Redefining Wellness: It Starts with the Employer

When it comes to benefit program delivery, the definition of “wellness” is about to change.

David Musto, President of Ascensus

Traditionally, the term has focused on employees as the primary beneficiaries of employer-sponsored benefits. “Financial wellness” has become a core part of the retirement plan benefit story and has sparked educational programs and plan design strategies that have improved outcomes for employees (namely, more adequate retirement income). However, traditional definitions of wellness have failed to address the wellness of businesses themselves—without which, employee financial wellness may not be possible.

Ascensus recognizes that wellness starts with the employer, as both the sponsor of employee benefits and a powerful center of influence for employees. Yet business challenges may limit the employer’s ability to expend time, energy, and resources to support employee wellness. Indeed, research from Pew reveals that while 96% of small business employers recognize the need to help their employees save for retirement, many struggle with adequate resources (22%) or find retirement plans too expensive to implement (37%).1 That’s why Ascensus is turning the focus to another important component: business wellness.

To help better articulate the value of investing in a retirement plan benefit—particularly in terms of what an employer can gain—Ascensus is quantifying wellness in terms of its impact on the bottom line. By supporting business wellness, the firm aims to equip employers to deliver stronger, well-managed benefits programs and, in turn, increase employee financial wellness.

Building a Framework to Deliver Value

Ultimately, wellness is about driving outcomes—both for employees and their employers.

WellBusiness by Ascensus, a framework that represents an innovative way of operating, has recently been introduced to the retirement plan marketplace. A leader in delivering recordkeeping value for decades, Ascensus is undertaking a new initiative to more meaningfully quantify the worth of certain educational programs, reports, services, processes—and even the expertise of its people. This is the first phase of what will be an ongoing investment in defining value for both plan employers and advisers.

WellBusiness is as practical as it is thoughtful. More than a program, the framework realigns the Ascensus offering around employers’ primary business goals, helping them build sustainable workforces, mitigate risk, and develop core competencies. The hypotheses are:
  1. Retirement plan benefits that attract and retain talented employees will lead to a more sustainable, productive workforce.
  2. Employers who understand risk, particularly fiduciary risk, will be better able to manage and reduce it—saving time and money (and headaches).
  3. Professional development and practical educational programs will make business leaders more proficient, efficient, and effective—and potentially more profitable.
Using predictive analytics and data-based insights, the Ascensus team is testing these hypotheses to tell the value story—by quantifying the value of knowledge, expertise, and time. From the inception of WellBusiness, the firm has engaged in-house data scientists and senior leaders who will continue to drive future enhancements as the framework evolves.

“Our WellBusiness framework combines excellent service and new educational programs to tangibly increase the productivity, sustainability, and growth of businesses,” says David Musto, president of Ascensus. “Ultimately, we’re making strategic investments with a simple premise: Businesses that know better will perform better. Leveraging WellBusiness, advisers can spend less time getting clients up to speed and more time focusing on high-level counsel that adds value above and beyond the day-to-day.”

Just as financial wellness centers on employee education, business wellness means educating the employer. With the launch of WellBusiness, Ascensus is introducing a new webinar series on trending retirement- and business-related topics, as well as exclusive access to the Certified Plan Sponsor Professional (CPSPTM) designation, a new plan sponsor credential program offered in partnership with the American Retirement Association (ARA). Ascensus is one of five founding educational partners—and the only recordkeeping firm—to sponsor the program.

The three-course, nine-module curriculum for the designation was designed and created by the ARA, whose programs are widely regarded as the gold standard in retirement education.

The program was developed by plan sponsors for plan sponsors, with input from a team of industry experts. Topics include retirement plan design considerations, plan fiduciary obligations & risk management, behavioral finance & employee engagement, vendor management & selection, complying with plan audits & regulatory requirements, and much more.

Certified Plan Sponsor Professional Credential Highlights
  • Exclusive: Ascensus—the only recordkeeper to be a founding sponsor—can grant plan sponsors exclusive access to the course.
  • Convenient: Plan sponsors can take the course online (approximately 30 hours of self-paced multimedia content followed by an online exam) at their convenience and maintain the CPSP credential with continuing education.
  • Complimentary: Ascensus clients are eligible to take the course at no cost, with no restriction on the number of individuals per employer who may enroll.

Making WellBusiness Relevant and Relatable to Advisers

Time is money. Advisers play a pivotal role in guiding employers, especially in the small business market in which businesses are less likely to have personnel fully dedicated to overseeing their retirement plans.

For most advisers, the WellBusiness story is highly relatable in terms of measuring—and proving—the value of knowledge, expertise, and time within their own practice. Today’s advisers are asking: Is the value of my services and knowledge clear and measurable? How am I quantifying the client’s investment in me with proof beyond a written business agreement? Am I spending the appropriate time on the right things?

The WellBusiness framework seeks to augment the adviser service model and minimize the time spent coaching employers on administrative tasks, allowing advisers to spend their time providing strategic counsel and growing their practices. Ultimately, advisers know the key to building long-lasting relationships goes beyond simply helping their clients with financial advice. They may add value by helping employers see how their services support broader organizational goals, such as attracting and retaining a talented, engaged workforce.

It can start with reframing the conversation around business wellness. WellBusiness makes it easy.

Aligning Retirement Services to What Businesses Value

Ascensus is using its leadership position in the retirement market to continue to push the boundaries of what is possible for plans of all sizes for the benefit of advisers and sponsors alike—and clients and advisers have taken notice.

In 2018, Ascensus garnered the most PLANSPONSOR “Best in Class” awards for plans up to $50 million in assets. In addition, an Ascensus retirement plan client, Farmers State Bank, was recently recognized by PLANSPONSOR as a best-in-class 401(k) program.

Faith Anderson, senior vice president of Human Resources at Farmers State Bank, shares how partnering with the right service provider has enabled the company to deliver this plan achievement:

“Ascensus’ partnership and the expertise of their service team have been critical to our success. From day one, their deep industry knowledge, alignment with our priorities, and focus on our business health have been clear,” she says.

“Ascensus views business health holistically, considering how factors like plan design, plan governance, and participant outcomes work together to affect our bottom line.”

Farmers State Bank is also a client within Ascensus’ Elite Advisor program, which Anderson confirms has contributed to the plan’s success. Personalized guidance from Ascensus’ ERISA attorneys and regular check-ins with an experienced strategic account manager keep Anderson up-to-date on her plan health, allowing her to spend more time focusing on other priorities.

The Value of WellBusiness

WellBusiness is reshaping how advisers and employers define and quantify wellness.

“Through this framework, Ascensus will continue to invest in the right talent, tools, programs, and partners to help business owners solve problems—and help advisers position themselves for success,” says Musto. “These educational programs and value-add services are only the beginning as we chart a path toward greater business wellness for employers.”

“Ultimately, this will lead to stronger retirement plan benefits, and, in turn, improved financial literacy, better employee savings habits, and greater financial security for all savers.”

To learn more about WellBusiness or the CPSP Credential Program, call 800-345-6363.

1Pew Charitable Trusts, “Employer Barriers to and Motivations for Offering Retirement Benefits,” June 21, 2017.