IMHO: Best for Success

September 6, 2011 ( – Today PLANSPONSOR opens nominations for our Retirement Plan Adviser of the Year awards.  


Each year we receive a number of inquiries from advisers and plan sponsors about the awards, and many of these fall into a category I tend to think of as “exploratory”—feelers as to what we are looking for.    

At its core, what we hope to acknowledge—and, thus, what we are looking for—hasn’t changed from when we first launched the award in 2005: advisers who make a difference by enhancing the nation’s retirement security, through their support of plan sponsor and plan participant information, support, and education.  Since its inception, we’ve focused on advisers who do so through quantifiable measures: increased participation, higher deferral rates, better plan and participant asset allocation, and delivering expanded service and/or better expense management.

A Different World

The world has, of course, undergone much change since we first launched those awards, and advisers now have an expanded array of tools at their disposal to make those results a reality—legislatively sanctioned automatic enrollment, contribution-acceleration designs, qualified default investment alternatives, and a broadly greater emphasis on transparency and disclosure of fees.  These steps have been good for our industry, great for participant retirement security and, IMHO, have served to raise the bar for our award at the same time. 

So, what will we be looking for this year?  Well, there are many attributes that can make for a good adviser, or an adviser that is good for a particular plan.  But when it comes to choosing an adviser or adviser team that stands apart from the rest, that not only sets an example, but a standard for the industry, I look for advisers that:

Have established measures and benchmarks for plan success.  Those benchmarks should include the measures noted above: participation, deferral rates, asset allocation.  If an adviser can’t tell me what those targets are and how your plan stands in relation to those targets, IMHO, they are using the “wrong” benchmarks.  I’m also interested in advisers who not only use those as a matter of course in running their business, but who develop them in partnership with their plan sponsor clients—and who regularly and routinely communicate those results.

Fully and freely disclose their compensation .  I’m frankly a lot less concerned with how advisers get paid than that their plan sponsor clients know what they are paying for those services.   

Work at staying current on trends, regulations, and product offerings .  The best advisers read, attend conferences and/or informational webcasts, have attained (and maintained) applicable designations, and commit to a regular course of continuing education during the course of the year.  This business is constantly changing; if your adviser is not constantly learning, you are being left behind.  

Encourage and inspire their clients . Client referrals have always been a key element in our award, and as the overall quantitative standards rise, the significance of the qualitative element afforded by client references (and award nominations) will almost certainly increase.   How often does your adviser talk with you?  How often do they visit?  How—and how often—do they communicate with you regarding regulatory and legislative changes?  Do you feel like they know what’s going on – or are you generally the one to break the news to your adviser?

Are willing to accept fiduciary status with the plans they serve .  This is an area our judges have debated vigorously over the years.  I’ll admit some great advisers have been blocked from accepting fiduciary status by forces they don’t control.  I’m not (yet) saying you have to be willing to accept fiduciary status in order to get my vote, but it’s a factor—and, IMHO, an increasingly important one.

That’s what I’m looking for—and looking forward to acknowledging—this year.  If your adviser – or adviser team – is worthy of that recognition, I hope you will take the time to nominate them today!

You can nominate an adviser for PLANSPONSOR’s Retirement Plan Adviser of the Year, or Retirement Plan Adviser Team of the Year at