In the Spotlight

Making Retirement Plans Better

By Tom Foster

The German chemical company, BASF, once advertised its value as the ability to improve upon the products created by others.

“At BASF, we don’t make the cooler, we make it cooler. We don’t make the jeans, we make them bluer,” one of the company’s TV commercials famously stated. “At BASF, we don’t make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy better.”

The retirement plans marketplace has its own BASF that improves upon the work of others: Third Party Administrators or TPAs. Increasingly, financial advisors are partnering with local TPA firms to help sell, design, administer and support defined contribution retirement plans. Some believe it’s a marriage made in heaven.

Together, TPAs and financial advisors seemingly deliver a more comprehensive package of services to retirement plan sponsors. These services are becoming increasingly essential in an environment where the designs for retirement plans and the regulations that govern them are becoming ever more complex.

So just how can a TPA make a retirement plan better? TPAs can help guide plan sponsors on regulatory and administrative issues and consult on retirement plan designs, services, and features. Financial advisors may deliver such complementary services as objectively evaluating plan needs, providing information about investment choices, helping educate plan participants, assisting with plan design, and helping select the plan provider.

The relationship often starts with assistance from a TPA in analyzing the plan sponsor’s needs.  One of the most important aspects of a successful retirement plan is its design, which can be created to achieve any number of goals. The right retirement plan design may help employees prepare to retire on time, help the business owner save more, reward key employees, give a boost to older employees or achieve a combination of goals.

Understanding what options are available and how they work can be complex and, admittedly, more than a little esoteric. That’s where an assist from a TPA may be especially valuable.

A TPA may help advisors and plan sponsors view how a specific retirement plan design is intended to work, provide options and a cost-value analysis, and provide a hypothetical projection on performance. The insights and analysis may help advisors and their clients make the right choice based on goals, budget and regulatory requirements.

For instance, if the owner of a small business is deferring $18,000 (the maximum) to a salary deferral 401(k) plan but wants to significantly boost her retirement savings, a TPA might recommend adding a Cross-Tested design. This design may allow the client’s business to enhance contributions on her behalf, minimize contributions for non-owner employees, and allow for the maximum total contribution of $54,000 for her. In addition, if the business owner is age 50 or older, she can also contribute an additional $6,000, bringing the total amount of contributions by the owner and the business to $60,000.

But what happens after the plan is in place? Many small, and even medium-sized, employers lack a dedicated, in-house specialist to administer retirement plans. Working with a local TPA may fill the need to have a retirement expert on hand, adding value to your client relationship.

Then there is the ever-changing regulatory environment. As we’ve seen in the past year, government rules and regulations often shift like the sand on a wind-swept beach. What is an advisor to do when those sands create a new dune to climb or maneuver around?

An effective TPA may help an advisor stay up to speed on regulatory changes. More important, a TPA may help advisors understand the implications of new rules and regulations and, in turn, what they mean to sponsors and participants.

That’s critical as 84 percent of sponsors say they value advisors who are proactive, MassMutual’s 2015 Winning Combination study shows*. The study also reports that it’s far better if an advisor informs a client about a new regulations and what it means than if the client has to reach out to the advisor about something that has just been introduced.

Advisors who are newer to the retirement plans marketplace may also learn more about marketing from TPAs, who often partner for prospecting and finals presentations. Working with a local TPA potentially extends an advisor’s contact network for referrals and presents opportunities to jointly market services and host local seminars.

In the past year, MassMutual has seen the percentage of retirement plans in the small-business market that engage TPAs increase to 85 percent. TPA firms are becoming an important pillar of support, especially for smaller businesses that lack the specialized resources or expertise to successfully administer a retirement plan.

While a TPA firm won’t make or build a retirement plan, it has the potential to help make your retirement plan service and support better.

 

More from MassMutual

TPA View: Drop the Pitch and Listen

Success Means Solving Problems

 

 

Thomas Foster Jr. is national practice leader for retirement plans for Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. (MassMutual).

*2016 Winning Combination Study, What retirement plan sponsors value most from financial advisors, January 2016, https://www.massmutual.com/~/media/files/rs7153_brochure.pdf

This article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal, investment, and/or tax advice.  Please consult your own legal counsel and other experts regarding the specific application of the information set forth herein to your own plan and/or circumstances.

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