2022 RPAY – Kathleen Kelly, Compass Financial Partners, a Marsh McLennan Agency LLC Company

Business at a Glance as of 12/31/21

  • Plan assets under advisement: $14.1 billion
  • Median plan size (in assets): $39 million
  • Plans under administration: 92
  • Total participants served: 178,194

PLANADVISER: Tell us about your practice and how you got into advising retirement plans.

Kelly: Like most of you I imagine, I did not set out to become a retirement plan consultant, or industry specialist! I was always good at math and science, and majored in economics at Wake Forest, but realized from a career perspective, I wanted to interact with people, and have a greater control of my destiny, as opposed to analyzing numbers. After graduation, I took a job as a financial planner with an insurance company broker/dealer. I will never forget my career counselor at Wake advising me not to take the job—it was sales—and I had no natural market—I would surely fail—but boy was I going to prove him wrong!

I recognized early on that one thing my career counselor was right about, was that I had no natural market, that I would have to do things differently, and partnering and collaborating with other colleagues was going to be integral to my longevity in the business. I had an immediate chemistry with one of my new colleagues, and we began building a practice focused on estate planning. We ultimately found that many of our clients were also business owners—and inevitably had a retirement plan that they needed help with—and so began a focus in retirement plan advising.

Through relationships we had built in our community, my business partner George Hoyle (who I subsequently married) and I teamed-up with an insurance agency, and a CPA firm, and launched Compass Financial Partners with just a part-time assistant in 2002.


PLANADVISER: How is your team/process/structure unique? How has it evolved? Where will you be in five years?

Kelly: Very simply. We love what we do. WE PAVE A PATH TO THE FUTURE. A nationally recognized firm, Compass Financial Partners combines a talented, experienced team, scale and leverage with our partners and unmatched passion for retirement plan consulting. We know we’re not the only team offering retirement plan consulting to plan sponsors across the U.S. But while other firms may offer a similar list of services, we believe that who we are and how we operate sets us apart. As highly credentialed professionals with a seasoned history in helping plan sponsors maximize their retirement plan benefit, we have earned the trust and respect of our clients, and have established ourselves as recognized thought leaders nationally in the retirement plan industry.

As the cornerstone of our service model, we feel our proactive approach and responsiveness to client needs is an area that sets us apart from other consultants. The goal is to do for our clients what we would love for someone to do for us: To anticipate their needs, to surprise them with our attention to detail … and our attention to them. And, ultimately to give them the confidence that they are fulfilling their role not only as fiduciaries, but as stewards, of their employee’s retirement savings. We recognize that we have an awesome responsibility, but an equally awesome opportunity to make a difference in the lives of employees that may never know we exist—and we take that very seriously.

In 2021, Compass Financial Partners joined Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC (MMA), a subsidiary of Marsh LLC and Marsh & McLennan Companies, the leading global professional services firm in the areas of risk, strategy and people. Our alignment with MMA allows us the unique opportunity to maintain our culture and our high-touch service model while providing access to resources that will take our firm, our clients, and our colleagues to the next level. As our clients have begun to experience, over the next five years we will continue to expand the offerings, services, and specialty expertise we deliver while augmenting our capabilities to address the growing convergence of health, wealth, retirement, and overall well-being.


PLANADVISER: As a retirement plan adviser, what do you take the most pride in?

Kelly: As we built our business, we knew we had to establish a differentiator, and for us, it was, and still is, our passion. We have a passion for what we do and a passion for results. We are very success oriented. In fact, we felt so strongly about it, that we trademarked our mantra. Process plus passion together will undoubtedly yield extraordinary results.

That passion is also a conviction in delivering an ROI to our clients. We’re not yes-people. We’re hired to help clients, to move the needle. We are honest. And, it is an engaged, collaborative process. We live and breathe social responsibility, it has always been woven into our DNA.


PLANADVISER: Please tell us about an important experience you have had while getting involved in your local, regional or global community.

Kelly: One of the most exciting community outreach initiatives we began was our Compass Cares – Racing for a Reason initiative. In early 2020, as a result of wanting to encourage both healthy habits as well as community outreach, we designed a 5k walk/run charitable event series. Our commitment was to select and sponsor 5K races while paying the entry fees for any employee who wished to participate.

Additionally, there was an added benefit to selecting the Core (HSA) benefit offering, as for each 5k event Compass sponsored, and a team member participated in, Compass contributed $100 to their HAS account. A list of events was sent to everyone to vote on which charitable 5k’s Compass would sponsor.

Unfortunately, due to COVID, we were not able to complete some of the events as they were cancelled, but we did what we could virtually.

On an individual basis, my involvement at Winston-Salem State University (a leading HBCU) as the Board of Trustees Vice-Chair and Chairman of the GATE Committee has been very fulfilling over the past few years. My primary focus in this role is supporting the university and our chancellor in driving initiatives that ultimately seek to eliminate the black/brown wealth gap.

Finally, my role as Co-Chair of the Tocqueville Society of the United Way of Greater Greensboro (and Board of Directors role) has been quite meaningful. Through giving, advocating and volunteering time and talents I am able to address our community’s most pressing needs, with the end goal to end poverty. Just last week, we learned that in recognition of our leadership and dedication in chairing the Tocqueville Society, we have been selected to receive a United Way LIVE UNITED Centennial Volunteer Award!


PLANADVISER: What advice can you give to your industry peers about developing a successful philanthropic or charitable vision for a firm?

Kelly: Most importantly, lead by example. From our inception, we made it clear that our purpose, and our why, included committing our time and treasure to our community. One of our five “brand promises” that we made to our clients and our colleagues included the following:

WE PROMISE TO FOCUS ON MORE THAN THE BOTTOM LINE. We are committed to our clients, our vendors, our community and our team. By doing what’s best for each them, we do what’s best for our company. It’s not always about dollars and cents. We believe in win-win solutions and long-term success. Finally, put it in writing. Then do it.

WE CARE. WE COMMIT. WE KEEP OUR COMMUNITY MOVING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION. Just as we are always striving to create a better path for our clients, Compass is also working to make our community a better place. Collectively and individually, our firm regularly commits our time, talents and financial support to many institutions and organizations in the communities we serve. By fostering the vitality of the places where we work and live, we promote the well-being of people in our communities and beyond.