PLANADVISER: What is your mission statement?
Graystone Consulting | Cincinnati, Morgan Stanley: Specializing in consulting services for qualified retirement plans, our mission is to provide objective, full-service, leading edge consulting services focused on meeting the needs of our plan sponsor clients, their investment committees and employees. Through independence and transparency in investment advice, we believe that excellence in consulting requires unabashed client advocacy and stewardship.
PA: How is your team/process/structure unique? How has it evolved?
GC: We understand that there are many experienced, large teams who provide excellent retirement plan consulting services. For many institutional clients, selecting an 401(k) consultant is often a compromise. Do you choose a large, research-rich outfit that assigns B-team professionals to all but the premier clients — or a boutique consultant that delivers quality attention but lacks research resources? Graystone Consulting | Cincinnati provides a distinctive third solution that combines the extensive capabilities and research of the leading consulting organizations with customized A-team service forevery client.
Graystone’s capabilities, resources and culture provide clients with a productive and personalized investment consulting relationship. We believe we are unique in regards to the level of service that we are able to provide because of our team members’ extensive experience and number of team members.
Our team consists of Chartered Retirement Plan Specialists (CRPS), Certified Behavioral Finance Analysts (CBFA), and multiple Certified Investment Management Analysts (CIMA) and Accredited Investment Fiduciaries (AIF) to assist our plan sponsors and participants. We are completely dedicated to the retirement plans marketplace.In addition, we are able to draw upon the vast resources of Morgan Stanley which include over 40 attorneys, 250 compliance professionals, 470risk personnel and over 260 consulting group professionals supporting our investment manager research process (including a dedicated stable value analyst).
Given that we have numerous clients spread throughout the country, our team size and expertise enables us to deliver the highest quality fiduciary support for our plan sponsors. It also allows us to spend a lot of time focusing on employee retirement readiness as we travel throughout the country to meet employees and help them prepare for a comfortable retirement.
In recent years, there has been a lot of focus on the behavioral finance side of participant education. Given the numerous behavioral related obstacles that tend to keep participants from saving enough money for retirement, our team includes a Certified Behavioral Finance Analyst (CBFA) and a Chartered Retirement Plans Specialist (CRPS) who is dedicated to orchestrating plan design enhancements along with retirement plan education programs to help our plan sponsors dramatically boost plan deferrals and participation rates.
Along with our participant related services, we offer extensive fiduciary support and stewardship for our plan sponsor clients. We provide full fee transparency and assume co-fiduciary status in a 3(21) and 3(38) capacity. Being a part of Morgan Stanley also enables our clients to have “peace of mind” that they are partnering with a localized team that works for one of the largest financial services firms in the world with all of the necessary resources to assist them with their fiduciary responsibilities.
Over the recent years, our team has changed its focus to promote increased retirement plan effectiveness through behavioral finance related employee education and plan design. Asset allocation and fund performance are still of great importance, but we now place a higher level of emphasis on participant deferral percentages, plan participation, and automated plan design features as these are extremely important drivers of retirement readiness
In regards to our investment management consulting, we only offer our services for nonproprietary funds and products to avoid any potential conflicts of interest. We believe that our fiduciary services for plan sponsors, combined with behavioral finance related plan design advice and participant education, along with our ability to work with clients ranging from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies, enables us to deliver a process that is truly unique in our industry.
PA: What have you done in the past year to improve participants’ retirement readiness?
GC: We were recently hired by a corporate client plan sponsor who had a very large percentage of plan assets residing in the stable value fund. During our analysis of the 401(k) plan, we identified that most of the assets residing in the stable value fund were a result of the client’s pre-Pension Protection Act (PA) default investment selection. The client has since selected the plan’s target retirement date funds as the current QDIA.
We worked with the plan sponsor and the company’s 401(k) recordkeeper to implement a plan re-enrollment using the target-date funds as the default selection in an effort to ensure the appropriate level of participant investment suitability. We supported the initiative with extensive employee education to communicate the changes to the plan participants.
PA: As a retirement plan adviser, what do you take the most pride in?
GC: Helping participants reach their retirement goals. Quite often, we meet with employees who have never met with a financial advisor during their entire life. These employees tend to feel very anxious about investing their money and are very concerned that they do not have the necessary tools to plan for a comfortable retirement. We take pride in being able to provide these employees with much needed education to help them reach their retirement goals.
Recently, we had an employee of a corporate client thank us for instilling in him the importance of saving over 25 years ago. He was very proud that he now has an account balance worth over $600,000, and he mentioned that he was never a “saver” until he attended one of our employee education meetings. He stated that that one chance encounter with our team 25 years ago literally changed his life and he was extremely appreciative. It is moments like this that reminds us why we are so very proud to be able to help employees plan for a more enjoyable life in retirement.
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?
GC: We benchmark investment returns, risk, retirement readiness, investment outcomes, fiduciary scores, fees and plan design. We believe that the proof is in the numbers, and client success means that their employees can retire on their terms. Of course, we never completely agree with each client’s investment committee, but the vast majority of our clients share our goals for their plan. We think this is due to our sales process—meaning, they hire us if they generally believe in our approach. At the end of the day, we always provide our full and honest opinion even if we know they will disagree.
BUSINESS AT A GLANCE
LOCATION: Cincinnati, Ohio
TOTAL PLAN ASSETS UNDER ADVISEMENT: $3.4 billion
MEDIAN PLAN SIZE (IN ASSETS): $40 million
TOTAL PLANS UNDER ADMINISTRATION: 73
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