Compliance with regulations is the top concern of professional service firms that sponsor retirement plans, according to research from Nationwide Financial Services, Inc.
The research also shows that 28 percent of firms with fewer than 50 employees do not feel that their fiduciary requirements are being met. And 28 percent of plan sponsors were unable to show a complete understanding of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974.
Based on the research, firms say that they need any financial advisor they hire to be an expert on regulatory and legislative issues. To help advisors stay up-to-date, Nationwide Financial created the ERISA and Regulatory Online Resource, an online resource for advisors.
“Professional service firms present a real growth opportunity for financial advisors,” said Anne Arvia, senior vice president of retirement plans for Nationwide Financial. “What this research shows is that financial advisors can clearly demonstrate their value to these firms by working to address their concerns about compliance.”
The study compares employee benefit packages and the retirement planning needs of small businesses to those of professional service firms. The study also looks at anticipated changes to employee benefits, how benefit decisions are made, and how professional service firms select and work with financial intermediaries.
While ensuring plans are in compliance with regulations was the most important service advisors can provide for all small businesses, other services were ranked differently based on firm size and tenure. For example, firms with fewer than 50 employees ranked “timely resolution of operational issues” as the second most important service they expect to be provided, while larger firms placed more value on the “selection and monitoring of investment options.”
Firms that have been in business for more than 50 years ranked “investment selection and monitoring” as the second most important service to support their plan, while businesses less than 10 years old cited “providing participant advice” as their second priority, behind keeping the plan in compliance.
Overall, 69 percent of professional services firms expect an annual or quarterly plan review, and 67 percent expect educational materials to be available for their participants.
In 2011, Nationwide Financial commissioned a third-party research firm to conduct a study titled “Employee Benefit Trends.” The study compared the employee benefit preferences of professional service firms with those of other firms. Over 500 firms participated in the survey. Qualified respondents were primary decision makers for employee benefits at their firms and served in management roles. Firms surveyed were for-profit businesses offering defined contribution plans and had 5 to 500 employees.
The survey was conducted to help Nationwide Financial gain insights about small businesses and professional service firms, and to develop tools for financial advisors to better support the unique needs of these businesses through its new Added Value program.
The Added Value program will provide financial advisors with information about key markets, along with guidance and tools to help financial advisors win and retain plan sponsor clients. Resources in the Added Value program include presentations on how to improve prospecting and retention efforts, and an educational overview of social media.
Also included in the Added Value materials are ways financial advisors can enhance their value proposition based on a professional service firm’s type, size and tenure.
“Financial advisors are looking for plan providers that can offer more than just a list of products. The Added Value program gives advisors an edge in helping address professional service firms’ needs and concerns,” said Arvia.
Arvia noted that the professional service firm’s research is just the first phase of its Added Value program.
“In the future, Nationwide will conduct similar studies so that we can continue to provide financial advisors with the tools they need to help grow and retain long-term client relationships,” said Arvia.
Nationwide, based in Columbus, Ohio, is one of the largest diversified insurance and financial services organizations in the U.S.