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ERISA Tips: Setting and Implementing a Service Model

Editor’s Note: ERISA Tips is provided with you in mind — to make the newsletter more useful to you! If you have any content for ERISA Tips or the 403(b) Advisor that you would like to contribute or suggest, please contact John Iekel, editor of the 403(b) Advisor, at

This tip is taken from Bill Fisher’s article “ERISA 403(b) Plans – Service Model for K-12 Advisors.” Fisher is a member of the NTSA Leadership Council, serves as Chair of the NTSA Professional Education Committee and is Director of Business Development for PenServ Plan Services, Inc.,

Moving into the ERISA 403(b) market requires a commitment of time and energy, and a willingness to become a subject matter expert; “the service model you develop is a key component in the success of this transition, and the subsequent acquisition and retention of plan sponsor clients,” writes Fisher. “By combining high touch service items for the sponsor with a K-12 style individual service model, you can deliver excellent service in the ERISA 403(b) market.”

At its core, Fisher reminds us, “your job is to help plan participants achieve a successful retirement outcome.” He recommends setting the expectations for the service model when the business relationship begins, and reminding the plan sponsor “that what makes you an excellent service provider is that you are committed to doing the work that you are being paid to do.”

Fisher suggests that the following steps can help in communicating your commitment, providing excellent service and facilitating good retirement outcomes.

Develop a formal schedule of meetings during the course of the year.

  • Schedule two formal service days at each sponsor location per year, as a minimum. Consistency is a key for the entire employee base.
  • Include a group session of no more than 45 minutes each to provide information valuable to all employees, including market and regulatory updates, current events that a relevant to the retirement plan, plan performance, and recent or upcoming plan events. Leave time for questions.
  • Follow each group meeting with time for individual meetings of 20 minutes each. This gives employees time to ask questions that they prefer not to ask in front of their peers, or the boss. With the consent and help of the sponsor, use a sign-up sheet to help organize these meetings.

Provide effective communications to the sponsor and plan participants.

  • Use an outline for yourself to help you stay on tome and on track with your group and personal discussions.
  • Provide your own materials, such as risk profiles or other handouts that you prefer. ALWAYS bring them along, or have access to all participant statement data while you are on site. Use your own technology, and log in to see the “advisor view” of account statements, at a minimum.
  • Ask the sponsor if there are any items that they want included in your discussions.

Respect the unique requirements of the sponsor, including time on site, disruption of workflow, and any employment policies that are related to your services.

  • If your time allotment is 45 minutes, then stop talking at 30 minutes, and answer questions.
  • Most employers can’t gather everyone in a meeting at the same time. Be creative on how to reach everyone. Offer to meet with each department; or management first and then staff; rotate between different office groups; but be flexible and take the lead from the sponsor on how best to organize your meetings. If you need to run multiple meetings, do it. If you need to meet with three shifts, do it.
  • Any individual’s benefits discussion must always be considered confidential.

Be open and honest about all services that you can provide. Keep in mind that:

  • Employers don’t like review meetings that turn into marketing sessions regarding non-plan products and services.
  • You can mention your credentials, expertise and financial planning knowledge as additional benefit to plan participants, if presented professionally, and with the consent of the employer.
  • At the outset of the relationship with the sponsor, ask if you can mention the other work you and your firm does, and make a commitment to keep non-plan related discussions off-the-clock and off-site, if needed.

Create a review process that allows the sponsor to get feedback from the participants, as well as present their own at periodic review meetings.

  • Develop and adhere to a review process with the plan sponsor and participants.
  • Create a process for a dialogue as part of your service to deal with small problems as they might arise.