Most 401(k) plan sponsors work with an investment adviser to help them manage their 401(k) plans. Many are unaware that it is reasonable to expect their investment adviser to help with various vendor management duties.

Also see: 7 services to expect from your 401(k) investment adviser

Leading edge investment advisers are familiar with the marketplace for trust, custody, employee education and recordkeeping services. As a result, plan sponsors should expect help from their investment adviser with:

  • Cost management. Your investment adviser should be able to access tools allowing him/her to benchmark your 401(k) plan (at no cost) to the marketplace in terms of trust, custody, recordkeeping, employee education and communication and plan design consulting costs. As a reminder, the Department of Labor would like to see you perform this sort of analysis at least every three years.
  • Services. The retirement plan marketplace is extremely dynamic. Providers change their offerings frequently in attempts to capture greater market share or are acquired/sold. Your investment adviser should be able to share with you the updated menu of services you can expect from each of the providers that work with your plan.
  • Vendor searches. Should one of your vendors come up short in terms of services, or prove to be too costly, your investment adviser should be able to manage a provider search for you (at no cost). You should expect to see a list of alternative providers that work with plans your size along with a list of services and their related costs.
  • Plan design. Those investment advisers that are thought leaders keep abreast of the latest plan design trends. Your investment adviser should share thoughts with you each year on how the marketplace is evolving from a plan design perspective, with suggestions on those changes that would be most appropriate for your plan.
  • Reputation and fit. An active adviser will be aware of the reputation of the many service providers you have to choose from and should be able to easily match the appropriate provider to your unique culture.


  • Problem resolution. In the event that you end up disagreeing with one of your 401(k) plan providers, it is reasonable to expect your investment adviser to intercede on your behalf and develop a solution.


Also see: 5 reasons to benchmark your 401(k) plan this year

Your 401(k) plan investment adviser should function as the lead adviser for your 401(k) plan provider team and be a member of the small group of trusted advisers you consult when you have a financial or human resources issue. If that is not the case, you may want to consider looking for a new adviser.

Robert C. Lawton, AIF, CRPS is President of Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC, an RIA firm helping retirement plan sponsors with their investment, fiduciary, employee education and compliance responsibilities. He may be contacted at or 414.828.4015.


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