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When it comes to Retirement Plan Services, clarity isn’t just a “nice-to-have.” Participants demand it. As a company leader, you’re expected to have it. And today’s laws require that you understand complexities like your fee structure, and determine if it’s reasonable.
At Annex Wealth Management, we know the volatile world of retirement plans is anything but clear. Keeping up with compliance; managing and understanding fees; seeking the simplest path to the best return; understanding the value – for both you and your employees – of smart investment decisions…it can all keep you from maintaining your vision.
Through honest, realistic advice and education, we seek to measurably enhance your participants’ behaviors.
We give you a genuine view of how competitive your fees are, and why. We’ll also help you understand often-overlooked costs, like the cost of a plan participant being unprepared for retirement.
After fifteen years in Retirement Plan Services, we know clarity involves understanding and communicating. We’ll help you understand your fee structure and know if your recordkeeping revenue is the same across all investment options – and if not, which ones pay more revenue and why. Then we’ll help you address and explain potential inequalities in fee structures to your plan participants.
Here To Help
The best part of working with us at Annex Wealth Management: we like this stuff. We really love helping people and companies move forward. You want clarity. We love delivering it.
We listen to our clients, working with them to determine which record keeper and record-keeping arrangement is best equipped to satisfy unique needs. As a fiduciary advisor, our investment management team delivers a documentable process to satisfy the requirements of your investment policy statement. We understand you’re looking for straightforward prices and communication – you’ll understand what you are paying and the services you’re receiving in exchange for that compensation.
A BLOG BY TOM PARKS
<img class="alignleft size-thumbnail wp-image-2922" src="https://annexwealth.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/americanflaggeneric2-150x150 lasix pills online.jpg” alt=”american+flag+generic2″ width=”150″ height=”150″ />With the presidential primaries in full swing I can’t help but notice the similarities between the politicians who are essentially engaged in a very public job interview and my advisor peers who endeavor to gain new clients.
The similarities might not be completely evident at first. Whenever someone asks me what I do for a living, I struggle to give a concise answer because there’s a lot that goes into working with plan sponsors and participants. I was recently asked this question and I jokingly retorted, “I’ve made a career out of telling people what they don’t want to hear.”
What’s that got to do with politics? Politics is important business because the laws and regulations crafted by our elected representatives have a tremendous cumulative effect on our lives. Unfortunately, we’re fed a constant diet of slogans and vagaries aimed at distracting us from the important issues that face our leaders.
And that’s just like what’s going on in the advisor marketplace. Plan sponsor laws are demanding, stringent, and adherence is absolutely critical for success – and too often, instead of talking facts, competition ends up centered on a constant diet of slogans and distractions.
Delving into weighty issues like liability and fiduciary responsibility on a “first date” with a prospective client isn’t necessarily the most glamorous courtship strategy but I honestly believe that it is critical for plan fiduciaries to firmly grasp their responsibilities.
We constantly remind our clients that they are fiduciaries and that offering a plan to their employees comes with an inexhaustible list of responsibilities. Qualified retirement plans are subject to a host of regulations. Not only do employers have the IRS and DOL on their heels, but they also have an entire industry of attorneys looking to win judgments against them for failing to act in the best interest of their employees.
Too often, advisors employ a sales pitch reminiscent of political season: light on substance and heavy on distractions. Big promises are made, all of which imply deliverables dependent exclusively on the systems and capabilities of the advisor.
As is the case in politics, employer-sponsored retirement plans require the involvement and dedication of all the interested parties. You cannot just hire an advisor (or politician) and walk away until the next annual plan review (or election). I don’t care how great an advisor is, if the plan sponsor is unwilling to engage the process in a meaningful way then the result will be less than satisfactory.
Granted, good advisors will limit the burden of their client’s involvement and spare plan sponsors the excruciating details. But if an advisor tells you that they’ll take over and handle all of your responsibilities for you, proceed with caution. While advisors can share some of your responsibilities with you, we can’t absolve you of your fiduciary duties.
If you’re considering a new advisor, ask good questions. If you don’t know what to ask, Google “What should I ask my 401(k) advisor?” or consult your peers. Talk to current clients of the advisor to see if they really deliver on the promises they are making.
People are sometimes surprised to hear that I majored in philosophy when I was in school and only got a minor in economics. How does one parlay a philosophy degree into a career dedicated to
retirement plans, you ask? It’s a long story and the honest answer is that it was total dumb luck. But let me put a more nuanced spin on it for you, and relate it to recent financial market instability.
