Adviser Op-Ed: Addressing the Retirement Plan Provider Disconnect


Solutions that take a more holistic approach to addressing the disconnections that exist among recordkeepers, third-party administrators (TPAs), and other service providers operating within the retirement plan ecosystem can benefit both plan providers and plan participants alike. 

Julie Doran Stewart

As a retirement plan adviser who has previously worked in asset management, consulting and recordkeeping, I not only understand the interplay between these different relationships, but also the importance of effectively nurturing these partnerships. Collaboration is essential to maximize value for clients and set them on a path toward achieving their goals and objectives.

In today’s challenging operating environment, an adviser must not only provide sound advice for their client, but take on multiple roles, akin to the key roles on a football team. This includes serving as both the team quarterback and coach, as well as the offensive and defensive coordinators in many cases. Like a good coordinator, a retirement plan adviser has the ability to guide, choose the right play and move the ball down the field on behalf of plan sponsors and their employees. 

Like a good quarterback, we must effectively communicate plays and mitigate risk through frequent communication and information sharing, while maintaining a high-level view of the field. Adding to the challenge, not all providers share and communicate information alike. If we are not communicating effectively, things can—and do—fall through the cracks. A good adviser knows how to get the most from each “player” in the retirement plan ecosystem, through collaboration, advocacy and competitive insight.

From a coaching perspective, advisers must take time to engage, inform, and inspire plan sponsors with respect to their retirement program. Ensuring plan sponsors understand their role as fiduciaries—and the liabilities inherent in that role—is critical to achieving success at the plan level. The amount of time required to truly engage a plan sponsor can be significant, yet this as an important investment. When the end game is trying to put as many plan participants as possible in a position to successfully retire, the stakes are high.

Mitigating risk and ensuring prudent process and documentation in all things is a core function of being an adviser. These defensive measures are less glamourous, but perhaps more important than the impressive offensive moves that generally garner more attention. Leading initiatives that create buzz with the plan is critical to drive positive participant behaviors and results, but equally important are advocating for improved client service, ensuring audit support, and analyzing plan pricing. As they say, offense wins games, defense wins championships.   

Without exception, plan sponsors are confronted with a number of challenges with respect to navigating the retirement plan ecosystem in pursuit of providing a robust retirement program to employees. Advisers must be strong advocates for the clients they serve, focusing on all aspects of successful plan management, big and small. Leaning on the experience of a trusted adviser and knowing there is a deep bench of experts alongside them ultimately offers retirement plan sponsors the best shot at crossing the goal line.

About the author:

Julie Doran Stewart, senior vice president, Retirement Plan Advisory Services, leads Sentinel Pension Advisors’ investment advisory team and is an avid sports fan! Contact her at Julie.DoranStewart@sentinelgroup.com. Advisory Services are offered through Sentinel Pension Advisors Inc., an SEC registered investment adviser.

Editor’s note:

This feature is to provide general information only, does not constitute legal or tax advice, and cannot be used or substituted for legal or tax advice. Any opinions of the author do not necessarily reflect the stance of Institutional Shareholder Services or its affiliates.