2023 RPAY – Bruce Lanser at UBS

Business at a Glance as of 12/31/22

  • Plan assets under advisement: $1.8 billion
  • Median plan size (in assets): $20.4 million
  • Plans under administration: 15
  • Total participants served: 12,277

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

Lanser: I began my career in 1983 at Merrill Lynch. We were called account executives back then, and 401(k) plans were not yet commonplace. When Merrill hosted a training session to talk about 401(k) plans, I sensed an opportunity. It was a new product in a new market, and I reasoned that few veterans were likely to spend the time to study and understand how the plans worked.

By 1989, I was all in. At first, I served as a sole adviser. In 1992, my wife joined the UBS team to provide education and guidance to individual participants. We joined UBS in 2013 and later added an investment analyst to the team. Together with the support we receive from UBS, we are able to focus our efforts on serving our clients.

Today, through our partnership with UBS Workplace Wealth Solutions, we are able to collaborate with corporate clients to deliver customized solutions across a range of programs for the workplace, including financial wellness, retirement, equity plans and institutional consulting. They currently provide more than 10,000 employers and their 2 million employees in more than 150 countries with access to financial knowledge, benefits programs that prepare them for retirement and an integrated experience that combines the right mix of people and technology. They work side-by-side with our clients so that everyone feels rewarded at work and optimistic about realizing their long-term financial goals.

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

Lanser: There are several attributes that make our team unique. First and foremost is our ability to adapt to a changing retirement landscape. More than simply evolving, the Lanser team anticipates and plans for change.

In the early days of advising 401(k) plans, we focused on the selection and monitoring of the investments in the plan. But we soon recognized that, while being a good investment adviser is vitally important, it is not the only thing we should provide for our clients.

For example, as early as the 1990s, we explored how best to help people convert their 401(k) accounts into a sustainable retirement income stream, i.e., lifetime income solutions, in which an insurance company guarantees income payments. This helped protect our retired clients, or those nearing retirement, from bear markets while still enabling them to participate when the markets recovered. We also assessed the financial strength of the insuring companies before it was required by the SECURE Act.

Furthermore, team members are committed to ongoing professional education to strengthen the advice and guidance we provide clients. As evidence of this commitment, I hold all of the following advanced designations:

  • Certified Investment Management Analyst
  • Chartered Retirement Plan Specialist
  • Chartered Retirement Planning Consultant
  • Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor
  • Certified Plan Fiduciary Advisor
  • Certified Portfolio Manager
  • Accredited Investment Fiduciary
  • Certified HSA Specialist
  • Certified Retirement Income Specialist
  • Certified Behavioral Finance Analyst

Today, our mission is to use our experience and resources so that our clients can make an enduring impact in the lives of their people. Looking ahead five years, I hope that we are still advising 401(k) plan clients so that we can help their employees meet their financial goals.

What we do and how we do it may change, but “why we do it” will not.

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

Lanser: Listen to any successful coach in any sport. One of the things they value most is the difference they can make in the lives of their athletes.

The same is true for a successful retirement plan adviser.

I take the most pride in seeing the enduring impact we make on the lives of the people that have entrusted us with their financial futures. And not just their own, but that of their families for generations to come. Our clients care about their employees, and what really matters to us is the success of our clients.

PLANADVISER: How do you grow your business? What changes to your practice or service model are you planning for 2023 or 2024?

Lanser: Referrals are our primary growth engine. Both our clients and other industry professionals (e.g., benefit plan auditors) are our primary source of referrals. We hope that they appreciate what we do and are willing to make introductions to help them.

Further, we are active with local CFO groups and provide them with professional development sessions. Further, we have conducted continuing education programs for members of CPA groups.

Our podcast, “Hot Topics for Plan Sponsors,” helps expand our presence beyond our current network. Each podcast demonstrates the depth of our knowledge on a variety of topics:

  • ERISA Litigation Playbook
  • Cyber Security for Plan Sponsors
  • Voice of the American Worker
  • Inside the Minds of Plan Participants

Our business will continue to evolve as we develop our team. Each person will play an expanded role in helping participants manage their financial challenges through to their retirement, even helping them sign-up for Medicare and Social Security.

PLANADVISER: What challenges do you think the retirement plan industry faces and what role do you have in addressing and confronting those challenges?

