Three Things You Need to Know When Hiring a 401(k) Adviser

401-k-advisor-image“Remember upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all.” – Alexander the Great

As a Human Resources Professional, C-level executive, or team leader, you depend on those around you to give their best, as you give your best to them. At the start of this new year, maybe it is time to ask yourself if you are demanding that same level of quality from the professionals you hire outside your company walls. That highest level of professionalism is especially important when hiring an adviser to manage your company’s 401(k) plan. With increased scrutiny on fiduciary responsibility and the roles that each professional plays in the management of the plan, here are three things to consider when hiring or evaluating your 401(k) adviser.

  1. Is your adviser focused on 401(k)s?

“Jack of all trades, master of none” comes to mind when thinking of a financial adviser who does not focus on one specific area of expertise. While there is nothing to say that an adviser cannot be good at multiple financial disciplines, when it comes to managing 401(k) plans it is imperative that your adviser know enough to stay on top of changing regulations and best practices. Aside from the fiduciary focus, there is also renewed attention on target dates and how they are selected and monitored. Your adviser should understand these rules and be able to document how your plan is addressing them. Additionally, review your adviser’s qualifications and designations looking for industry designations that specifically address their fiduciary knowledge.

  1. Is your adviser on a team or a sole practitioner?

There is not a right or wrong answer to this question, rather something to consider as a best fit for your plan. I work on a team and cannot imagine trying to go it alone and properly manage all of the responsibilities to the plan, the plan committee, and the participants. On my team, I focus on the analytical, detailed, “left-brain” tasks and my partner focuses on educating the plan participants and keeping the message relatable. Additionally, we have found that when working with committees there are times when my style and personality work well with some committee members and times where his is a better fit.

  1. How is your adviser compensated?

This is especially important to know ahead of the April 1, 2017, start date of the new fiduciary rules. It will be more difficult for your adviser to be compensated if he or she is receiving commissions from the investments in the plan. A commission is a fixed amount paid out to an adviser from an investment that is included in the cost of the investment and does not have to be paid separately or approved by the plan sponsor. The other way an adviser is compensated is to charge a fee to the plan. This fee can be in the form of an asset based charge, usually represented as a percentage, or as a flat fee. Typically, the fee is fully disclosed, is not paid by the investments, and can either be paid by the plan sponsor or passed on to participant accounts.

If you are unsure of the answers to any of the questions above, please reach out to me at or 205.970.9088 and I’ll be happy to get you some answers!

A Quick Guide to Understanding Fiduciary Definitions

fiduciary-duty-imageAs it stands today, the Department of  Labor’s (DOL) Fiduciary Conflicts of Interest Rule is set to take effect on April 10, 2017. As with most new rules or regulations, there are a lot rumors and speculation surrounding how the rule will be applied and who will be impacted. If you are a plan sponsor of a qualified retirement plan, like a 401(k), then now is the time to educate yourself as to who is working with the plan and how his or her role will be impacted by this rule. Here are the definitions of some commonly used terms that are associated with the rule.

Glossary of Terms: DOL Fiduciary Rule

Best Interest Contract Exemption
This provision of the DOL rule requires an advisor to enter into a written agreement with a client before advising him or her and receiving commission-based compensation. The agreement should confirm the advisor will act in the client’s best interest and disclose any conflicts of interest that may exist.

This type of compensation pays a percentage of a product sold on each transaction. Trails are a form of recurring commission that pays a stated percentage annually for a sale made in the past.

Department of Labor (DOL)
The United States DOL oversees services and advice provided to retirement accounts, and it is one of the agencies responsible for enforcing ERISA. The DOL has proposed this revised fiduciary rule with the goal of expanding protection for clients’ retirement assets.

Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA)
ERISA regulates and protects retirement assets by establishing rules that plan fiduciaries must follow.

In fee-based accounts, advisors charge a management fee based on the amount of assets. The opposite form of compensation would be transaction based, such as commissions.

In qualified retirement plans, advisors charge a fee for services provided. The fee may be based on a percentage of plan assets or a flat fee.

ERISA defines “fiduciary” as anyone who exercises discretionary authority or control over a retirement plan’s assets or provides investment advice to a plan. Fiduciaries are held to a higher standard of accountability than are brokers, and they are required by law to act in the best interest of their clients. The DOL rule seeks to expand the definition of fiduciary to anyone providing advice on retirement plans.

A suitability standard requires advisors to reasonably believe their recommendation will meet a client’s needs, given the client’s financial situation and risk tolerance. This standard is not as strict as a fiduciary standard.

If you are feeling a bit overwhelmed or confused by what is involved, you are not alone and we are here to help. Please contact me at or 205.970.9088 to learn more.

You cannot spell HERO without HR

hr2.jpgIt is not often when I am really caught off guard by a remark, but recently while attending a panel style discussion lead by three Human Resource Managers that also serve as 401(k) Plan Sponsors, one of them made a comment that threw me for a loop. She said, “People don’t realize what a lonely job being a Human Resource Manager can be.” She went on to elaborate on the fact that few, if any, members of a company can really appreciate all that the HR professional has to do throughout the day. The rest of the panel members agreed and listed off a myriad of tasks from personnel manager to staffing firm to marriage counselor that most members of human resources serve as besides their official written job description. In an effort to bring others into your personal world or to at least garner a better appreciation for what you do, here are a few much easier said than done ideas for HR professionals.

  1. Find a sidekick– The HR workforce is full of superheroes; and superheroes never need for help, right? Wrong! We all know that Batman had Robin and Wonder Woman had Wonder Girl. Therefore, it is so important that you finds an individual either within the organization or outside to assist with the tasks that you are too busy to tackle to help you free up some time to continue saving the world (or at least your company). Look to your advisers and product providers for resources that they can provide to help you do your best work.
  2. Ask for help – One of the hallmarks of an awesome HR professional is the level of care and selfness that they often exhibit; often to the point that they do not want to appear overwhelmed for the fear that they might burden another employee. However, by not asking anyone for help, you may be creating unnecessary work and/or stress for yourself down the line. Asking for help can also be a great way to involve those valued individuals who report to you by allowing them some extra responsibility.
  3. Delegate more – Delegating is the hardest task for me personally, since I like many hard-working professionals, think my way is often the best way. Recently though I have come to the realization that done beats perfect every time and my way isn’t necessarily the only way. While it is extremely important that tasks get done to your standards, it is also important that items that you do not love to do or are too busy to complete get done as well. Figure out the items that you can let go to free up time to do what you do best.
  4. Say “No” – While you may not be able to say no to the employee standing at your door or your boss demanding an immediate response to an email, there are ways to say little no’s throughout the day. Thinking of saying no to things like checking Facebook every 15 minutes or sitting in on a weekly meeting that does not impact the way you do business as a way to free up time. Also, consider turning your email off for an hour a day as a way to focus on completing outstanding projects. If you are one of those HR superheroes who feels like they could use a sidekick, I would love to talk to you about ways to find advocates and to ask for assistance. As a HR professional, you do so much for your company; isn’t it time for someone to help you?


Jamie Kertis, AIF®, QKAjamie kertis headshot
Retirement Plan Specialist
Grinkmeyer Leonard Financial
1950 Stonegate Drive / Suite 275 /Birmingham, AL 35242
Office: 205.970.9088 / Toll-Free: 866.695.5162

Contact Jamie

Follow Jamie on LinkedIn

Follow Jamie’s Blog