to help as many participants as we can. Those personal experiences with an organization’s employees are how we measure the success of our partnership with our plan sponsor clients, and it gives us a tremendous source of pride.
BUSINESS AT A GLANCE
Plan assets under advisement: $459 million
Median plan size (in assets): $17 million
Total plans under advisement: 27
Total participants in plans served: 8,250