Retirement Specialist Advisers Give Plan Sponsors an Edge

February 24, 2014 ( - Working with a financial adviser entirely dedicated to retirement plans gives plan sponsors an edge over peers who do not do so.

A study from the industry advocacy group Retirement Advisor Council, “Partner with a Professional Retirement Plan Advisor and Achieve Higher Participant Retirement Readiness Scores,” compares retirement specialist advisers with two other broadly defined channels—benefits consultants and investment consultants—that are regularly engaged by retirement plans. Many findings in the report’s underlying survey suggest the advantage of working with a retirement specialist over other types of consultants, Steven LaValley, second vice president of retirement services at MassMutual Financial Group, tells PLANSPONSOR. LaValley’s firm, along with a number of others, cosponsored the research with the Retirement Advisor Council.

Perhaps the most telling statistic, LaValley says, is out of all employers reached for the survey who reported having an existing service arrangement with a retirement specialist, 60% say their adviser is doing an “excellent” job supporting plan operations, and 40% say their adviser is doing a “good” job. In other words, not one plan sponsor reached for the survey gave a retirement specialist adviser a “bad” or “fair” overall rating.

LaValley says a substantial achievement gap is apparent across every service area measured by the survey, showing retirement specialists are the best at what they do. “Clients of professional retirement plan advisers are much more likely to strongly agree that their plan is easy to administer, and that they can spend reasonable amounts of time and expense running the plan,” LaValley says. 


Grace Basile, an assistant director at Transamerica Retirement Solutions, another co-sponsor of the study, tells PLANSPONSOR retirement specialists are known for offering clever plan design features that can move retirement readiness metrics without necessarily requiring better investment performance or larger employer matching contributions. They’re also skilled in delivering the participant readiness reports and aggregate, plan-level data more and more sponsors are demanding.

It’s not just in terms of sponsor satisfaction that retirement specialists appear to be excelling over their peers. According to the survey, plans that work with a specialist adviser are more successful at increasing deferral rates of participants over time. Among plans that work with a retirement specialist, 83% have achieved deferral rate increases in the last two years—and one-third of those have enjoyed an average deferral rate increase of 6% or more. That compares with 65% of sponsors working with another type of adviser or consultant, and just 47% for those without any adviser relationship.

The survey shows advisers who work exclusively with retirement plans also surpass their counterparts in the percentage of clients receiving core compliance services, including assistance with the implementation and documentation of mandated fiduciary processes; the regular review of investment options; the development of plan design change recommendations; and the provision of support on service provider due diligence processes.

An executive summary of the Retirement Advisor Council survey is available here.