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Thanks to Our Adviser ...

Byline: Alison Cooke Mintzer

Summary paragraph: The PLANASPONSOR Plan Sponsor of the Year awards program proves what an integral role advisers play in guiding the nation's most successful plans.

As I write this, we have just selected our 2017 PLANSPONSOR Retirement Plan Sponsors of the Year. Once again, it was incredibly difficult for the judges to pick finalists and winners, as so many of the sponsors that entered this year's awards program are doing a remarkable job in providing more secure financial outcomes for U.S. workers.

To be considered, a sponsor must first be recommended for the award. We receive nominations from across the industry-though most commonly they come from provider partners and retirement plan advisers. After a plan is nominated, the sponsor is asked to complete an online form, confirming a desire to be considered and supplying details about its plan's administration, participant statistics and data, as well as significant improvements it has made. A committee of PLANSPONSOR/PLANADVISER editors reviews the submissions and selects the finalists and winners from among the various categories.

One thing I've noticed is the difference in tone between nominations and entries. Many of the nominations talk about how remarkable the plan sponsors are. As I mentioned, being mostly from providers and advisers, the nominators are comparing these plan sponsors with their peers and recognizing how unusual some of the plan design elements might be or how rare the sponsoring company's generosity is, for example.

However, when plan sponsors are asked to complete an entry, they are much more demure in their writing. So demure and humble sometimes that it seems as if the nominator and the entrant are talking about two different plans!

I've wondered why this is so. Why would a provider or adviser go on and on about a plan when the plan sponsor just writes a couple of sentences or states a few bullet points?

In talking with the other judges and in discussing the plans with the nominators, what I have come to realize is: Plan sponsors often don't realize that what they are doing is unique or special. We are often struck by the generosity of the sponsor-in terms of crafting matches or nonelective contributions or both. We have also been impressed by the plan design elements that recognize the unique participant and employee demographics-such as ensuring mobile delivery for those without access to computers aside from their phones, or ensuring all employee languages are covered. This year, we also noticed attention to details that affect those who are no longer employees-such as the plans that are allowing participants to pay off loans even after they have left the company.

Trying to choose finalists and winners is difficult, not because it is hard to find plans that are doing great things, but the opposite-when plan providers and advisers have taken the time to single out their plan clients, you know these plans are special! I admit that I often wish we could recognize more than our usual percentage of total applicants (my team keeps me in check, though), and, due to the high quality of the entries, I encourage everyone who isn't selected as a finalist this year to consider re-entering again.

Each plan sponsor recognized has a story of success-and yet, many of these sponsors still consider their plan to be a work in progress. There is something else in these entries that advisers should all be proud of. In nearly every entry from a plan sponsor that works with a retirement plan adviser, the sponsor references the adviser, usually alluding to the value brought by his skilled advice and guidance. They say things such as "together with our adviser" and "thanks to our adviser" the plan design changes were made.

The skill set you bring is respected and appreciated by your clients. The plan sponsors that take part in our Plan Sponsor of the Year process see their advisers as true partners in helping participants achieve a more secure retirement. It's clear those plan sponsors that embrace their advisers as partners are more willing to try some new things-whether considering plan design options or embracing a new approach to participant engagement.

There are many plan sponsors that are passionate about improving participant retirement readiness but don't know where to start. Advisers, with their overall view of the industry and their ongoing work with different plan providers, are able to bring solutions and ideas that plan sponsors may not have considered. The opportunities for advisers are therefore endless-after all, plan sponsors are correct, the work is never done and improvements can always be made. You have the opportunity to encourage that improvement, and I hope you all do so.
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Date:Feb 1, 2017
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