Advisers Responding to Plan Sponsor Demands

More advisers are offering services pertaining to financial wellness and HSAs.

Tom Woods, senior vice president of sales at Fidelity Investments, says he’s seen the role of advisers change significantly in the last few years.

Woods observes advisers moving away from focusing on evaluating funds for a plan’s lineup and mitigating fiduciary risk and expanding their scope by offering a broader set of services to keep up with plan sponsor demands. These include playing larger roles in plan designs, educating and advising participants, and working with other plan stakeholders in a more strategic manner.

He says services pertaining to financial wellness and health savings accounts (HSAs) are also appealing more to plan sponsors today.

“Plan sponsors are more and more inquisitive about these things and looking to advisers for guidance,” Woods says. “This presents tremendous opportunity to differentiate yourself from someone who may be only focused on lowering fees and selecting investments.”

Donn Hess, senior vice president, Lockton Retirement Services, observes a similar trend. While he notes there’s still a great demand for basic adviser services like mitigating fiduciary risk, especially in light of ongoing litigation in the space, he sees a growing demand for advice on programs around executive benefits and financial wellness.

“Financial wellness is such a huge topic and has so many moving pieces,” Hess explains. “I think a lot of clients are turning to their advisers for help in defining what their issues are and then narrowing the scope of the solutions and providers available.” But given the industry’s heightened scrutiny on fees, sponsors also want the price tag for these services to remain relatively low.

“As we have seen with defined contribution (DC) recordkeeping platforms, we’ve also seen fee reductions impact advisers, and their clients are expecting them to do more today than ever for the same or less amount of money, and that’s a real challenge,” Woods explains. He believes slashing fees alone won’t allow advisers to stand out, whether they’re independent or connected to large firms. “Advisers need to clearly define their value proposition,” Woods says. “Some make the mistake of just cutting fees and competing on price alone.”

Jamie Bentley, PIMCO’s senior vice president and national retirement sales manager, says advisers have also benefited from hosting local seminars offering plan sponsors continuing education credit, while providing insight on topics most pertinent to their plans. “This allows the adviser a forum to establish their credibility as a retirement plan expert and helps them to build a base a quality plan sponsor prospects,” he says.

Hess says Lockton has had success with recent summits and webinars about avoiding DC plan litigation, a topic that some of its university clients have reached out to the firm to learn more about.

“As the benefits industry becomes more sophisticated, clients are looking for advisers who are part of a network that can bring a more holistic solution,” Hess concludes. “So if I’m working with an adviser that knows people with expertise in health and welfare, that’s going to make the retirement advice more robust and they’re going to help you solve more problems.”