Piggy Suite

Putting 'Fiduciary' into Retirement Planning

Piggy Suite

After working more than three decades for retirement plan providers, Shareen Balkey decided in early 2017 to make a major career shift. The veteran manager at large corporate record-keepers shifted her focus to work in the independent registered investment advisor field by joining Index Fund Advisors.  

"The retirement plan market is really undergoing a lot of change where broker-dealers are trying to decide if they want to serve as true fiduciaries," says Balkey, who serves as IFA's Director of Retirement Services. "It's a complicated marketplace where I just felt like it was important for me to step fully into working with an independent investment advisory firm with a long history of serving as a retirement plan fiduciary."

IFA has a roster of more than 60 different retirement plan sponsors it advises on an ongoing basis. "We are serving a broad range of plans now -- from startups with only a few participants to some larger plans with $50 million or more in assets," says Balkey.

Bringing such a breadth of experience in an evolving retirement plan marketplace can prove especially beneficial to help bridge communications between different parties involved in the process, she points out. Besides working with a broad range of sponsors to help choose investment funds and formulate asset allocation guidelines, IFA's retirement planning practice also works with third-party administrators and record-keepers.

"We see ourselves as a resource to prevent road blocks in compliance, systems, education and administration of retirement plans," says Balkey. "We aren't just an advisor on portfolios -- we're also engaged to assist plan sponsors in tracking a plan's design and how different features are being implemented at any given time."

IFA's retirement planning staff has also worked to beef up its benchmarking analysis. This involves gathering and reviewing different data sets pertaining to each plan's cost and administrative fees. "We work with outside parties who help us to compile industry statistics, which we can then analyze and compare to let each plan know how they stack up against a relevant universe of plan sponsors," says Balkey.

At the heart of IFA's retirement plan outreach, she adds, is ongoing support by the firm's advisors. These wealth managers, according to Balkey, stand ready to talk with plan sponsors as well as plan participants on an ongoing basis. In fact, such educational efforts by IFA's advisors can take a very individualized approach by answering questions in-person, over the phone or even electronically.

"One of our strengths as an independent investment advisory firm with a high standard of fiduciary service is that we also maintain a national presence with advisors located in multiple locations," says Balkey.

IFA provides each retirement plan with its own specific website. These microsites are focused on helping participants understand their investments and enhance their retirement readiness. Unique articles and videos created by IFA as well as outside contributors are offered. Investment reviews, retirement calculators and risk-based analytical tools are just some of the other features provided to those participating in a particular plan.

The microsites also serve as online gateways to other IFA educational portals as well as linking each plan's record-keeping portal. This allows easy access for investors to do things like change deferral rates, modify asset allocations and request withdrawals. "We want to help people become better investors -- not just be plan participants," says Balkey.  

These sites also are fully integrated with IFA's Media Lab, which develops, monitors and maintains content for plan participants. "Our goal is to help investors become more educated about all of their financial options and remove speculation from the investment process," says Balkey.

The lab's staff also creates video content for investors, both individuals interested in learning about retirement issues as well as participants in different 401(k) and 403(b) plans. Besides these two areas of institutional platforms, IFA works with defined benefit plans, which act more like traditional pensions.

"Just within the past few years, we've seen intense scrutiny coming from both government regulators and plan sponsors demanding a higher level of fiduciary conduct in the retirement planning industry," says Balkey. "This is opening new opportunities for IFA to show how we can step in and help design more transparent and efficient plans for both employers as well as employees."


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Shareen Balkey, Director of Retirement Services

Shareen Balkey joined Index Fund Advisors (IFA) in February 2017 as the Director of Retirement Services.  Shareen's experience includes over 30 years in the retirement plan marketplace.  Before joining IFA Shareen served as a Senior Client Manager for Transamerica Retirement Solutions in Los Angeles where she managed 401(k) plans for medium to large corporations.  Prior to this, Shareen worked for John Hancock, ING and The Standard as an external sales associate.  Shareen has partnered with hundreds of TPAs, record-keepers and advisors to provide the best retirement plan solutions for plan sponsors and participants.  She brings extensive experience to IFA along with the leadership and depth of knowledge that will help to significantly increase IFA's presence in the retirement plan business.


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