What Are Your Top Focus Areas in 2023?

Advisers share their priorities for the rest of the year.


PLANADVISER sat down with some of this year’s top retirement plan advisers at the annual PLANADVISER Industry Leader Awards in New York on Wednesday.

Read about their top focus areas for the year:

Deana Calvelli, Managing Director, Creative Planning Retirement Services

“Personalization is really where there is a lot of need and demand. When we think about what’s happened in the pandemic, people were really not prepared for a shock to their finances, to their physical health or mental health.

We really have a unique role that we can play as retirement plan advisers to be able to help meet employees where they’re at. We’re becoming ‘life advisers.’ With five generations in the workforce and the most diverse workforce that we’ve had in our country, it’s particularly important for us to be able to have personalized approaches and solutions.

You’ve got someone that really doesn’t know about finances, and that’s most of us in this country, because we don’t have financial literacy in most schools—that’s an issue right there. It’s also student debt. It could be the challenges that we’re having with the sandwich generation. Caregiving, maybe for special needs. People don’t talk about that much and are usually suffering silently. There’s also challenges like caring for parents, and the list just goes on and on. A one-size-fits-all, even in a particular age group, is not always the most effective solution.”

Fiduciary Operational Compliance
Erik Daley, Managing Principal, Multnomah Group

“From a 2023 perspective, we spend a lot of time working on fiduciary operational compliance. It’s an area that’s been neglected by plan sponsors. That kind of continual focus on fees and funds is an important one. But realistically, where so many plans break down is operational compliance, so the focus is working with clients on improving the oversight and awareness of the operational compliance of having a retirement plan.

I think it’s going to continue to be challenging. We’ve got a new array of regulations through SECURE 2.0. We’ve got new guidance from the Department of Labor. We’ve got two marketplace innovations for recordkeeping providers. Those things will likely extend and grow into 2023.

The other area that’s clearly going to be critical in 2023 is helping reset client awareness of conflicts of interest. We’ve swung through this process of focusing on recordkeeping conflicts of interest and trying to get those addressed. We’re seeing, increasingly, plan sponsors who are getting pressed by advisers to engage in things that would probably elevate the level of conflict of interest. I think the awareness, regrettably, of those issues is lower, so there’s a lot of education work for us to do in that space with clients in the industry.”

Participant Services
Alvaro Galvis, Senior Vice President, Merrill Lynch

“The main focus area for us in 2023 is participant services. A lot of consultants concentrate on the plan sponsor service, and it’s not that we don’t care about that. But for us, the ultimate user of the 401(k) is a participant, and we concentrate all our efforts on the participant. We always say, ‘Service the plan from the CEO all the way to the last person in the company.’ We place equal weighting on the importance of those goals, because for a lot of those people, they don’t have anybody else.

Last week, I had a participant who was about to take a hardship plan because they needed to pay for a divorce attorney. The participant was going to pay taxes, pay penalties, all kinds of things. Should I have not been there for that participant, they would have made the wrong decision. The participant called an adviser on how to handle that better, instead of going through a hardship alone. For someone who doesn’t know anything about finances, it’s a big deal.

Our concentration this year is exactly that: being more focused on participant services so we can make a bigger difference in the plans that we service.”

Recordkeeping Transformation
Neal Stamper, Corporate Retirement Director, Graystone Consulting

“The recordkeeping world has changed, and we’ve noticed that there’s a lot more levers available to plan sponsors from a pricing standpoint, from different services available now that haven’t been available in the past. We really are trying to work hard to make sure that with every recordkeeper and all of our clients, we are trying to help them understand: Here’s what they mean when they say a managed account, here’s what they mean with the stable value and the fixed account.

There are providers now that are really pushing the target-date funds that have a fixed-account component of the recordkeeping in there. Basically, stripping out the fixed income and replacing it with the proprietary product that the recordkeeper has. It’s not that that’s a bad thing; it’s just that we want plan sponsors to understand what that really means and who’s benefiting financially so that they can negotiate appropriately, and they can make good decisions for their participants.

Recordkeepers have been hit so hard over the past five years on pricing advisers. I think advisers are a big part of the problem, because advisors have sold the plan saying, ‘Hey, I can get it cheaper,’ and every couple of years, the recordkeepers have to lower their cost in order to compete and keep the plan.”