Best-in-Retirement Business IMPACT Award™
A fiduciary-first platform from day one
It started with a clear understanding of what they’d never do. No fund restrictions, no pay to play, no conflicts, no hidden agendas. Before they founded PCS Retirement in 2001, Chief Executive Officer Mark Klein and his partners knew that they wanted to build a new sort of platform to support true fiduciary services.
“Prior to this technology, retirement plans were offered as product sales even though, as ERISA lawyers, we knew well that there is a fiduciary mandate,” Mr. Klein explains. “We thought it was an ideal moment to step in and assist independent financial advisors and RIAs to offer fiduciary services for the 401(k) and broader defined contribution retirement business.
“We saw that advisors who offered sophisticated managed accounts and advice to clients with IRAs and other individual accounts had to compromise and offer an off-the-shelf annuity or single fund family product to their plan sponsor clients. We are focused on assisting advisors in bridging the gap and delivering wealth management to retirement savers.”
PCS offers a high-touch, comprehensive retirement program in a cost-conscious, independent, and conflict-free package. It provides advisors with the ability to create a customized program and offers innovative tools and fiduciary support that make offering a retirement program scalable and simple.
“We think most fiduciaries are looking to offer an unbiased selection of funds, and we want to let those advisors know that we have no bias either,” says Klein. “We’re not culling the platform in any way. We can and will support every mutual fund and ETF offered by the custodian.”
PCS focuses on serving financial advisors interested in either extending their practices to this area or looking to offer a better solution in retirement. The firm uses its technology to extend advisors’ reach, enabling them to offer every plan participant the same caliber of advice they give to their high-net-worth clients.
Mr. Klein describes the PCS offering as “a pure solution” in the sense that no proprietary funds are required as part of the offering. Advisors can charge either the sponsor or the plan itself in accordance with their own pricing preference, and PCS focuses its fees on a per capita model. “Because the per capita fees don’t increase as the assets grow, it’s especially easy for small plans to start working and grow with us,” says Mr. Klein.
Providing the “easy button” for the retirement plan business
PCS believes in making the retirement plan business easier and more efficient for advisors and sponsors. Advisors come to PCS with a variety of service models. Some feel most comfortable performing participant-level interactions and service. Others prefer to focus on the plan sponsor level or on working with plans’ administrative or investment committees.
PCS works to make sure its offering is broad enough to support all advisors. The firm has integrated with a number of large wealth management platforms, including Envestnet and Orion, so that advisors can view data from plans in the same way they review the rest of their work. And PCS has built its own end-to-end suite of advisor support tools to give advisors a complete solution off the shelf.
“The Advisor Lab 401(k) ToolkitSM gives advisors the ability to prospect for plans and generate proposals—all with their brand story attached to it,” says Mr. Klein. “It also gives them annual benchmarking and reporting suitable for a fiduciary committee.”
Recently, PCS made the Advisor Lab even more robust. The latest update presents data to advisors in more actionable ways. It highlights which participants may need a rebalance or a reallocation and which may need encouragement to help them save more. More than simply feeding the data into third-party systems, the Lab presents the information in ways that compel clear next steps.
Making life simpler for smaller plans
In July, PCS went a step further to make life easier for advisors who serve smaller retirement plans by acquiring Aspire Financial Services. The Aspire acquisition supports a philosophy PCS dubs “no plan left behind.”
“The Aspire platform offers institutional-level pricing to teachers and firefighters and police so that they have the same advantages that folks who work for private firms and participate in 401(k)s have,” Mr. Klein explains.
The platform extends beyond pricing: The technology helps plans do everything necessary to meet their regulatory and administrative responsibilities as well.
“At the end of the day, we won’t let you fail to file a 5500,” Mr. Klein says. “It’s not enough that we just send it to you. We’re going to keep following up until it’s been signed and filed.”
PCS lightens the administrative burden through a proprietary technology called Paysnap. The product integrates with payroll providers to enable participants to take action without involving the plan sponsor. Participants can change their contribution rates, upload financial information, and more without needing sponsors to handle the paperwork.
Mr. Klein describes the value of Paysnap in human terms: “In the small plan market, the person who’s responsible for the 401(k) might be wearing 10 other hats. The plan is just one of many things that they are trying to deliver for employees. And so, if you’re sitting where we are, you’re trying to make it as easy as possible for that person.”
A culture of pitching in
PCS strives to be nimble in the market, serving advisors and plan sponsors through a culture of collaboration that might be more typical of a smaller firm. Its flat organizational structure facilitates a work environment that Mr. Klein describes as “a very roll-up-your-sleeves kind of place.”
With the recent acquisition of Aspire, the challenge is to keep this culture thriving in an organization that now has 300 employees. To do this, Mr. Klein and other leaders have worked with human resources to formalize the practices that have helped them find success for years. For example, PCS is reviewing each role in the company to lay out a path for career growth.
PCS employees are also getting vital face time with leadership. Through monthly events called Connect, firm executives in both Philadelphia and Tampa sit down with employees to answer questions and discuss issues as they come up.
Mr. Klein describes his experience at the most recent event. “The interesting thing was that every comment I heard centered on how we could offer better service to our clients,” he says. “That’s absolutely the culture here.”
Powering growth through more tools and more service
PCS continues to build on its long track record of success. The firm has been listed on the Inc. 5000 for 12 consecutive years. With product enhancements and the addition of the Aspire platform, PCS now services over 16,000 plans with assets in excess of $25 billion and is well positioned to keep growing.
“Technology should only enhance the programs and processes that we offer,” Mr. Klein says. “We’re turning good data into information. We’re constantly working to enhance outcomes for plan participants. So we’re well positioned for the future.”