PA: Tell us about your practice and how you and your team members got into advising retirement plans.
Our group consists of eight dedicated financial professionals who work tirelessly for all of our clients. In the early 90s, Bill Talmage decided to pursue financial wellness programs for corporate clients. Seeing the growth of corporate retirement plans, our entire group began working in this direction and we now have 77 corporate clients with almost $3 billion of assets. In many cases, we partner with other financial advisers around the country, and are members of the Morgan Stanley National Strategic Partners program (a select group of advisers who have demonstrated a deep skill and knowledge of the retirement plan space).
PA: How is your team/process/structure unique? How has it evolved? Where will you be in five years?
As we spend time with other retirement plan adviser teams, we are not convinced that our team, process or structure is unique. However, we do deliver on all of our promises, our typical client has been with us for over 10 years, many of our clients are larger in size (with more complicated plan designs) and our entire team is tied to our service model and growth over time. In addition, we are in the middle of an evolution as we expand our team to include additional financial planning/advice capabilities, and pro-active participant outreach for corporate clients who value our holistic planning services. In five years, we expect to be at Graystone Consulting providing 3(38) fiduciary services for more clients, we will have two additional financial advisers to assist our clients, our days will be busy meeting investment committees, fighting to lower costs, advocating saving for retirement and helping participants get their financial lives in order. Finally, next year will be bittersweet as our founding partner, Bill Talmage, will retire in early 2019. We have been working on his succession plan for many years, and of course everyone on our team is happy for him, sad to see him go but confident that we will be able to continue his tradition of excellence.
PA: What have you done in the past year to improve participants’ retirement readiness?
Like many leading-edge retirement plan advisers, we continue to advocate auto-enrollment, auto-escalation and target-date funds (and some managed account alternatives). In addition, we have utilized the tools of plan providers and other outside vendors to analyze plans, their demographics and savings/investing patterns to customize education and communications. More recently, we have promoted our new program titled Workplace Wealth Solutions. Workplace Wealth Solutions is a corporate financial wellness program for our clients and their employees. By truly understanding their corporate benefits, we provide personalized financial planning and advice. We typically co-brand the services and our clients offer it as an additional corporate benefit for their employees. We have received tremendous feedback from the participants who have participated in this program, and most take steps to increase their deferrals, consolidate previous retirement accounts and finally build their estate plans.
PA: As a retirement plan adviser, what do you take the most pride in?
As a retirement plan adviser we have the ability to positively impact the lives of thousands of individuals and families. First of all, through plan governance, fee benchmarking and negotiation, performance monitoring and auto plan design features; we are able to get people saving, lower fees, increase performance and drive very positive overall outcomes. Then, through our group education meetings and individual personalized financial planning program, we are able to help employees one by one through some of their most difficult decisions with money and in life. The ability to help individuals navigate what they see as very complicated and difficult decisions—this is what we take the most pride in.
PA: How do you grow your business? What changes to your practice or service model are you planning for 2018?
We grow our business through referrals. We have been able to cultivate wonderful relationships with CPAs, ERISA attorneys, TPAs, plan providers and other financial advisers throughout the country. They understand our expertise, commitment to the retirement plan industry and deep experience; but most of all, they know that we care about our clients and work extremely hard to ensure their success. Our personable approach makes our clients feel comfortable with us—we often hear that their previous advisers simply tried to always talk over their heads.
For 2018, we will be combining our efforts with another team in our office in Cincinnati. They have an excellent service team which offers us more resources to expand our individual financial planning efforts, proactive participant outreach for our corporate clients who focus on our financial advice program and simply more time to provide expanded services for our clients. We feel as though the cost cutting in our industry has definitely helped participants and our plan sponsors, but the service level provided by many vendors has suffered significantly. We are looking to fill that gap through our merger.
PA: What challenges do you think the retirement plan industry faces and what role do you have in addressing and confronting those challenges?
We have the unique ability to spend time with many leaders in the investment, recordkeeping and consulting worlds. This access comes with many advantages, but also a responsibility to be advocates for our clients and their employees. We take our responsibilities very seriously, and are active members of several industry groups. Even today, corporate clients have difficulty understanding plan fees, expenses, weighing performance versus costs, etc. Many of our clients have adopted “zero-revenue” investment menus, utilize collective investment trusts (CITs) and have per-head recordkeeping costs. We believe these trends will continue and we will also continue to help new employees build a plan to pay off their student loan debt, build an after-tax savings account for emergencies and put together an estate plan for their affairs.
PA: How do you select what recordkeeping providers to work with and how many relationships do you currently have across your client base?
Through the Graystone Consulting platform at Morgan Stanley, we have the ability to work with any potential recordkeepers who may be a good fit for our clients. This flexibility allows us to conduct extensive due diligence as we help our clients navigate a RFP or RFI for their recordkeeping services. We utilize a proprietary process which is customized for each client’s unique situation to screen and select finalists. As a byproduct of this process, we currently have relationships with 19 recordkeepers across our client base. Of course items like fees, dedicated services, relationship management, plan design consulting, online tools and other important capabilities play a key role in the decision making process; however we also consider their overall commitment to the recordkeeping business. We understand that many recordkeeping businesses are still for sale, and we would prefer to do business with the long-term survivors.
Business at a Glance
How many plan assets do you have under advisement? $2.9 billion
What is your median plan size (in assets)? $20 million
How many plans do you have under administration? 77
How many participants in total do you serve? > 100,000