PA: What is your mission statement?
Sentinel Benefits & Financial Group: Our mission is to deliver unbiased investment advice to every investor without regard to the size of his savings account. People who seek help from financial professionals should be able to trust that the advice they receive is best for them.
PA: How is your team/process/structure unique?
SBFG: Our team is organized to accomplish two interdependent goals: 1) Improve plan effectiveness, and 2) engage participants. For a plan to be effective, it must be operating in good order and in alignment with the plan sponsor’s goals. Our Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) attorneys, actuaries, plan consultants and advisers specialize in fine-tuning client retirement plans so that each plan performs optimally. Our focus includes resolving compliance and operational risks, implementing creative plan design and managing fiduciary governance.
To impact participant engagement, the plan must be foundationally sound. With the right plan and operational procedures in place, our dedicated investment consultants focus on increasing plan participation and savings rates. They do this through a series of at-work seminars, in-person meetings, online newsletters, targeted messages and broadcasted webinars that help to inform participants about a wide range of financial topics.
PA: What have you done in the past year to improve participants’ retirement readiness?
SBFG: Our goal is to help participants create a financial plan that balances the needs of today with the needs of tomorrow. When working with retirement plan clients, we include the following services to help start conversations:
- Broad financial education. Our meetings are conducted in the workplace and through webinars;
- Personal financial assistance. Our advisers take calls from and meet in-person with individual participants;
- Targeted outreach. We use life-event messaging to help participants understand savings and investment opportunities; and
- Free monthly newsletter. Our goal is to broaden the discussion regarding financial matters.
PA: As a retirement plan adviser, what do you take the most pride in?
SBFG: We believe that new or small-account investors should be encouraged to save without fear of being bilked or cheated. For many, saving for retirement is their first experience with investing. Often, participants are left to make choices about information they simply don’t understand. We take pride in turning new savers into lifelong investors.
PA: What benchmarks do you use to measure plan and client success? How do you react to clients or prospects who don’t share your goals for their retirement plan?
SBFG: Our overall benchmark for a successful retirement program is one where the average participation rate is 90% or higher, the average savings rate including company contributions is 10%, and the overall allocation to risk-based or target-date choices is 90%.
For plan sponsor clients who believe these goals are important and necessary for their business, we recommend automatic enrollment for all participants who are not saving at the minimum contribution rate of 3%. For companies matching employee deferrals, we will suggest stretching the match to cause participants to increase their savings amounts. And, for plan sponsors where there is a high concentration of dollars in cash, we will discuss the benefits of re-enrollment.
Since we have clients across many industries, we realize that our benchmark may not be possible for every client or prospect. In the majority of our engagements, we are hired to improve retirement outcomes for plan participants. If a client is unwilling or unable to follow our recommendations, we work with it to establish credible, plan-specific benchmarks. Ultimately, our best client relationships are those where the client is as concerned about successful retirement outcomes as we are.
BUSINESS AT A GLANCE
PLAN ASSETS UNDER ADVISEMENT: $3 billion
MEDIAN PLAN SIZE (IN ASSETS): $4.2 million
TOTAL PLANS UNDER ADVISEMENT: 2,750
TOTAL PARTICIPANTS IN PLANS SERVED: 150,000
TOTAL NUMBER OF OFFICES: 3