A Partner in the Field

Ascensus helps advisers navigate the changing retirement landscape

For retirement plan advisers looking to communicate the importance of retirement readiness to their clients, Ascensus’ mission of helping Americans save can be a good fit. After all, “we’re giving small businesses across America the ability to access the same retirement benefits as the largest corporations in the country,” says Roberta Hess, Vice President - Marketing & Communications at Ascensus. “To quote our tagline, we want to ensure that everyone can ‘Always Have a Plan.’”

Ascensus serves more than 40,000 retirement plans through partnerships with advisers across the industry. “We’re fortunate to have great advisor relationships across all distribution channels, from wirehouse to regional to the independent RIA,” says Mike Narkoff, Executive Vice President - Sales at Ascensus.

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Those great relationships have led to many long-standing partnerships between Ascensus and advisors. “I’ve used Ascensus for a number of years and have quite a few plans with them,” comments adviser John Carroll, CEO at Wellspring Adviser Group, LLC in Alexandria, Louisiana. “I was attracted to the true open-architecture format and the disciplined processes for bringing new clients on board and handling ongoing operations.”


Dedicated retirement plan advisers are likely to be eligible to be part of the growing Ascensus Elite Adviser Program. Narkoff says that this is a “loyalty program for advisers” who have chosen to partner with Ascensus. Advisers receive enhanced resources and tools when they bring over a certain amount of their book of business. The program is gaining momentum—advisors who qualify have increased by more than 125% over the last 18 months.

In addition to the upgraded tools and services, advisers in the program—along with their plan sponsor clients—receive dedicated client service from Ascensus. Adviser Carroll says his support team is the most valued service that Ascensus provides. “I’ve always had a dedicated team to work with and that certainly makes the daily activities easier to manage both for myself and my office team.”

“I have been partnering with Ascensus for the last 7 years and have found their service team to be highly knowledgeable, responsive, and efficient,” says Ross Dahlof, Senior Vice President at the Christensen Group in Minnetonka, MN.

Narkoff notes that the support that advisers receive from Ascensus amounts to more than just a dedicated service team. The company’s consultative sales team, which will expand by over 40% in 2016, continues to partner with and provide support for advisers. “Our sales expansion reflects the remarkable interest advisers have in our platform,” he says.

These sales and support teams can show advisers how to build their retirement practice—even helping them win certain opportunities such as closing large plans. “Our sales team has been actively involved in helping the advisors with whom we partner transition their practice from traditional commission-based solutions to fee-for-service products,” says Narkoff. “It’s a different sales process and our experience is proving exceptionally beneficial.”

Dahlof agrees, saying, “Their service model puts the advisor first and they consistently seek my feedback to ensure they are supporting both my clients and my business.”

Key for Ascensus as it works with advisers and their clients is remembering that the adviser owns the relation­ship with the plan sponsor. “We’d much rather promote and facilitate the adviser’s brand with their client,” says Narkoff.


With one of the largest ERISA teams in the country, Ascensus is closely evaluating every detail and implication of the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) recently released fiduciary regulation. In the months ahead, advisers can expect sup­port in navigating the new rules as the products and services offered by Ascensus evolve to reflect best practices under the regulation. “We’re excited about continuing to support advisers and their practices and helping them adapt to the pending fiduciary regulations,” Narkoff says.

“For advisers that do plan work, it is a constantly changing landscape and that creates challenges not only for the adviser, but also for the client,” says Carroll. “There seems to be a very proactive approach to communications with the client and positioning to make the adoption of changes easier.”


One of the common phrases that emerges when speaking to advisers who work with Ascensus is “conflict-free.”

As one of the largest independent providers of recordkeeping services, Ascensus does not see recordkeeping as a means to some other end—such as selling funds. “With Ascensus, my clients are always very clear on the services they are being provided and at what cost,” says Dahlof. “Their pricing is clean, transparent, and fair and offers my clients the value they deserve.” 


“Lots of companies talk about open-architecture. But when you look under the hood, there are often a lot of really great fund managers that are missing,” says Carroll. “I’ve always seemed to have a great selection of funds with Ascensus—and they are constantly adding new ones.”

“At Ascensus, ‘open architecture’ doesn’t simply mean that an adviser can pick whatever funds he or she is interested in,” Narkoff says. “We’ve seen it really morph into a much broader view that includes plan design, service models, and third-party administrator considerations. If you think about the typical fee-based adviser who is already acting in a fiduciary capacity, I think the fact that we’re completely agnostic to the menu in its entirety is a very refreshing way to form a partnership.”

Pricing also benefits from the open-architecture platform because the recordkeeping is separate from the investment menu. Ascensus’ pricing for recordkeeping and administration is based upon the plan and the number of participants, allowing the adviser to work with the client to create the right menu—and right service model—for that individual plan sponsor. This pricing philosophy has long been at the foundation of the company’s adviser partnerships, Narkoff comments. “It puts us in that conflict-free operating model, and that has really fueled quite a bit of our growth.”


Hess points out that many advisers who sell plans with Ascensus—more than 75%—are opting to service their clients on a fee-for-service basis. She expects this only to increase with the DOL fiduciary regulations being enacted. Ascensus’ platform is well-suited to benefit an adviser who is looking to transition his or her practice from a legacy-commission base to a fee-for-service arrangement as the retirement landscape continues to evolve.

“The byproduct of our structure is the rapid growth on our platform of those institutionally priced investments. If advisers choose a fee-for-service model, it’s likely that they’re going to offer the most affordable menu to clients of all sizes—dispelling the myth that only larger plans get access to institutionally priced funds,” Narkoff says.

In the end, retirement plan advisers looking for a record­keeping partner in the new fiduciary environment may want to consider Ascensus. As Narkoff says, “our ability to offer a truly conflict-free model enables advisers to always act in the best interests of their clients.”