A 20-year veteran of the retirement planning industry, Jania Stout, managing director of Fiduciary Plan Advisors, started in the industry in recordkeeping and administration at ADP and Fidelity Investments. Wanting to have a greater role in engaging with and offering advice to plan sponsors, eight years ago, Stout became an adviser, and two years ago, she founded her practice in order to “truly help our plan sponsor clients.”
“The past eight years working as a plan adviser have been extremely rewarding,” she says. “Anyone who knows me or works for me knows that I am in this business to change lives. It is not just about charts and graphs and market returns. It is about protecting my clients and helping participants get over the finish line.”
Stout prides herself on taking a fresh look at retirement planning, starting with a financial wellness program she launched in 2012, well ahead of today’s concentration on financial wellness. “It was important to me that I delivered to my clients in-person financial education and not just rely on the providers,” who, she thought, were not doing as good of a job as she would have liked. So, Stout decided to invest the time and resources to create a well-thought-out financial wellness program.
Stout called the program H.E.R.O., with “H” standing for having a budget, “E” for eliminating debt, “R” for knowing your retirement number, and “O” for owning it. “The feedback I received after rolling that out was amazing,” she says. “That is when I became officially hooked on the idea of financial wellness. If I could help people today with their financial issues, I could get them to focus their resources after paying off debt to save for retirement.” Three years ago, Fiduciary Plan Advisors began offering monthly educational webinars for participants, as well.
The H.E.R.O. financial wellness program is supported by a change in nomenclature for the plans that Stout serves. Rather than call them retirement plans, or 401(k) plans, she is encouraging her clients to refer to them as “life and savings plans” that encompasses more than just retirement savings. In the past 12 months, she has introduced the idea adding post-tax savings to the plans, so that participants can start saving for an emergency fund, pay down debt and, thereby, be better equipped to contribute to their retirement.
With retirement outcomes being paramount to Fiduciary Plan Advisors, Stout has also created a unique position at her practice: the director of participant success. “The biggest impact I have had on improving retirement readiness is creating the role of the director of participant success,” she explains. “This is a salaried position and is someone who works with me and our clients to ensure we deliver the right amount of focus on educating and advising our clients and their participants. We don’t just deliver in-person meetings. We deliver a strategy and spend hours and hours on implementing it.”
The director of participant success is reinforced by a subcommittee for financial wellness that Fiduciary Plan Advisors establishes within every retirement plan committee. Working very closely with the subcommittee, the practice, led by the director of participant success, conducts biweekly calls with the group and reports on progress being made toward the plan’s goals every quarter. “It is probably the most time-consuming aspect of our business model, but it is the most important aspect to helping improve the outcomes for our participants,” Stout says. “It is easy for most advisers to say they do financial education or conduct meetings, but it is the tracking of the outcomes that I think we do a bit differently than most. It is tedious at times, but when you deliver the outcomes and start to see a goal being achieved, it makes it all worth it.”
On the subject of helping participants to save as much as possible, Fiduciary Plan Advisors has also educated one sponsor client about the helpfulness of the post-tax savings to reduce loans. This client has had an ongoing issue with loans, Stout notes. “I am working with the committee now on amending the plan to do away with loans and add a post-tax source for savings. This way, a participant can take money out of the post-tax source, i.e. the emergency fund, and not need to consider a loan. This client has about 3,500 employees, and we are excited to see that if we educate them about having a budget, eliminating debt and making use of the post-tax savings, this will drive better outcomes for them.”
Fiduciary Plan Advisors is as concerned with educating Millennials as it is with other demographic groups about the need to eliminate debt, Stout say: “Many Baby Boomers, for example, have refinanced their homes several times and are going into retirement with a high percentage of debt and no budget. For the first times in their lives, they will have a big pot of money and not really know how to have that last for their retirement years.” That is why it is as equally important to educate pre-retirees about eliminating debt as it is Millennials, Stout believes.
Better Plan Design
To convince plan sponsor clients to create more robust plan design and embrace financial wellness, Fiduciary Plan Advisors highlights the results of two of its clients that won the PLANSPONSOR Plan Sponsor of the Year awards in 2015 and 2014. Stout’s goal is for 100% of employees to participate in the plan; save an average of 10% a year, including company matches; for 90% of participants to be invested in an asset-allocation solution; and for 90% of participants to be on track for a successful retirement.
The high bar that Stout sets for her plans appears to be working, as 90% of her clients automatically enroll participants, 40% use automatic escalation, 40% have completed a reenrollment, and 100% use an asset-allocation solution.
Fiduciary Plan Services is also working to move all of its clients out of funds with revenue-sharing fees. The firm also clearly states all fees on participant statements.
In addition to these services, Fiduciary Plan Advisors conducts all-day fiduciary training workshops for plan sponsors. For large pension plans, the practice offers outsourced chief investment officer (CIO) searches.
As for what Stout takes the most pride in as a retirement plan adviser, it is “changing the lives of working Americans. It is a big reason why I feel so good about the job I do.”
BUSINESS AT A GLANCE
LOCATION: Phoenix, Maryland
PLAN ASSETS UNDER ADVISEMENT: $1.5 billion
MEDIAN PLAN SIZE (IN ASSETS): $40 million
TOTAL PLANS UNDER ADMINISTRATION: 30
TOTAL PARTICIPANTS IN PLANS SERVED: 25,000
SUPPORT STAFF: 4