The Benefits of Hiring Investment Advisors With Retirement Plan Expertise

The verdict is in.  According to a recent survey conducted by the Retirement Advisor Council, plan sponsors who hired financial advisors with a singular or primary focus on retirement plans had better results for their retirement plans and were more satisfied with the services provided by their financial advisors.  The research surveyed 407 plan sponsors of 401(k) or 403(b) plans between September 11 and September 24, 2013, who either had no advisor, had an advisor focused on retirement plans, or had an advisor that was not particularly focused on retirement plans.  More than 95 percent of plan sponsors working with financial advisors focused on retirement plans indicated that their partnership was either “very beneficial” or “a necessity.”  83 percent of plans working with financial advisors focused on retirement plans also reported an increase in deferral rates in the last two years, with one-third of these sponsors seeing a deferral rate increase of 6 percent or more.  Conversely, only 65 percent of plans working with other advisors and 47 percent of plans working with no advisors reported an increase in deferral rates in the last two years.  75 percent of plans working with financial advisors focused on retirement plans believe 50 percent or more of their participants are on track to achieve a successful retirement.  Many of the plan sponsors surveyed particularly appreciate the plan design recommendations made by their financial advisors focused on retirement plans.

This survey result illustrates the importance of having an advisor who understands the world of retirement plans.  Financial advisors that are focused on retirement plans are typically more knowledgeable about legal compliance rules relating to retirement plans and understand participant behavior.  As a result, they do not simply assist you with the selection and monitoring of investments, they help you implement proper fiduciary processes and advise on plan design.  The fiduciary services generally include preparing an investment policy statement for the plan and providing periodic investment reviews.  Some of the plan design services may include recommending plan features that can help ease administrative burdens and costs, or helping plans correct operational errors.  They are also better equipped to help you navigate the world of participant notices and disclosures to make sure participants are well-informed and the plan is in compliance with the reporting and disclosure rules under ERISA.  Financial advisors focused on retirement plans also understand the importance of participant education and thus, are more likely to spend a great deal of time conducting individual and/or group education meetings with participants.  Because these financial advisors work mostly with retirement plans, they can advise not only on the reasonableness of investment fees, but also the reasonableness of fees charged by service providers.  Essentially, financial advisors focused on retirement plans are more likely to take a holistic approach as opposed to looking solely at the investments in the plan.

As a plan fiduciary, you should not just pick any investment advisor that makes a sales call to your office telling you about the low fees and great services they have to offer.  You should always do your due diligence, which includes learning more about the advisor and their understanding of retirement plans.  In the case of 403(b) plan sponsors, you want to make sure the advisor understands how 403(b) plans work.  While these plans are similar to 401(k) plans in many regards, the recordkeeping and investment options in these plans can be very different and unfamiliar to advisors that work primarily with 401(k) plans.  For example, an advisor who does not regularly work with 403(b) plans that have TIAA-CREF as a custodian may not be aware that the TIAA traditional annuity can only be distributed over a period of ten years, or that an employer cannot transfer an individual contract to another record keeper with a simple stroke of a pen.  These are just a few of the nuances of 403(b) plans.

Consequently, when selecting an investment advisor for your plan, you want to ask the right questions, such as, what percentage of your clients are retirement plans.  If you are a 403(b) plan sponsor, you would want to know how many 403(b) clients the advisor works with, and the record keepers with whom the advisor has a working relationship.  You should ask the advisor to provide the educational and professional background of the individuals working at the firm, as well as a history of the firm.  You should also ask the firm to provide 2 to 3 references.  Lastly, before committing to a firm, it is imperative that you understand the scope of services and the firm’s entire fee structure, such as any 12b-1 fees or other fees that the firm is charging in addition to the investment advisory fees.

Founded in the 1950s, Carroll Consultants, Ltd. has experienced professionals with a wealth of knowledge about retirement plans. If you have any questions about this article or our services, please contact Marcie Carroll, at, or (610) 225-1210.