cover story | PLANADVISER September/October 2017

Onboarding Clients

How to make the transition seamless

By John Manganaro | September/October 2017
Page 1 of 5
Art by Chris Buzelli

Newport Capital Group in Red Bank, New Jersey, winner of the 2016 PLANSPONSOR Plan Adviser Large Team of the Year designation, has many strategies in place to onboard and get to know new plan sponsor clients.

The advisory firm believes it is important to “thoroughly understand each plan sponsor’s goals for its company.” Immediately upon starting with a new client, the practice sits down with and asks its executives what issues are the most pressing—both for the company and for individual employees. As Newport Group puts it, having an “open dialogue during early onboarding sessions” is one of the keys to long-term retention. It may seem obvious, but having as many of the initial conversations in person as possible is crucial to establishing rapport.

“Only by assessing the real aims of our clients can we craft a coordinated retirement strategy that best serves to incent, attract, reward, retain and eventually retire its work force,” says Domenic DiPiero, the firm’s president. Through this open and in-person dialogue, the adviser may discover that a company is at risk of losing top talent to a competitor, or that its pension plan’s funding status is negatively affecting the company’s financial statements, or that the company has a disproportionate number of older employees who are unable to retire and are costing the company high health care benefit premiums.

Only once this information is in hand can Newport Capital put its service offerings to work, leveraging in-person service and electronic pathways, such as phone calls and emails, to assuage the finance department’s constant push to keep retirement benefit costs down while also meeting the human resources (HR) goal of attracting and retaining the best talent through generous benefits, DiPiero explains. Drawing on the early, in-person conversations about the goals and challenges of each employer, the advisory team can make its case for best-practice approaches, which may include automatic enrollment, re-enrollment and automatic escalation.

In line with Newport Capital’s emphasis on open communication at the onset of a client relationship, DiPiero says, the firm’s initial process is a “two-way interview” that creates a lasting line of communication with all committee members. The adviser team’s service model also includes “immediate and ongoing education that consistently engages committee members with topics such as current best practices, legislative updates and regulatory issues.”

Another main part of the onboarding service effort revolves around performing a “fiduciary forensic audit... [to]bring the plan into the high standard we require as a co-fiduciary,” DiPiero says. During this process, the Newport team works closely with the new client—in person and remotely—to uncover, rectify and document any existing plan-related issues that should be resolved early on. Completing this thorough analysis serves not only to protect the interests of the committee but also to set the foundation for a successful, lasting relationship.