PA: Tell us about your practice and how you and your team members got into advising retirement plans.
Having sold my financial planning firm to a large institutional firm at the end of 1999, I began devoting all my efforts to my qualified and nonqualified pension clients. All the consultants on our Plan Sponsor Consultant team have had previous wealth management experience, and three have had employee benefits/pension backgrounds. We added two consultants in 2011, another in 2012, one in 2013, one in 2015 and one in 2017.In 2013, we added an educational team to work with our Financial Wellness clients.
PA: How is your team/process/structure unique? How has it evolved? Where will you be in five years?
Each of our senior consultants owns a controlling interest in their book of business. We are committed to personal development, so we can better serve our retirement plan clients. All of our senior consultants have multiple professional retirement plan designations. Our two junior consultants both have professional retirement plan designations. Both of our junior consultants and most of our senior consultants have been the recipient of individual retirement plan recognition honors, in addition to team honors. Four of our senior consultants are Centre for Fiduciary Excellence analysts. Since 2013, we have been thought leaders and innovators of financial wellness. We offer this benefit to all our clients. We have authored an academic article on financial wellness for the Journal of Pension Benefits, been quoted in trade publications on the subject and appeared on numerous regional and national panels on the topic. We have added junior consultants to our team, who are mentored by the practice leader and senior consultants, who represent the next generation of Plan Sponsor Consultants. In 2017, we developed a financial wellness RFP, with responses from the top 10 industry vendors. In five years, we foresee more organic growth in the number of our retirement plan clients, and we see our junior consultant assuming more responsibility for our growth.
In the past three years, we have developed a very successful internship program with our Michigan office and Northern Michigan University.
PA: What have you done in the past year to improve participants’ retirement readiness?
Reenrolled retirement plans into a one stop professionally managed asset allocation investment, either target date or managed account. We have improved saving deferral rates in all cases, continued to improve plan participation and Lifetime Income scores. We have offered a financial wellness benefit to our clients since 2013. We have seen improvements in retirement readiness metrics for all clients who have adopted the benefit, not to mention a decrease in consumer debt and an increase in the number and amount of emergency funds.
PA: Describe any particular initiatives you have led with your customer base in the past 12 months (investment or education or plan design or communication) or any plans for the next 12 months.
Since 2013, we offered our retirement plan clients a financial wellness benefit for their participants. This benefit includes a participant financial wellness assessment report, a learning center, a workforce financial wellness assessment for human resources (HR) administrators, which spins up the strategic education plan, power point financial education modules based on the workforce financial wellness assessment, and one-on-one coaching. Metrics measure improvements in employee cash flow, debt reduction and improved lifetime income scores.
In the past 12 months, we have created a financial wellness RFP for our clients with responses from the top vendors. We focused on continuing to offer this benefit with improvements in the educational component. One-on-one coaching is a key to positive participant outcomes. We have worked with record-keepers to integrate their datamining capabilities with our education plan, creating targeted communications to segments of participants. We feel that partnering with the recordkeeper is important to improving participant outcomes. Additionally, we have worked to improve our plan sponsor education with our daily blog content and the sharing of timely articles specifically targeted to Plan Sponsors. We are in the process of reinstating our curated article and blog archive, which appears on our Plan Sponsor Consultants website.
PA: As a retirement plan adviser, what do you take the most pride in?
As the practice leader of a large team, I take pride in mentoring both senior and junior consultants on our team, seeing them grow, and improving participant retirement outcomes and overall participant financial wellness. We take great pride in assisting our plan sponsor clients deliver the highest quality program by providing services that save time, reduce exposure to fiduciary liability, and address both IRS and DOL requirements.
PA: What challenges do you think the retirement plan industry faces and what role do you have in addressing and confronting those challenges?
As a national Retirement Advisor Council (RAC) board member and a member of several elite retirement plan advisor organizations (GRP, RPG, CEFEX), I believe the biggest challenge that we face is enabling participants to achieve a satisfactory life time income during retirement. To address this challenge, we need to re-dedicate ourselves to behavioral finance solutions and addressing the underlying causes of financial stress with financial wellness. We need actively managed solution tools that use tactical asset allocation and have a robust de-risking strategy during times of market stress for those closest to retirement.
PA: How do you select what recordkeeping providers to work with and how many relationships do you currently have across your client base?
Since 2006, Plan Sponsor Consultants has developed it own proprietary RFP for record keepers with a legal review by the Wagner Law Firm. It is 21 pages in length and has been answered by 35 large record keepers. We update it annually. We partner this with additional benchmarking for cost and the specific needs/demographics of a plan to determine the best fit for that client. Currently, we work with 19 recordkeepers, but the bulk of the clients are with five.
Business at a Glance
How many plan assets do you have under advisement? $1.7 billion
What is your median plan size (in assets)? $11 million
How many plans do you have under administration? 164
How many participants in total do you serve? 43,500