Every third-party administrator has had an employer provide incorrect census information —a headache for all involved when trying to maintain a meaningful retirement plan.

The first step to combating such mistakes is to conduct an analysis to identify any information gaps, says Natalie Wyatt, vice president of business development at Innovest. Common gaps exist in a variety of categories, such as acquisitions, sales, change of ownership, date of hire and hours worked, Wyatt explained Monday during a workshop at the American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries’ annual conference at National Harbor, Md.

Good communication between a TPA and a plan sponsor starts with documenting the objective, Wyatt says. The same goes for advisers, who can help get the correct data to the TPA. A TPA also needs to be in contact with an employer’s HR department, payroll, lawyer and, most importantly, their accountant. “Your CPA is probably your tightest ally in this process,” she says.

Perhaps the biggest challenge, Wyatt says, is explaining to employers how to define compensation. People learn new material in a variety of ways — visually, verbally, physically — and a TPA should keep that in mind when communicating with a plan sponsor, she says. Using different forms of communication, such as webcasts and workshops, can help to accommodate those learning styles, Wyatt says.

Best practices

In the process, Wyatt warns against newsletters, which are ignored by most clients. “It’s effort, it’s time, it’s money,” she says. “Small snippets are much more readable.”

Wyatt suggests email blasts and postcards as alternatives, and recommends reaching out to employers year-round. “Your plan sponsor keeps being touched by you with information that is relevant,” she says. “Know your customer, know how to communicate, know what you’re going to say.”

Still, some employers need constant a constant reminder. “Sometimes you just have to be the thorn in the side,” Wyatt says.

Software can also help secure accurate census data, Wyatt says. This is a great time of year to shop for this product, she adds, as often software providers lower their prices in the fourth quarter in order to meet yearly quotas. For those who already have an online process, Wyatt says, make sure you know how to use the program to its full potential — too often the tools that are already being paid for aren’t being fully utilized. A three-hour consultation with your software provider can save time and headaches, she says. 

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