Retirement plan consultants value trust, reliability and customer service when working with defined contribution records, according to an annual survey by Cogent Syndicated.
One of the most important factors in how retirement plan advisors valued a DC plan provider was a human representative to support them and a consistent and reliable service to themselves and their plan sponsors and participants, says Sonia Davis, senior product director at Escalent, the parent company by Cogent company.
“The company that actually sends a person to the meeting, who responds quickly, who is present — those are the things that stand out,” says Davis. “Consultants respond to very service-oriented and customer-oriented note takers.”
The annual Retirement Plan Advisor Trends study of more than 538 plan advisors gives DC plan providers and investment managers insight into how their outreach efforts end up with advisors throughout the year. That year, it also found that consultants were also responding to “strong wholesale support and strong data security/cyber risk management practices,” Davis says.
In terms of communication methods, email was the most common means of contacting DC consultants, followed by website visits and advertising. Other tariff providers have been successful in building brand awareness through external and internal interactions with wholesalers. In contrast, the survey showed that, according to Davis, few companies have been able to gain a foothold through methods such as live video conferencing, social media and mobile apps.
“It’s about the personal touch,” says Davis. “There’s a chance that companies will be singled out for not listening to customer needs…it’s really common sense, but it’s important to note that this is what really moves the needle.”
The survey’s brand awareness ranking often reiterates the strength of longtime industry players Fidelity Investments, American Funds and Vanguard, who once again occupied the top three spots in 2022. That year, however, Cogent capped its rapid rise in the rankings from Empower Retirement, a recordkeeper founded in 2014 and in recent years has been on an acquisition tear. Empower is now recognized by more than half of DC advisors managing $10 million or more in DC assets (55%), up from 44% in 2021 and 31% in 2020.
“In Empower’s case, as opposed to companies that benefit from a strong consumer marketing presence, much of our knowledge’s success has been due to a more concerted effort to connect directly with advisors through education, support and conferences, as it is specifically about retirement plans,” says Davis. “This more customized, personal approach can certainly require more investment, but seems to be paying off.”
American Funds achieved the best recall in its class for the most popular types of contact other than advertising, Davis says. Meanwhile, Fidelity maintained its lead in advertising, but Capital Group — which owns American Funds and is a sister brand — is gaining traction, according to the researcher. Vanguard, meanwhile, is making “remarkable strides” in website visits and print retrieval.
The Retirement Plan Advisor Trends survey was launched in 2015 with survey respondents who have at least $5 million in active business books and are actively managing DC plans. Escalent is based in Livonia, Michigan.