2011 PS PAOY - James L. Worrell

2011 PLANSPONSOR Retirement Plan Adviser
of the Year


James L. Worrell 
GPS Investment Advisors, LLC, a Member Firm of 401(k) Advisors 

Illustration by Wesley Allsbrook  

James Worrell, Founder and President of GPS Investment Advisors, LLC, a Member Firm of 401(k) Advisors, in Providence, Rhode Island, was exposed to the retirement plan business early on; his father ran one of New England’s largest third-party administrator firms in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. However, Worrell was not planning on going that route, going to law school at night while working for a mutual fund company that also provided retirement plan recordkeeping. As he was getting ready to graduate, he was offered a wholesaling job in Atlanta and took it, putting law on the back burner.

However, in 2000, Worrell left wholesaling. "As a wholesaler, you are in for the close and then are gone," he says. "The consultative piece [of being an adviser] was attractive to me."

He moved back up north and joined a firm called Financial Architects Partners, which was an HNW life insurance firm. When Worrell arrived, the firm had just $12 million in pension assets under management, something Worrell saw as an opportunity for growth. However, after several years there, it seemed to him that members of the firm were going in a different direction, so, in 2007, he founded GPS Investment Advisors.

The firm’s name came from Worrell’s mission. "A compass tells you direction," Worrell says, "but a GPS takes you there." His philosophy, he says, is to provide advice and guidance to clients to allow them to carry out their responsibilities and manage their retirement assets effectively. Like the GPS in your car, he decided he wanted to give individuals direction—to help them plan, save, and invest wisely to get them financially ready for retirement. His practice has grown to include 45 plans and $400 million in assets under advisement.

Soon after he founded GPS, he began leveraging resources from what is now Retirement Plan Advisory Group, a private-label toolset from 401(k) Advisors. Worrell was using that system when he was approached by 401(k) Advisors about being a member firm. He is now a Managing Director of 401(k) Advisors.

In addition to Worrell, GPS has three members. Philip Dancause, Client Service Manager, helps to create and oversee each client’s individualized client service plan and assist clients with various needs. He is also involved in the firm’s investment research. Elisabeth Hickox, Marketing and Client Relations Manager, provides support to all areas of the GPS team and helps identify new marketing and client opportunities. Whitney Wheeler, Client Services Coordinator, supports the team on a day-to-day basis and assists with quarterly reports and investment reviews, preparing for client meetings, marketing, and client service.

From inception, Worrell wanted his firm to bring fee-for-service consulting to plans in the less-than-$10 million space and says he often is distinguished from other advisers in that space by his desire to get involved with plan design and document work. His consultative approach includes all aspects of the plan: plan design, fiduciary responsibility, benchmarking and evaluating fees and costs, monitoring investments, and providing employee education.

GPS already is providing its plan clients with annual fee disclosures and fee benchmarking, and Worrell says he is increasingly­ moving toward using the lowest-cost share class, even if it does not include revenue sharing. While that may necessitate­ charging an explicit fee in its place, Worrell believes they would want to know what they are paying for and that any possible downside of potential participant confusion from the display of that fee on statements is outweighed by the transparency­. Further, Worrell adds, "When participants know they are paying us for advice and guidance, they may be more likely to use our services when we are onsite for enrollment, one-on-one, or group meetings, or contact us directly—all of which helps them save and invest better for retirement."

In addition, as it relates to plan design, Worrell helps his plan sponsor clients analyze how company hiring, raises, and review practices affect a retirement plan’s success and ability to reach goals. "We encourage quicker plan eligibility and more frequent plan entry dates to capture new hires before they lose momentum on saving a portion of their pay," he says. "We encourage managers to raise the issue of deferral increase during salary and performance reviews and at the time raises and bonuses are given."

Worrell also works with managers and other company leaders in helping to promote participation in the plan and attendance at 401(k) meetings. "We have conducted ‘Train the Trainer’ meetings for clients to educate management-level personnel and company leaders in the features of the company retirement plan so that they can promote it from within," he explains.

A Passion for Participants

Worrell and his company offer both onsite group and one-on-one employee meetings to offer guidance directly to plan participants. He believes in making things as easy as possible for participants, working with vendors to create postcards or mailers that have a "tear-off" section where the employee can just fill in the blank or circle an action to join the plan, increase the deferral, or change the allocation. When onsite for meetings, Worrell says, he arranges to have phone or Web access available to accomplish the changes discussed with participants immediately. He leads participants through the process of making changes to their accounts, whether shadowing them while they call the plan provider’s phone number or visiting the Web site.

Worrell also has created what he calls "Action Sheets," promoting simple actions like joining the plan, increasing deferrals, or reallocating money, that let him capitalize on the momentum created with participants. "If a participant expresses intent," he says, "we can follow up later." Where the recordkeeper is able to provide gap analysis reports, Worrell will use them to show participants where they will be in retirement and motivate them to make changes to close those gaps.

Worrell also is not above incentivizing participants to attend meetings, using things such as raffle items, giveaways, and door prizes to boost attendance at 401(k) meetings and to incent action as a result of attending the meeting.

This year, GPS introduced its "Total Financial Fitness" program, rolling it out to all clients and their more than 6,000 retirement plan participants. The program is a monthly Webinar on the last Wednesday of each month for 45 minutes in the afternoon, addressing various financial topics, not just the 401(k), but college savings, wills and trusts, banking and credit, and insurance.

In order to measure his company’s efforts better as they pertain to plan-participant education, Worrell and his team developed "The Employee Meeting Report," which accomplishes two objectives: It documents for a client’s fiduciary file the employee education efforts, and it measures the results of the meetings. With it, Worrell can report, in a standardized way, how many people GPS met with, whether they were partic­ipants or eligible nonparticipants, what material was presented and by whom, how many subsequently joined the plan, how many increased their deferrals, and how many changed their allocations. The Employee Meeting Report measures results by capturing the number of meeting attendees and breaking it down by number of newly eligible, number of currently participating, number who changed their allocation, number who joined the plan, and the number who increased their deferrals.

"We want to see 100% of participants saving up to the match, 100% of participants diversified in a way appropriate to their age, and 100% participating," he says.

—Alison Cooke Mintzer 

Return to 2011 PLANSPONSOR Retirement Plan Adviser of the Year

Retirement Plan Adviser of the Year Judges

Nevin Adams
, Global Editor-in-Chief, PLANSPONSOR
Steff Chalk, CEO, Fiduciary Consulting Group
Alison Cooke Mintzer, Executive Editor, PLANADVISER
Steven Dimitriou, Mayflower Advisors, LLC, 2009 PLANSPONSOR Retirement Plan Adviser of the Year
Rick Wedge, Northgate Benefits, 2010 PLANSPONSOR Retirement Plan Adviser of the Year