Bright Ideas: Insights from PLANSPONSOR's Retirement Plan Adviser of the Year and Finalists

April 25, 2011 ( - Sister publication PLANADVISER recently introduced the winners and finalists for the 2011 PLANSPONSOR Retirement Plan Adviser of the Year and Adviser Team of the Year awards

In this “virtual” interview we asked them to share their insights on business-building ideas, practice management—and what they think advisers do wrong in the retirement plan marketplace. 

PA: What do you expect from your plan sponsor clients? 

James Worrell: We hope that our clients will share our passion for delivering a best-in-class plan. We encourage clients to rely on us for guidance and independence and to consult with us on any issues that arise, whether they are regarding plan design, legislative changes, fiduciary issues, participant communication, fees, investments, or vendor issues. We hope that they also will share our goal of creating a best practices retirement plan.

John Spach: To care. Then, when we sit down as a committee, we are all working toward a common goal. I expect them to do what they can to reach the employees regardless of past results.

Phillip Steele: We expect our clients to be actively engaged in the design and management process to the degree necessary to achieve optimal results. We also expect the sponsor to endorse our educational efforts and provide the needed access to plan participants to perform our private education.

Michael Kozemchak: Involvement in understanding plan needs and then making prudent decisions to improve plan health.

PA: What do you expect from your 401(k) plan providers? 

Todd Lacey: Responsiveness is the number one quality we look for in service providers. There is nothing more challenging than being held up trying to solve a client issue because the provider won’t get back to us. It seems like such a simple thing but you would be amazed how rare it can be. We also expect providers to understand our service model. Many of the things we do for clients have historically been provided by a vendor client relationship manager. This is changing. Quality advisers today position themselves as the quarterback of their client’s retirement plan. Our advisory services span every category of a plan including fiduciary governance, investment monitoring, plan design, operation, fees, vendor services, etc. We expect our provider partners to understand what we do and not step on our toes. We want them to have a strong relationship with us and our clients, but we do not want them to do our job for us.

Mark Ratay: First and foremost, we expect accuracy in their recordkeeping and great service. We also expect those providers we partner with to be innovative. It is essential that they always be thinking about the needs of the participant. For example, the providers that we partner with are those companies that have developed risk-based model portfolios, target-date funds that consider both risk as well as the participant’s expected retirement date,and retirement income vehicles.

Mike Kozemchak: Commitment to the client and to doing what it takes to meet the plan sponsor’s and plan participants’ needs.

John Spach: Products that do not replicate what we do and continued efforts to reach the participants.

The remainder of the interview can be found at