THOUGHT LEADERSHIP

A Platform for Adviser Choice

The value of flexibility and fee transparency for retirement plan advisers

If there’s any constant in the retirement plan industry, it’s change—whether it’s related to regulations, market pressure on investment strategies, compensation, or other factors. Ascensus has responded to this changing environment with a focus on transparency and adviser support. PLANADVISER spoke with Howard Insley, Senior Vice President at Ascensus, and Dan Kravitz, head of Kravitz, Inc., now an Ascensus company, about the value of open architecture and specialized plan design in the current industry environment.

PLANADVISER: How is Ascensus using acquisitions to enhance its services to advisers?

Howard Insley: Today, more than 30,000 advisers turn to Ascensus for retirement plan solutions tailored to their clients’ needs. Recently, we’ve focused our acquisition efforts on increasing our retirement plan administration and design capabilities to offer added value to advisers and their clients. We’ve expanded our presence with coast-to-coast office locations offering local support backed by national resources. And the acquisition of Kravitz has allowed Ascensus to become a market leader in the cash balance market.

PA: Can you talk about Kravitz’s cash balance and combo plan services, and how they can help advisers grow their businesses?

Dan Kravitz: Advisers constantly need to differentiate themselves in an increasingly competitive environment. When they’re armed with an understanding of cash balance plans and can bring expert-backed solutions to the table, advisers have an immediate edge over competitors. Many advisers have clients or prospects who own profitable professional services firms. These business owners need to increase retirement savings while reducing tax liabilities, and that’s where adding a cash balance plan to an existing defined contribution [DC] plan makes a big difference. Most tax advisers and attorneys agree that the best way to reduce taxes is an above-the-line tax deduction, and that’s the beauty of cash balance plans. They can significantly reduce business owners’ adjusted gross incomes. 

Armed with an understanding of cash balance plans and backed by experts, advisers have an immediate edge over competitors.

The average plan sponsor contribution to employee retirement accounts is 3.7% of pay in companies with a 401(k) plan alone, compared with 6.6% of pay in companies with a combination of cash balance and 401(k) plans. While employees see a doubling of their retirement contributions, business owners win with reduced tax liabilities and a significant increase in overall retirement savings. Advisers get to be the hero because they’re bringing this innovative strategy to clients.

Advisers are often looking for a door-opener to get meetings with high-net-worth individuals and expand assets under management. They need a solution that sets them apart. Cash balance plans can take the adviser’s offering to the next level. Ninety-five percent of all cash balance plans are tested together with a 401(k) plan, so if they’re looking to win those 401(k) plan assets, cash balance is a way to do that. These two plans work hand-in-hand. That’s why they’re called combo plans—as a way to satisfy the nondiscrimination testing rules.

Insley: Ascensus provides the actuarial expertise to do the plan design, the document, and to really establish the framework in a true open-architecture investment environment. Assets can be held on many available recordkeeping or investment platforms. We look to partner with leading firms for the investment management, recordkeeping, and custody services, allowing us to customize our solutions to the specific client case.

Kravitz: With Ascensus acquiring Kravitz earlier this year, it really rounds out the tools and resources we can bring to advisers. In terms of creative advanced plan design, Kravitz has proprietary software solutions that create customized, innovative designs.

Our specialists educate advisers and help them:

  • identify and qualify candidates,
  • provide free cash balance plan design illustrations, 
  • produce plan documents, 
  • offer actuarial services, and
  • provide administration services. 

We cover everything that’s needed for cash balance plan setup and the advisor can select who they want to use for investments and custodial services. Our flexibility when it comes to recordkeeping is a point of pride—we can provide services in-house or partner with another recordkeeper of your choice.

PA: What education do you offer advisers?

Kravitz: We offer a wide range of educational programs that empower advisers to bring cash balance plan options to clients and prospects: 

1. They can attend our Ascend conference in San Diego from November 13-15 where we’ll be offering the cash balance education. To register, visit ascensus.com/ascend2017.

2. Advisers can also complete the four-hour Cash Balance Coach program online at any time. Advisers who complete the program can take a test and get certified as a Cash Balance Consultant [CBC]. Some broker-dealers even let them put that designation on their business card or in their signature block, and we have some great anecdotal stories of advisers that have had the designation actually help them in the sales process. They can visit cashbalancecoach.com to register.

3. Finally, advisers can purchase our helpful and highly rated guidebook, Beyond the 401(k): How Financial Advisors Can Grow Their Businesses with Cash Balance Plans, on Amazon.

We also offer customized plan illustrations at no cost. Members of our sales team can walk advisers through these illustrations and even attend client meetings or conference calls to review the illustration with clients. If the clients decide to proceed, we’ll finalize the plan design, draft the documents, and move forward with the annual administration.

PA: Overall, how is Ascensus approaching working with advisers and supporting them with expanded capabilities?

Insley: At Ascensus, our independence and flexibility allow advisers to choose the solutions that are best for their clients and business. They can count on us for certain delivery times and servicing. Our pricing is straightforward, and we can confidently say, “Here’s what you can expect from us if you select this service.”

As we continue to grow and offer additional solutions for advisers, we’ll continue to focus on providing outstanding service, value, and transparency.

For more information on Kravitz cash balance solutions, visit cashbalancedesign.com  or call us at 877.CB.PLANS.