As evidenced by the growing number of headlines and media debates, the evolving benefits and investment landscape is becoming an increasingly prominent and important part of the national conversation. Defined benefit plans have continued to give way to 401(k)s and other employee-driven retirement accounts, creating a rapidly growing population of professionals who are taking on more and more of an active role in making investment decisions that will influence the direction of their financial future. That trend is reinforced by numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor, suggesting that today nearly 500,000 participant-directed individual account plans, cover more than 70 million participants. All told, those plans encompass an estimated $3 trillion in assets.
For many firms, and particularly for benefits professionals on the front lines, this is a trend that is redefining the scope of their professional responsibilities and even changing the nature of their relationship with employees. Companies across the nation in a wide range of industries have grappled to come to terms with how best to serve their employees’ best interests in a way that makes logistical and financial sense. More and more, companies are discovering that one of the best ways to add value and adapt to these new realities is to contract with independent financial planning professionals: outside experts who are able to guide employees through the myriad strategic and financial decisions surrounding their wealth management, investment and retirement accounts. But what exactly is the nature of the value companies can provide by doing this–and how can they leverage that added value to benefit both employee and employer in these tumultuous economic times while recognizing sensitivities? Following are some points to consider:
Know What You Know and What You Don’t
When the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) was passed in 1974, one of the key provisions of the legislation was the mandatory disclosure of any and all fees related to employee-directed retirement and benefits plans. The intent was–and still is–to provide account-holders with accurate and timely information that enables them to make educated decisions about their investment strategy and sound account management decisions. While disclosure has become an important part of the job description, HR professionals typically do not have the specialized training and expertise required to take things a step further and provide important context and counsel. As a result, the experience and expertise of respected wealth management professionals is becoming an increasingly important arrow in the corporate quiver. By bringing in an outside expert–firms are more able to provide employees with the insight and information needed to make investment and financial planning suited to their personal circumstances.
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