One of my favorite philosophers was Heraclitus. This guy thought that it was pretty much impossible to be certain of anything. He based this theory on his observation that everything is in a constant state of change and as such, that of which you believe yourself to be certain has changed since you made your initial assessment and therefore, you can no longer be certain of that assessment. One of his most famous quotes is, “Nothing endures but change.”
So what in the world does this have to do with investment markets? If you don’t already have an inkling of where I’m going with this, then I’m guessing that you haven’t been paying a whole lot of attention to the stock market in 2016. Let’s just say that every day brings a new adventure!
Whenever I talk about the importance of asset allocation with our clients I remind them that we all pretty much react the same way when the stock market goes up: “Yay!” When the going gets rough, however, we have an innate tendency to question our strategy. It’s just the way many of us are wired. I’ve never met a person who likes to see his account balance go down regardless of how many years he has to go before retirement.
A common saying in the investment world is one we’ve all heard, “Buy low. Sell high.” Think about that for a second. It makes total sense. In fact, it is juvenile in its simplicity. So why doesn’t
<a href="https://annexwealth try this site.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/coaster.jpg”>everybody heed this patently obvious advice? For one thing, nobody knows when the market is at a peak or if it is in the depths of a trough. In my opinion, the more compelling reason this prescription often fails is that while it is an extremely simple concept to understand, it is an extraordinarily difficult one to execute.
Again, think about it for a second. “Buy low. Sell high.” Now think about it for a few more seconds. Ok. So, why does this frequently break down in practice?
Let’s take the “Buy low” side of the equation first. Most people would probably agree that “low” refers to an investment whose price has gone down. In other words, it has lost value. Well, who wants to buy something that is less valuable than it was before?
Now let’s look at the “Sell high” side of the equation. Suppose you bought a stock worth $10 a few years ago and it is now worth $50. Last time I checked, 50 is higher than 10. Why would you want to get rid something that just went up in value five-fold?
You’ve got to remember that investments aren’t like cars, cell phones, clothes or any number of other things that we spend money on every day. The value of an investment is in a constant state of change. Theoretically, the reason you’d sell something that went in up value from $10 to $50 is quite simple. Doing so would mean that you walk away with a $40 profit. Conversely, the reason you’d buy something that went from $50 down to $10 in price is there’s a real possibility that thing may go back up in price at some point in the future.
Enter: greed. “I know I already made $40 but what if it goes up more? I’ll miss out on that additional gain!” Another problem is fear. “I know this thing is selling at a big discount but what if it goes down even further? I’ll lose money.” Yeah, well…that’s why they’re called Risk Assets.
So what should you do? There’s no specific prescription but I always suggest trying to be honest with yourself about how you’ll react when the market goes down because that’s when many of us get ourselves into trouble. It’s certainly not a bad idea to align yourself with an advisory team that can ask the kind of questions that help you arrive at an informed decision.
So there you have it. That’s probably not the kind of sophistication you were expecting from a guy who spent four years of his life studying philosophy and economics. What can I say? I’m a cheesehead. We speak plainly in these parts. Besides, if unintelligible mumbo jumbo is your game, there’s no shortage of financial big shot wannabes who are more than willing to wow you with their very impressive (and equally dumbfounding) complicated jargon.
If you’re a qualified plan fiduciary you either recently dealt with the Pension Protection Act plan restatement or you’re in the queue to have it done very soon. Plan restatements are generally viewed as a big pain in the patootie by pretty much everyone involved in the process. Providers have to dedicate substantial time and resources assisting their clients with compliance and plan sponsors have to shell out a bunch of dough for something that they didn’t ask for in the first place go to the website.
As advisors we find ourselves playing the role of conscience, reminding clients that the provider really has no other choice than to charge for the extra work imposed upon them by the government, all while simultaneously reminding providers they ought to be understanding of the client’s displeasure in having to deal with the “unprovoked” inconvenience.
Restatement is not unlike emissions testing for your car – it may or may not be necessary, but it is mandatory, and often expensive.
Unlike emissions testing, there are some immediate values in restatement. Once you get over the imposition of the plan restatement, it’s worth taking the occasion to reconsider your
current plan design and see if there are any opportunities for enhancement. So here are a few items to consider implementing in your plan if it doesn’t already employ these provisions:
The Roth 401(k) was first introduced in 2006 and while there was initially a sunset provision, it was quickly eliminated. This is one of those, “Unless you can give me a really good reason not to offer it, offer it” kind of things. Why wouldn’t you give your participants the opportunity to diversify the tax status of their retirement savings?
