The Yellow Brick Road to Financial Growth in Benefits Outsourcing

There are a variety of ways to grow HRO service provider income. Well-traveled roads include winning new clients or expanding services with existing clients. Another avenue is to cross-leverage consulting and outsourcing to build revenues for other service lines. Now, a new path has emerged and it looks like a yellow brick road to generating revenues: provide advisory services directly to defined contribution (DC) plan participants and not just to the plan sponsors.

According to The Financial Engines National 401(k) Evaluation report, approximately three out of four participants are not on track to comfortably retire by age 65 (i.e., they can’t replace 70% of their pre-retirement income with their 401(k) and social security). In addition, 34% do not have diversified portfolios and/or have inappropriate risk levels and 39% of participants do not contribute enough to even receive the full employer match. With DC plans replacing traditional pension plans for many employees, effective participation has taken on increased importance.

Participant DC service options were greatly expanded by the Department of Labor’s regulations, starting with the Pension Plan Act of 2006. Now, DC plans can offer automatic enrollment into qualified default investment alternatives, automatic saving escalations, and investment advisory services. Great, but the regulations are complex and are still being clarified and there are fiduciary responsibilities that must be addressed to provide a safe harbor to the plan sponsors and appropriate protections for the advisors. For BAO providers who have the expertise and fear not to tread on a road still under a bit of construction, this is a growth opportunity.

Amy Gurchensky, one of my NelsonHall HRO colleagues, just added tracking service coverage of Aon Hewitt’s new integrated advisory offering for its DC plan participants through its subsidiary, Aon Hewitt Financial Advisors. Aon Hewitt continues to expand its wealth management and retirement financial services for employers and participants. In 2010, before the merger with Aon Consulting, Hewitt had acquired the investment advisory firm EnnisKnupp.

Aon Hewitt selected Financial Engines to be the sub-advisor and provider of the advisory platform. As Amy notes in her analysis, Financial Engines also provides services for ACS, a Xerox Company, Fidelity, Mercer and others like ING and J.P. Morgan. It is important then that Aon Hewitt is wrapping the standard third party offering in with its own materials so it will be able to extend a new service bundle that creates differentiation.

The bulk of retirement investment consulting revenues will continue to come from services to the plan sponsors, but adding a new road to growth in ancillary services is valuable and this one looks particularly golden. Given the millions of participants with the major BAO players, participant investment services will be a valuable win-win for the employers, participants, and service providers.

Linda Merritt, Research Director, HRO, NelsonHall

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