Lanser: When the retirement industry moved from defined benefit plans to employee-directed defined contribution plans, our challenge was to educate employees who were suddenly responsible for saving and investing their own retirement funds. Ultimately, that challenge was met by the adoption of automatic enrollment, automatic escalation and QDIAs.

Today, the objective is to help them turn their accumulated assets into sustainable income for their retirement. Managing the withdrawal stream can be a daunting task. Most people, even if they don’t have a formal budget, have a sense of what they can spend each month while they are working. But once that regular paycheck stops, they risk either overspending or not enjoying life as much as they could.

There are numerous examples of highly paid professional athletes or lottery winners who go bankrupt. No employer wants to drive down the street and see one of their former employees standing on the corner begging.

We will continue to play an important role in this transition in two significant ways:

1. Educate Clients about the Need for Income Solutions

If plan sponsors are going to make changes to their retirement plans, they need to be aware of a decisionmaking conundrum. Research by Dr. David Laibson of Harvard University suggests that aging affects financial decisionmaking, according to State Street Global Advisors’ 2016 “The Challenge Every Participant Faces.”

Cognitive performance depends on both fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence. Fluid intelligence is the ability to learn and adapt, but it declines rapidly over time. Crystallized intelligence is the wisdom that is gained from experience. In essence, we are asking people to manage one of the most difficult tasks in finance at a time when their ability to do so is declining. I have shared these insights with numerous audiences, and many clients have adopted different income solutions.

2. Implement Income Solutions

We were one of the first to recommend income solutions to clients when we first introduced them in 2008. This benefit has been adopted by participants. More than 15% of plan participants who are nearing retirement insure their retirement income.

PLANADVISER: Why do you feel it is important to work with plan sponsors and companies offering retirement benefits to their people?

Lanser: Defined contribution plans are a cornerstone of the American retirement system, and much has been written about the failure of 401(k) plans to meet the retirement needs of today’s workers. A 2016 study published by the Economic Policy Institute stated, “There is growing recognition that the 401(k) revolution has failed.”

It does not have to be that way.

As retirement plan advisers, we are able to guide the plan sponsor through proper plan design and choice architecture so that their employees receive the benefits the employer wants to provide.

We are also in a position to directly impact the employees, not only through plan design, but also through personalized guidance.

Over the years we have had participants come up to us surprised at how much they have accumulated in their retirement accounts and wondering how it happened.

It happened because the employer cared about their employees. The employer implemented automatic enrollment and escalation to make it easier for the employee to save. And our team provided one-on-one counsel so that he could save and invest properly.

If that story can be replicated continuously, no one will be able to say, “The 401(k) revolution has failed.”

PLANADVISER: What are the most important issues that your plan sponsor clients face with their company retirement plans, and what particularly effective or unique actions do you take to assist them in overcoming those issues?

Lanser: Employees are stressed about their financial futures, and it shows in their productivity. PricewaterhouseCoopers found that 18% of employees had money worries that impacted their productivity, and 15% admitted it had an impact on their attendance.

Companies are finding that it is in their own economic interest to provide solutions that help their employees. But delivering financial benefits to employees beyond a retirement plan presents an oversight and governance challenge to the plan sponsor.

We have helped clients expand their benefits offerings to address the challenges their people are facing and have implemented a prudent governance model.

We have also expanded the resources available to employees that can help them become financially fit and better understand their unique financial situation. In addition to individual consultations, we provide financial tools—budgeting, debt management, planning for emergencies, retirement planning and investing—as well as a unique digital experience with financial wellness content in a variety of formats (infographics, charts, videos, articles, etc.). All are designed to help reduce employees’ financial stress.

Retirement benefits are an integral part of financial well-being. This holistic approach—saving for retirement and emergencies, investing, debt management and long-term healthcare needs—provides the tools and resources for our clients’ employees.


Bruce Lanser is a Financial Advisor with UBS Financial Services Inc. a subsidiary of UBS AG. Member FINRA/SIPC in Milwaukee, WI. The information contained in this article is not a solicitation to purchase or sell investments. Any information presented is general in nature and not intended to provide individually tailored investment advice. Investing involves risks and there is always the potential of losing money when you invest. The views expressed herein are those of the author and may not necessarily reflect the views of UBS Financial Services Inc. Neither UBS Financial Services Inc. nor its employees (including its Financial Advisors) provide tax or legal advice. You should consult with your legal counsel and/or your accountant or tax professional regarding the legal or tax implications of a particular suggestion, strategy or investment, including any estate planning strategies, before you invest or implement.

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