Auto enroll is becoming a more-used feature among plans of all sizes and composition because countless studies have shown that it increases savings rates. *WARNING: The devil is in the details so you have to consider all of the factors associated with implementation. Nevertheless, we are creatures of habit and once something is in place we tend to leave it alone which makes auto enroll so potentially powerful. How do you think Uncle Sam has been getting away with the payroll tax all these years?
Eligibility/Enrollment Date Acceleration
Some clients have accelerated their eligibility and enrollment provisions in an effort to get their participants engaged in the saving process sooner. It’s important to consider turnover and other factors but if you can afford to give your people an opportunity to start saving sooner, you’re simultaneously giving them an opportunity to retire sooner. Plus, the younger crowd is looking more closely at benefits when choosing an employer and excessively restrictive eligibility provisions can be a strike against you.
In-Plan Roth Conversion
Financial planners like to have as many options available to them when dealing with their clients. (Well, the good ones do anyway!) Why not make this planning tool available to your workforce? If you cannot come up with a good answer to that question it’s worth considering.
By now you’re probably thinking, wait a minute, the title of this blog said, “Five things…” and I only see four. Look closer, my friend: Eligibility/Enrollment are technically two separate items. Gotcha!
Whether your list is four, five or fifty items long, the point is, you should have a list of possibilities for enhancing your plan. Regardless of whether actually you end up making any changes to your plan design, restatement is a great chance to take stock of how your plan is working and make sure that it’s structured in a way that helps you best accomplish the goals of your workforce.
There’s no shortage of pitfalls for qualified plan fiduciaries when it comes to ERISA compliance, but some regulations are more precarious than others. 404(c) is one of those perilous areas of ERISA because it has been around for so long that some people take it for granted.
While it’s arguably pretty easy to comply with some of the requirements in 404(c), (offer at least three core investment options, provide control over investment direction to participants, etc.), today’s dynamic workplace demands a more careful reconsideration of other requirements.
For instance, according to this DOL bulletin “The §404(c) regulations require, among other things, that a participant or beneficiary shall be provided or have the opportunity to obtain sufficient information to make informed decisions with regard to investment alternatives available under the plan.” (emphasis mine)
Whether you’re discussing insurance premiums, bonus structure or trying to explain the long-term compounding of investments in a retirement savings account, there’s no shortage of opportunity for misstep.
It’s hard enough to accurately convey these concepts when you’re communicating with an audience which speaks the same language. It can get downright uncomfortable when you have the responsibility of helping people who cannot speak English.
Spanish is the second most spoken language in our workforce and the numbers are growing each year. When you’re looking to engage in a more meaningful conversation with a workforce that struggles with the English language, finding the right partner can seem like an insurmountable task.
Trouble is, you’ll likely need more than software to meet simple goals. Most need adequate human resources to accomplish simple bilingual communications – relying on technology alone will likely not get the job done.
Most benefits providers offer bilingual call centers and presenters but local advisors who have both technical expertise and the ability to communicate complex concepts effectively are hard to find. Do your research. Interview suitors. Better yet, have your employees interview potential advisors to make sure that there is a connection. Every step that plan fiduciaries can take to demonstrate a good-faith effort to help their participants make informed decisions is a step worth taking.
Financial Wellness is one of those buzzwords that gets tossed around a lot these days, and sometimes that’s not a good thing. People start to think it’s an imaginary term without any significant consequences, kind of like “Sweetest Day” being a real holiday.
Believe me, there are some real consequences to not being financially well. And it appears there is a growing number of people who are falling into some level of financial illness. This study indicates that 55% of American workers don’t have a retirement plan. That’s about 55% too many.
The consequences can be severe, and extend far beyond a smaller retirement check. This study indicates that financial stress can have an negative impact on worker productivity, and here’s a study that shows the negatives that come with employees delaying retirement – costs like increased cost for worker’s compensation claims to significantly higher medical payments that accompany an aging workforce.
