PSNC 2016: Dealing with Problematic Participants

Two retirement industry experts discussed how to respond to outspoken retirement plan participants.

An attendee poll before a discussion about dealing with problematic participants at the 2016 PLANSPONSOR National Conference revealed that 50% of attendees believe the thing that most creates participant backlash is a plan provider change.

When making plan provider, design or investment changes, Joe Trybula, an accredited investment fiduciary at Diversified Financial Advisors, LLC, said it’s all about communicating well to participants about the changes. He added that the tone of the communication will depend on the employee demographics of the company.

When an attendee asked how to communicate about a change without having participants ask what was wrong with the previous option, Dan Peluse, director of Retirement Plan Services at Winstrust Wealth Management, said plan sponsors should respond with a statement such as, “Over the course of monitoring the plan/investments, we discovered a lower-cost/higher service offering solution.”

Problematic participants not only include those backlashing against changes, but those who may think they know best or who read or watch something that causes them to question their employer’s retirement plan. Trybula said plan sponsors should always be there and always answer these participants’ questions, and this will build trust between the employee and plan sponsor.

In addition, explaining things to these participants can benefit the company since they will likely convey the information to other participants.

One attendee said she constantly had participants who would come to her asking why specific funds were not included in the retirement plan fund menu. Peluse responded that participants do not understand the complicated process of selecting appropriate funds for the plan, and these participants should be told that the plan committee must look at demographics of the entire participant population to select appropriate funds.

Another attendee said one person who called to complain about the plan, put his spouse on the phone, who was also complaining. This points out that it’s not just participants that can be problematic. Trybula suggested plan sponsors can invite spouses to education meetings.

Peluse suggested plan sponsors document all these conversation they have with problematic participants.

And Trybula concluded, “No matter the amount of education, there will probably always be problematic participants.”