Charles Nelson, president of Retirement Services at Great-West Financial®, was given the 2014 PLANSPONSOR Lifetime Achievement award in recognition of his leadership growing the retirement plan group at Great-West Financial into a business leader. He spoke with Alison Cooke Mintzer, editor-in-chief of PLANSPONSOR, about how the platform has been developed and his plans to continue its success.
PS: During your tenure at Great-West Financial, the Retirement Services Group has grown significantly, becoming a top-tier recordkeeper by any number of measures. To what do you attribute most of that growth?
Nelson: I attribute most of our growth to three things: First and foremost, our growth has really been a team effort by a number of individuals. Many individuals at Great-West Financial have long tenure with our company. These long-term employees have worked very hard throughout their careers to build the business, and I am honored to have worked alongside them in growing our retirement business.
Second, we have an outstanding proprietary recordkeeping system, and while some of our competitors in the industry were focused on assets under management (AUM) growth throughout the ’90s, we were focused on the client experience and recordkeeping services. We wanted to make sure we had the fundamentals of recordkeeping down and were an efficient recordkeeper. We believe cost matters, and being an efficient recordkeeper is critical to our long-term success.
Finally, we wanted to be known for partnering with our clients to deliver innovative solutions. Much of our success over time is due to consistently delivering innovative solutions and partnering with advisers and clients to improve the retirement outcomes of participants in the plans we serve.
PS: Technology seems to have been a big driver of that. What would you say are the most notable technological developments?
Nelson: Technologically, our biggest advantage is our integrated recordkeeping system. We have plan and participant records integrated into one system. There are other recordkeeping systems in the market that have a trust- or a plan-level recordkeeping system separate from the participant-level recordkeeping system. These competitors may have other components as well. They have to reconcile all of these systems daily. Because we have an integrated system, our system is much more efficient from a reconciliation perspective. It enables us to make plan feature and benefit changes that we can cascade throughout our various plan types and sizes.
PS: Great-West Financial now serves plan sponsors across all plan types and sizes. What kind of plan sponsors are attracted to Great-West Financial?
Nelson: Our reputation and track record of scale and flexibility are core competencies. Next to that, I would say one of the things that we hear often from our plan sponsors is that they’re looking for a partner to help them prepare their employees for retirement. We have a great team of individuals who have successfully worked with plan sponsors to improve the retirement readiness of employees.
In addition, our integrated system lets us offer the same functionality to all clients. A micro employer with five participants in their 401(k) is on the exact same system and has the exact same functionality as a plan with $10 billion in assets. We don’t distinguish between a startup 401(k) plan and the very largest jumbo plans. The same functionality and capabilities are available to each of them.
Now, certainly a smaller employer may not need some of those features and functionality, but one of our key differentiators is our single, integrated system that services plans of all sizes and types.
PS: Where does Great-West Financial go from here?
Nelson: Well, we can always improve. We plan to remain focused on servicing our core markets, from the micro to the largest defined contribution (DC) plans, and we think we can continue to expand our presence in those market segments. You can look for us to continue to focus on growing organically, and then to complement that growth through some strategic acquisitions. These growth strategies will improve our overall market share in the segments we serve. I believe that being a provider that successfully services all segments of the DC market is a benefit to our clients, and the advisers and consultants who partner with us to improve retirement outcomes for plan participants.
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