“Experience” means lots of things

I always talk about how plan sponsors need to work with experienced financial advisors, third party administration (TPA) firms, and ERISA attorneys on their plan needs.

Like with reasonable fees, I believe that the term “experienced” is vague. Experience doesn’t just mean years of service as a service provider. Years of experience is just one measure of retirement plan experience. Retirement plan experience could be number of plans that a provider is currently working on or even something as performing good practices in an industry where not many providers do that. So I was kind of taken back when a financial advisor I assumed that I said experience means years because this advisor (who has made a name for himself as being excellent) protested that he had 3 ½ years experience and his commitment to his clients in doing the right thing was better than what many with 35 years experience as a financial advisor who put their needs ahead of the client. I told him that he was preaching to the choir because I’ve been there and done that.

I worked at a law firm for 2 ½ years. You had some law firm partners who were excellent and then you had some that you knew that either fell through the cracks or more likely, were “juiced in” because a senior partner took their fancy. At one point, our firm had about 5 ERISA partners. All of these partners were from the multiemployer world (union Taft Hartley plans), which is a different creature from the single employer world. I bet none of these attorneys knew what revenue sharing was or how a single employer 401(k) plan because one of these partners was our 401(k) plan’s trustees and he never bothered to hire a financial advisor or review investments with the other two trustees or have participants in the plan get investment education that only increased the law firm’s fiduciary liability as a plan sponsor. So if you sponsor a 401(k) plan, would you hire one of these ERISA attorneys? At another firm, I once worked for one of the best ERISA attorneys in the country (in the multiemployer world) and didn’t know what revenue sharing was an why plan sponsors need to be concerned about administrative costs.

The same can be said of financial advisors. A financial advisor may have a billion dollars or management or have been in the business for 30+ years, but it’s irrelevant if they don’t have more than one retirement plan on their books. Even if they have a load of retirement plans on their books, it doesn’t mean anything if they don’t help their clients with an investment policy statement or giving education to participants in participant directed 401(k) plans.

Same with TPAs. Some can’t handle daily valued 401(k) plans, some can’t handle defined benefit plans, and some can’t handle any retirement plan outside of the box like new comparability form of allocation.

The point is that levels of experience may vary and it’s important to find the retirement plan provider with the right experience. It has to be the right fit for the plan based on the plan’s size and type. How do you that?  Nothing beats word of mouth and asking the potential retirement plan provider the right questions, especially if they have the experience to handle your type of plan.



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