Most plan advisors with whom I talk for this column express a clear preference for the investment management side of the business. Participant education is another preferred area, especially among advisors with a financial planning background. But it’s extremely rare for an advisor to tell me that while she doesn’t mind designing and monitoring a plan’s investment lineup, what he really likes is getting deep into the weeds of plan administration, recordkeeping and required regulatory filings. Typically, advisors who prefer those areas tend to work as recordkeepers and third-party administrators.
Admittedly, that attitude is at least partially a result of the advisory firm’s size. Larger advisory groups often have more specialized in-house resources that their smaller peers lack. That’s especially true for wealth managers who may handle only a small number of plans for their wealth management clients. Their plan advisory business is an ancillary service and plan administration can be a distraction and burden.
A growing number of technology offerings promise to simplify life for advisors by allowing them to outsource the administrative and compliance tasks associated with providing plans. These services are a good potential fit in several cases. Stephen Daigle, CEO of BidMoni, Inc., identifies two target markets for his firm’s Fiduciary Shield product. The first is non-specialist advisors, for whom Fiduciary Shield serves as a “turnkey solution” that allows “firms to streamline new plan sales while automating back office and compliance for larger broker-dealers.” The second market is “specialist advisors in the start-up plans to $3 million space,” Daigle says.
In late September, Dynamic Advisor Solutions (dba Dynamic Wealth Advisors), launched the Complete 401(k) service, which it describes as “an end-to-end retirement solution for retirement plan advisors burdened with the day-to-day responsibilities of managing plan business.” Jim Cannon, the firm’s founder and CEO, says that the service’s target market is wealth advisors, either registered investment advisors or independent advisory representatives, “with $25 million to groups of advisors with $250 million-plus of AUM, seeking scalability and a team of professionals to help with investment management, retirement plan administration, compliance, technology and related services.” These professionals have “transitioned from advisor (helping clients, managing investments, developing financial plans) to business owner (payroll, overhead, IT, HR, cybersecurity, etc.),” Cannon adds.
What’s In the Box?
Daigle says Fiduciary Shield “combines prospecting, RFP (request for proposal), plan onboarding and automated benchmarking under one digital solution.” The software brings multiple roles together, he says, including custodian, recordkeeper, TPA and service advisors. BidMoni can act as a 3(16) to be an independent third party to supervise service providers hired to perform administrative functions of a plan, Daigle explains. “We have also partnered with third party 3(38)’s for advisors that do not wish to act in this capacity, or we allow specialist advisors to build their own 3(38) lineups,” he adds. Fees for providing fiduciary services range from five to 15 basis points.
Dynamic Advisor Solutions also offers a wide range of services with its Complete 401(k), including retirement plan design, proposal generation, investment due diligence, fiduciary compliance and plan benchmarking, says Cannon. Depending on the services used, pricing generally ranges from 10 to 30 basis points. “Dynamic delivers a comprehensive administrative process that’s designed to meet industry requirements,” he says. “Our institutional investment management process uses multiple levels of 3(38) fiduciaries, including leveraging Retirement Plan Advisory Group (RPAG). Our fiduciary centric approach is designed to help plan sponsors delegate or partner with us to fulfill their ERISA obligations.”
Other tech companies also are targeting the advisor market. The Guideline for Advisors website says the company “provides a turnkey, seamless 401(k). We handle plan administration, employee onboarding, government filings, and more, to make your job easy—and help your clients offer a great 401(k).” According to the Betterment for Business website, “Betterment acts as both 3(16) administrative and 3(38) investment fiduciary, significantly reducing employer obligations and freeing you up to provide plan oversight.”
Some advisors might wish to minimize their involvement with a plan after outsourcing the plan’s operational details while others will want to retain a more active role. Daigle says advisors pick their roles and BidMoni fills in the gaps. “Most advisors want to be the relationship manager, provide education and act as a 3(38),” he says. “Most are looking to outsource the busy work as it causes issues with scaling their practice if they spend time managing current plans from an administrative level.”
Cannon also emphasizes flexibility. “Advisors help to deliver the proposals, confirm needs and communicate with plan sponsors about the implementation, participant questions and education,” he says. “Using Dynamic’s team, they are able to focus time on the owners’ situations, as well as ensure the plan sponsors’ questions and follow-up are handled.”
Adopting a technology-based solution like those described here can help non-specialist advisors maintain focus on their core business. Timothy McNeely, CEO of LifeStone Family Office, says using the Complete 401(k) service allows him to outsource the technical side of plan compliance to an administrative fiduciary so he can focus on what’s important to the client. “Now, instead of taking up a client’s time talking about ERISA bond requirements, I am able to do even better discovery and have conversations around what employees are most meaningful to the business, what keeps the owner up at night and their most important goals. In short, Complete 401(k) allows me to get back to my role of being an advisor,” he says.