PSNC 2021: What to Expect From Provider Relationships

Industry experts discussed how to work with providers to ensure success for your plan.

The first day of the 2021 virtual PLANSPONSOR National Conference (PSNC) featured experts who reviewed recordkeeper relationships with plan sponsors, plan advisers and third-party administrators (TPAs) and discussed how providers contribute to the overall success of the plan.

Starting off the panel, Rachelle Moody, total rewards manager of Fugro Holdings Inc. and a finalist for the 2021 PLANSPONSOR Plan Sponsor of the Year awards, discussed her experience collaborating with recordkeepers and advisers.

“I prefer to work with both as a true partnership,” she said. “I lean on their ability and bounce ideas off of them and look to them to provide expert knowledge where I may not be looking.”

She said she thinks the most valuable thing a recordkeeper can offer is a combination of products and service knowledge, along with interpersonal skills. “I want to be able to have a conversation just back and forth, and, while I don’t get too involved in asking about families, I want to create that relationship with them,” she explained.

Other important qualities include being reliable, trustworthy, education-oriented and proactive. Understanding the Fugro product and services is key, because when a provider knows its client, it will also recognize its workers and the specific situations that could benefit them, Moody said.

“Not only do you know what type of business we are, but the employees that we hire,” she said. “When you know that, it gives you a better focus on what these employees do and what makes sense for them and their families.”

Stephen Popper, managing director at SageView Advisory Group, said valued recordkeepers will exhaust ideas and options with plan sponsors and other providers. Communicating effectively is another appreciated trait, including knowing if or when a particular staff member is out of the office or unavailable. “You would be surprised at how many recordkeepers don’t let us know when they’ll be out,” Popper said.

It’s also important for recordkeepers to match the right staff member with a client, added Jason Chepenik, senior vice president of retirement and wealth at OneDigital.

“It does not matter how many assets you have—you have to match up with the right person or immediately you will figure out that it doesn’t work,” he said. “That can impact the relationship.”

Chepenik said it’s important to take the time to find a provider that will fit with a plan sponsor, rather than rushing to hire one. 

Popper touched on the importance of owning up to mistakes, especially if there is an upset participant or employee. For example, in the case of a miscommunication, vendors are expected to be upfront about an error and work with the plan sponsor, adviser and any third-party group to avoid another occurrence, Popper said.

“What I value is when a leadership team can recognize that it made a mistake and is owning it,” he said. “I want to look at a vendor partner who owns that and tries to work through the mess to resolve it.”

Chepenik said he values vendors who go through multiple solution scenarios rather than just one. “My favorite ones are ones that brainstorm and work together to find four or five different solutions,” he added.

As a benefits manager, Moody warned that while mistakes are not a dealbreaker when it comes to working with a recordkeeper, it’s best to keep them to a minimum. “If it’s a recurring issue, that’s not going to be good. I haven’t had the experience where I’ve had the same mistake repeated over and over again, but if there comes a new mistake, those should be far and few between,” she said.

The panel discussed other hot topics and trends in the industry, including consolidation. If a recordkeeper has been acquired or is in the process of being acquired, Moody underscored the importance of speaking with the vendor and asking questions about how the merger could potentially impact the plan. She urged employers to ask: Why is there a need for consolidation? Does the acquiring firm offer a participant website? How will the new investment options be chosen? How will the new recordkeeper partner with our adviser? Does it generate revenue on its investment offerings? What does it do to prevent data breaches in cyberattacks?

The experts also touched on cybersecurity and the risk of cyberattacks , especially as most workforces switched to remote work environments in 2020 and with more litigation turning up on cybersecurity.

Similarly to the topic of consolidation, experts recommended that plan sponsors should ask questions.

“It’s up to us to know what’s happening,” said Chepenik. “It can no longer be ‘I’m assuming my vendor is doing this.’ You have to document that it’s happening.”