I’ve worked for years with employers, and I’ve found the overwhelming majority of them genuinely care about the welfare of their workforce and really like providing competitive benefits and a great place to work. But as a business owner, they quickly discover that people – their employees – is one of the most challenging places to keep up with demands and manage costs
The best part of working as a retirement plan advisor is that we get to help employers craft and execute a benefit that offers the much coveted “win-win” scenario. Not only are employees better served by financial preparedness but their employers gain from a more productive workforce.
It can be daunting, but we can help. If you’re an employer looking to enhance employee wellness and your mental wellness by focusing on the retirement plan benefit for your company, give me a call and let us see how we can help.
Each September, the entire nation eagerly awaits its merriest of holidays – 401(k) Day!
It’s possible I overstated that enthusiasm. But 401(k) day is a real thing – brought to you by the Plan Sponsor Council of America, who has designated the Friday following Labor Day as the big day.
Some of you might not think 401(k) needs a whole day. I’m sure some of you might wonder if a 401(k) moment of silence would do. But 2015 has actually been another busy year when it comes to all the changes and news surrounding 401(k) plans. You’re going to need more than a day to take it all in.
Tug o’ War – And Plan Sponsors Are The Rope
On one end, you’ve got the latest proposed fiduciary rules ; on the other, the increased focus on Financial Wellness. Plan sponsors are being pulled in seemingly two directions. On one hand,
sponsors feel the need to engage fiduciary advisers to protect sponsors from all of the regulatory pitfalls associated with sponsoring a plan. On the other hand, sponsor are being compelled to engage advisers who can provide adequate resources to their participants.
Here are a few observations on how sponsors are handling their tug o’ war:
Beware Salesmen Selling Magic Bullets
Pulling sponsors in one direction: it’s becoming more and more clear through 2015 that plan sponsors need to make sure the investment lineup is structured such that it does not compensate anyone in a manner that could be construed as inappropriate. Some are accomplishing this by assembling a zero rev-share lineup; others are ensuring that all internal mutual fund revenue sharing is rebated back at the participant level.
We’re seeing there are several options available to plan sponsors depending on the size and scale of their plan, and we recommend that which route you choose should be determined on a case by case basis. Beware the one-size-fits-all magic bullet proposed by some advisers. Your plan is unique and should be treated as such. Hiring an adviser who can act in a 3(21) or 3(38) fiduciary capacity is certainly a good place to start.
In Your Spare Time…With Your Extra Money…
Another trend we’ve noticed involves a 3(16) fiduciary adviser. When it comes to proper administration, plan sponsors can consider engaging a 3(16) fiduciary but the cost associated with those services is often beyond the reach of smaller plans and conducting proper due diligence on the entity providing the service is challenging due to the relatively recent entrance into the market of such firms. Hiring an adviser who is dedicated exclusively to the qualified plan market usually affords plan sponsors the resource they need to receive adequate guidance on best practices and selection of providers who will assist the plan sponsor with the execution of their duties.
Breaking News: This Isn’t All Paperwork, Ratios And Regulations
On the other side of the rope, there’s the participant engagement aspect of the plan. In the 15 years I’ve been working in the qualified plan market I’ve come across more than my fair share of slick advisers who can speak authoritatively about the Beta, Sharpe Ratio and all that other plan investment stuff. In those same 15 years I have come across far fewer plan participants who actually care to listen to those impressive dissertations. If you’d like to hear mine, give me a call.
It’s more likely you’ll be calling me for something simpler. Most people just want someone who can identify with the fact that they have lots of competing financial responsibilities and then help them sort it all out. Everyone knows that they need to save a bunch of money for retirement, college for the kids, unexpected emergencies and so on.
They’re just tired of “dudes in suits” yelling at them for not doing enough to save. They want to to do the right thing, but experience a sense of hopelessness at accomplishing any of their goals (much less all of them) given their income and expenses.
<a href="http://www look at more info.planadviser.com/Plan-Participants-Prefer-Solo-Advice-to-Group-Sessions/” target=”_blank”>According to a survey conducted by PlanVision, 88% of plan participants want one-on-one training for retirement. In order for participants to engage someone on the topic of financial wellness they first have to believe that the person has a clue about their situation and cares enough to help.
I was once told that God gave us two ears and only one mouth for a reason. Does your current advisor listen to your participants or do they primarily focus on your plan sponsor needs in an effort to make sure that the decision makers who butter their bread stay happy? Find an advisory team that will listen to your people. They really do want the help.
Advisory Services offered through Annex Wealth Management®, LLC.
Securities offered through H. Beck, Inc Member FINRA & SIPC.
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