The Value Alliance Brings: A Retirement Plan Advisor’s Perspective

PatSmarjesse
Patrick J. Smarjesse, CEBS

Vice President, David Vaughan Investments
Offices in Peoria, IL and Winter Park, FL

At-a-Glance:

  • Relationship Manager for 130 advisory clients
  • More than 20 401(k), profit sharing and cash balance retirement plans partnered with Alliance
  • Over 30 years industry experience

Pat Smarjesse, CEBS, is a Financial Advisor and Managing Director of DVI Consulting Group, a division of David Vaughan Investments that assists sponsors of retirement plans with investment and fiduciary management issues.

When it comes to helping a client design and manage a successful retirement plan, he’s a true expert. We asked him about his industry perspective and experience working with Alliance.

 

Pat, tell us about your role at David Vaughan Investments.

"One of the responsibilities I have is acting as the relationship manager for about 130 clients. I also run our consulting division, which really services the needs of participant directed retirement plan sponsors. It's in that capacity that I've worked with Alliance Pension Consultants."

"There are very few firms in our marketplace like Alliance."

Where does Alliance bring value?

"Well, if it was entirely up to me, or our firm, Alliance would do the record keeping for all of the clients that we consult on. Sometimes plan sponsors have relationships in place that mandate the use of other service providers. The thing that I think Jeff Feld, Theresa Piotrowski and Alliance leadership have been especially sensitive to over the years is understanding the needs not only of the end client, but understanding the needs of the advisor, like our firm. Their processes have been built around getting feedback from people like us on what works, and what doesn't work. I think maintaining an attentive ear over the years has been something that's allowed them to be successful. There are very few firms in our marketplace like Alliance."
 

How does Alliance support your process?

"Alliance looks at the combination of our two firms as a partnership. In the eyes of the plan sponsor, our end client, we're working together and communicating to provide comprehensive services. They keep us in the loop about their communication to the client not only about the things that matter on the administration side and consulting side, but also on the investment side. It reinforces the idea that we're partners in this versus situations we've seen before where an investment firm is pointing fingers at an administration firm, or the TPA firm is pointing fingers at the investment advisory firm as to who dropped the ball on something. I think the communication side of things has been critical to the success of the relationships we've had with them over the years."

"Just because a plan is larger in assets doesn't necessarily mean that it's more complex than when it was smaller. I appreciate that, and I know clients do as well. It makes us very competitive."

Does Alliance’s flat fee service model help you be more competitive?

"The other piece of the service model that Alliance has created, that I appreciate and I think plan sponsors especially appreciate, is their flat fee model. They aren't trying to suggest that as assets grow their workload grows. They're very up-front about how they quote their fees. I appreciate that, and I know clients do as well. It makes Alliance very competitive."
 

How do you assess bundled versus unbundled models like Alliance’s?

"The retirement plan space is dominated by bundled service providers. Bundled service providers sell simplicity, and, in my experience, they “under deliver” on attending to the details that become most important in the day-to-day operation of a plan – things like compliance issues, creative plan design, and being attentive to participant needs. These are all critical to the success of a plan. I think being solely focused on those areas versus being concerned about the investment side too is a real benefit. We've worked with Alliance for about 23 years now, and we've enjoyed watching the entire space evolve. This unbundled service model has become preferred because it's transparent and the parties involved are accountable. People miss that."
 

You have a strong background in retirement plans.

"The perspective I have has been shaped by the years I spent early in my professional career at a retirement plan consulting and administration firm. I spent seven years with a firm that was similar to Alliance prior to joining David Vaughan Investments, so I appreciate what goes on behind the scenes to make a plan work. I think that's helped me as an investment advisor in the retirement plan space. In the end, our partnership with Alliance is excellent and our clients are well served."