2017 PLANADVISER Recordkeeper Services Guide

Recordkeepers’ consistent evolution

By Alison Cooke Mintzer See Archive >
2017 PLANADVISER Recordkeeper Services Guide
Art by Josh Cochran

Recordkeeping has always been a challenging business, as exemplified by the shrinking number of providers participating in the annual PLANSPONSOR Recordkeeping Survey and accompanying PLANADVISER Recordkeeping Services Guide. Brian O’Keefe, director of research and surveys at Strategic Insight, parent of PLANADVISER, says, “Recordkeeping is often described as a commodity, and that might be true for the administration of participant accounts, but the 55 providers responding to this year’s survey showcase a wide range of investment, technology and servicing options.”

That may be because advisers are asking more of their recordkeepers, says Robert Kieckhefer, managing partner of The Kieckhefer Group in Brookfield, Wisconsin. For example, his practice “is expanding every aspect of financial wellness as a website learning tool. Some providers are keeping up, and some are not. We are shifting [business] to the providers that are keeping up.”

However, change can be slow for this industry, which is responsible for more than $6 trillion in retirement savings. For example, in the past four years, only a handful of recordkeepers have introduced participant-focused mobile apps.

As the industry searches for new ways to solve old problems, recordkeepers are at the forefront. Tim Rouse, executive director of the SPARK Institute in Simsbury, Connecticut, sees a continued push for automatic plan features—such as those already widely available, including auto enrollment and auto escalation—and those that will require development, such as auto portability. By recordkeepers coordinating with each other, auto portability would allow account balances to follow participants from one job to the next. According to the Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI), in a perfect world of portability, $2 trillion of leakage would be kept in the retirement system with this feature in place.

Of the push to develop more automatic solutions, says Brian Grafff, CEO at the American Retierment Association, in Arlington, Virginia, “Much like the driverless car, the recordkeeping industry is moving towards the driverless 401(k). I think auto everything is a trend that will continue to develop throughout the industry, making it easier for both plan sponsors and participants to achieve their goals.”

Besides helping people accumulate savings, recordkeepers now need to work with Baby Boomer participants trying to plan how best to manage those savings. While plan sponsors are waiting on a safe harbor for lifetime income products from the Department of Labor (DOL), recordkeepers are already proving that they are willing to support the necessary capabilities to support them, Rouse says. For example, MetLife and Wells Fargo both have the apabilities to support lifetime income products in place, he says.

Kieckhefer firmly believes this is a trend that will continue out of participants’ necessity. “Establishing these income products is a priority,” he says. “For most plan participants, their 401(k) plan is their lowest cost way to invest and generate income in retirement, and we have to make it work.”

The Fiduciary Rule
The DOL’s fiduciary rule is another major concern among recordkeepers. When the industry providers that make up SPARK’s membership were surveyed concerning the lack of clarity about who is considered a fiduciary under the new rule, 14% of the firms said they will be one for the first time, 23% said they will remain one, and 30% said they plan to continue under a nonfiduciary status, Rouse says.

However, 34% indicated they are unsure how to approach the changes the requlation requires. “While about half of the members don’t plan to make major strategic business changes, the other half already decided to fundamentally change their business model, or are considering whether to do so,” Rouse says. “This level of change will likely take years to play out fully in the market.”

Graff hypothesizes that due diligence requirements under the fiduciary rule will cause broker/dealers (B/Ds) to reduce the number of recordkeeper partners they use. “That could potentially accelerate the consolidation already occurring in the industry,” he says. “If firms limit their recordkeeping options for smaller plans, for instance, that will drive consolidation and, obviously, from the recordkeeper’s standpoint, your position in the marketplace is going to be a concern.”


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The data summarized in the tables are from the 2017 PLANSPONSOR Recordkeeping Survey, which profiled 55 leading providers of defined contribution (DC) recordkeeping services. The 47 providers we present here work with financial advisers, in some capacity, in their sales to, and servicing of, DC clients. Data is a snapshot of select adviser-related information as of December 31, 2016.

Additional data on the complete list of providers that participated in the survey is available at To purchase an Excel spreadsheet with the full dataset of responses, please contact Michelle Judkins at