Atlanta Retirement Partners (ARP), founded in 2013 in Georgia’s capital, strives to be the go-to firm for clients who value participant education. In fact, most of ARP’s new business has come from requests for proposals (RFPs) it has won specifically because the prospect was looking for a practice that would prioritize education.
“While some of our competitors don’t believe education works, we think otherwise,” says David Griffin, ARP founder and director of institutional retirement plans.
ARP’s mission statement comes as no surprise, then: “Your participants have questions. We have answers.”
Over the past year, ARP has augmented its educational offerings with a financial wellness program for participants that covers topics such as Social Security, Medicare, debt management, home buying, credit, student loan management and life coaching. The firm works with each client’s human resources (HR) department to customize the program based on the particular workforce’s needs. The program is increasingly popular with both ARP’s public and private clients and has been key in setting the firm apart from its competitors, Griffin says.
“We feel the reason for [the program’s popularity] is the competitive job environment but, more importantly, the desire for employers to truly add value outside of compensation to encourage long-term career thinking,” he adds.
ARP conducts participant surveys before and after the program to measure results. In this way, it has confirmed that the program reduces workers’ financial stress, helps them develop a better understanding of financial topics and increases their retirement plan deferrals.
Griffin says, in a world where the education system unfortunately fails to teach so many people about personal finance, he takes pride in seeing the look on young employees’ faces when they realize how powerful it can be to start saving early for retirement.
“I feel we have excelled at effective communication, which is paramount to our success,” says Griffin, who is currently writing a book designed to help employees who are new to the workforce and lack access to a financial planner.
ARP takes a hands-on approach to educating participants, a method that Griffin says leads to increased plan participation. Not only does this lend itself to an improved chance of retirement success for employees, but it also assists the employer in passing necessary compliance testing for qualified plans. Through the firm’s services, participants can listen to webinars, attend group or individual meetings, or even have phone calls with ARP advisers after-hours.
ARP has secured more than 100 clients and $1 billion in assets in its six years in business—the majority of plans being 401(k)s, as well as several others in the 403(b), 457 and defined benefit (DB) markets—and the company is not afraid to step away from a client or prospect it decides is not a good fit. From September 1, 2017, to last August 31, ARP added 15 new plans and lost five, the losses being either clients the firm let go or companies that were acquired.
Though Griffin says some advisers might be hesitant to work with startup plans, ARP has made a them a niche.
“Over the past two years, we have seen more and more requests to assist with helping companies establish a retirement plan,” he says. “We think it is critical to make sure everyone has access to a workplace saving vehicle, and we want to make sure [it] is set up correctly.”
Therefore, ARP has created a checklist for companies that explains the plan design features it recommends in order to retain its services. The firm helps achieve plan benchmarks by adding automatic features, examining match structure and stretching the match, to increase deferral rates, and evaluating plan fees. ARP serves as both a 3(21) and 3(38) fiduciary for its clients.
“It’s our goal that our clients sponsor successful retirement plans,” Griffin says, adding that ARP’s measure of plan success is one in which employees can retire at 65. ARP also believes in hitting targets for success such as a 90% plan participation rate, an average deferral rate of 10% and a 90% rate of participants being on track to reach their retirement goals.
As for future growth, ARP looks to its “multifaceted” marketing approach, which includes social media, search engine optimization (SEO) and Google retargeting ad strategies. The company also finds prospects through trade shows and conferences; ARP is part of organizations including the Georgia Government Finance Officers Association (GGFOA) and Georgia Association of Public Pension Trustees (GAPPT). ARP is also involved with The Plan Sponsor University, which educates sponsors in Georgia and Alabama. In addition, the company relies on referrals through clients at law firms, investment firms and insurance brokerages.
“We work closely with employee benefit and property and casualty brokerage firms that do not provide retirement services,” Griffin says. “We have built lasting relationships with these firms, which has been effective in keeping our pipeline full.”
Each of ARP’s team members—Griffin, as well as Jacqueline Deckman and Bryan Skradis, retirement plan advisers; Alice Davis and Stephanie Hunt, relationship managers; and Brad Towson, director of wealth management—has a say in the company’s services and potential enhancements for the future, Griffin says. They each also work remotely.
“I decided that keeping people out of a morning commute would enhance their quality of life and enhance their productivity, all the while allowing us to be good stewards of the environment—not to mention keep a handful of cars of the road,” Griffin says. “This desire led me to hire only experienced people who could work in a remote setting and have the self-discipline to do great work without an abundance of management.” This work environment also helps the company maintain competitive prices.
“We think our unique structure has many benefits for us and for our clients,” Griffin says. “It also allows us to compete fiercely from a fee perspective, at market rates, while at the same time providing exemplary service.” —Corie Hengst