Archive for March, 2013

Retirement Plan TPA Quality Service

Since writing my book, I often hear from individuals, whether they be other retirement plan service providers or customers of TPA’s, about how they are confused regarding whether they are receiving quality service. Recently, I discussed the importance of customer service aspects such as returning your calls or not sitting on providing your reports after you submitted your annual information. I have to say that I am amazed at what some third party administrators do to their customers. At one shop, the owners allowed employees to falsify documents and even promoted and rewarded unethical employees. The owners’ attitudes were that the behavior was okay because the government auditors never caught anything when they came in. Although the unethical behavior had not yet been caught, their current manager, formerly a plan administrator, was caught falsifying documents and amendments in order to save her clients money by shorting the rank and file participants. The company’s CEO, HR, and partners were informed and actually promoted this unqualified employee with full knowledge of her unethical actions. How would you like a TPA like this to be working on your plan? The clients were often unaware of this employee’s actions, but they would likely pay the price. What can you do to protect yourself?

First, consider qualifications.  An Enrolled Retirement Plan Agent would be ideal for defined contribution plans.   An Enrolled Actuary is essential for defined benefit plans.  Both have gone through rigorous training and have strong ethical standards.  Unfortunately, organizational credentials are more questionable.  For instance, a QPA or CPC is generally a good sign as far as ASPPA credentials, but not very useful as a consumer since they are unable to represent you before the IRS.  The same is the case with a CEBS or ISCEBS Fellow credential.  Credentials such as QKA from ASPPA are not very valuable due to the limits of knowledge.

Second, consider looking for an independent TPA. Although I believe a client should consider whether or not the TPA can prepare the reports competently before looking at the company type, firms that are also providing accounting services, investment services or payroll services often have conflicts of interest. Often times these firms do not value TPA services and have an anything goes attitude.   A firm that makes all their money from third party administration cannot risk providing bad service or they will be out of business. TPA only firms have the incentive to allocate the resources to find the best staff and provide the best service for your plan. However, if you can find this type of service at a firm providing other services, by all means stay with them. The two do not need to be mutually exclusive, but unfortunately, my experience has taught me that firms who permit unethical behavior such as in my example are often providing investment or other services. To learn more about selecting TPA’s, please consider purchasing my book at one of the websites listed below.

Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day! Please sign up for my blog and follow me on twitter @ChristineGurney. Please like my facebook author page at http://www.facebook.com/ChristineGurneyHsiung. If you have not already done so, please check out purchasing my book on amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Short-Guide-Finding-Value-Administrator/dp/147912821X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1354850566&sr=8-1&keywords=christine+gurney+hsiung or from the publisher at https://www.createspace.com/3964647.

March 19, 2013 at 2:20 pm Leave a comment

Retirement Plan Distribution Tax Reporting Errors

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The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has posted an interesting article regarding IRS Form 1099-R reporting errors on their website.  Located at http://www.irs.gov/Retirement-Plans/Form-1099R-Errors, the article mentions that just basic recipient information is frequently incomplete or incorrect such as addresses or identification numbers.  They go on to point out that corrected forms can be completed.  I encourage all retirement plan participants to review their tax forms even if they have already filed their individual returns this year.  I had to request a corrected 1099-R form myself from a former TPA that I had worked for who had neglected to provide accurate information to their return preparer.  There are a lot of low quality administrators out there, and it is important for participants to be aware of the situation and confirm that their information is accurate.  For individuals who choose TPA’s, I suggest picking up a copy of my book at either the publisher or Amazon’s website listed below.

Thanks for reading and have a wonderful early weekend!   Please sign up for my blog and follow me on twitter @ChristineGurney.  Please like my facebook author page at http://www.facebook.com/ChristineGurneyHsiung.  If you have not already done so, please check out purchasing my book on amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Short-Guide-Finding-Value-Administrator/dp/147912821X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1354850566&sr=8-1&keywords=christine+gurney+hsiung or from the publisher at https://www.createspace.com/3964647.

March 13, 2013 at 6:14 pm 1 comment

Retirement Plan TPA Customer Service Part II of II

As someone who has written a book about an insider’s view of hiring a TPA, the most frequent questions I receive about it concern customer service. Yesterday, I discussed some warning signs regarding retirement plan TPA service.

Over my career, I have seen a great deal of outrageous behavior and have been shocked to see what clients will tolerate. If you are hiring a TPA provider, you deserve good customer service. I have seen providers who feel they are the cheapest and need to provide no customer service to those who promise the world and fail due to a multitude of reasons from hiring incompetent staff to an inability to recognize the problem itself.

On the other hand, I have seen some outstanding individuals and firms. Great service is competent, swift, and often identifies issues that you should consider. For example, if a client wants to amend their plan document, a great TPA may bring up issues such as potential testing failures or other considerations before proceeding. Your expertise is not retirement plans, and that is why you have sought out their expertise. The TPA takes it a step beyond what you are asking for to making sure they understand your needs and goals and clarifying the impact with you.

Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day! Please sign up for my blog and follow me on twitter @ChristineGurney. Please like my facebook author page at http://www.facebook.com/ChristineGurneyHsiung. If you have not already done so, please check out purchasing my book on amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Short-Guide-Finding-Value-Administrator/dp/147912821X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1354850566&sr=8-1&keywords=christine+gurney+hsiung or from the publisher at https://www.createspace.com/3964647.

March 7, 2013 at 6:15 am Leave a comment

Retirement Plan TPA Customer Service Part I of II

Since writing my book, one of the most frequent topics individuals want to discuss with me is customer service. I do not want to overemphasize customer service over the accuracy of the actual administration, but I do believe they are fundamentally intertwined.

What is good customer service? For me, customer service is more than a pretty face or a cheery voice on the other end of the phone. It is an ability to answer questions competently and efficiently. It is keeping your promises and taking responsibility to fix your mistakes if they arise. Customer service takes care of your needs and helps you identify issues that you may not have considered in order to reach your goals. To me, it is working with you in mind rather than solely in their own self-interest.

Do you receive timely return calls or other communication? The retirement plan industry is complex, and some issues can take an extended time frame to research. However, simple issues such as determining eligibility or vesting should not take days. Is the service consistent? When you are first signed on as a client, are your needs met quickly, and with time, you feel forgotten and receiving a return call is difficult? Follow through should not end as soon as you have signed the service agreement. TPA’s need to keep their promises. Is the communication appropriate? This area speaks for itself. Customer service is not about droning on about yourself or refusing to take responsibility. The provider should be sober, have good judgment, and be polite.

Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day! Please sign up for my blog and follow me on twitter @ChristineGurney. Please like my facebook author page at http://www.facebook.com/ChristineGurneyHsiung. If you have not already done so, please check out purchasing my book on amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Short-Guide-Finding-Value-Administrator/dp/147912821X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1354850566&sr=8-1&keywords=christine+gurney+hsiung or from the publisher at https://www.createspace.com/3964647.

March 6, 2013 at 2:23 pm Leave a comment

Ethics for Employee Benefits Professionals

The IRS recently held a presentation regarding professional ethics for retirement plan professionals.  For anyone interested, they have posted a copy to their website located at http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-tege/ethics_phoneforum2_presentation.pdf.

Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day!   Please be sure to sign up for my blog and follow me on twitter @ChristineGurney.

March 4, 2013 at 7:00 pm Leave a comment


Christine Gurney

A pension professional who shares her thoughts and ideas about the pension world for industry members and anyone else interested.

@ChristineGurney

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