Piggy Suite

Putting 'Fiduciary' into Retirement Planning

Piggy Suite

After working more than two decades for retirement plan providers, Shareen Balkey early last year decided to make a major career shift. The veteran manager at large corporate record-keepers decided to move into 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 RIA which has a long history of serving as a retirement plan fiduciary.”

Right now, IFA is working with more than 60 different retirement plan sponsors. “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.

Just as in portfolio management, she sees breadth of experience as an important point for serving retirement plans. Besides working with a broad range of sponsors to help choose investment funds and asset allocation guidelines, IFA’s retirement planning practice also bridges communications between 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.”

In the coming year, IFA’s retirement planning staff is also working on beefing 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 14 advisors who are available to talk with participants themselves. Such educational efforts can take a very individualized approach by answering questions in-person, over the phone or even electronically. “One of our strengths as a growing independent RIA is that we have a national presence with advisors located in multiple locations,” says Balkey.

Investors are provided with their own retirement plan-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.

As part of its broader mission, IFA has created a distinct set of portfolios to serve the unique needs of Catholic retirement plan sponsors and their participants. This division, which is known as Investing for Catholics (www.investingforcatholics.com), was launched in 2009. It now works with archdioceses and religious orders across the country.

“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.”



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.