Interview with Rick Irace, Chief Operating Officer
How would you describe the Ascensus service philosophy?
Our retirement plan service team rallies around four key concepts:
- Trust is the most important factor. Particularly among smaller, start-up plans, our services must be transparent and understandable and delivered through language and concepts that clients readily understand. Many clients chose us because our values resonate with those of their organizations. That’s an expression of trust.
- Keep a client-based perspective. While client goals have always been a key aspect of the dialogue, we need to understand client needs today in greater depth than ever before.
- Consult with employees on a personal level, considering their complete picture. We recognize that plan participants’ lives also revolve around non-financial factors, such as their family, health, and home. When we help them make decisions about their savings strategy, we need to take a more holistic approach. Our view must be broader than simply the financial returns that our savings plans can provide.
- Focus on simple, intuitive interactions. Platforms should focus on the needs of their end users: advisors, plan sponsor clients, and employees. Our digital experiences and approaches to plan design and relationship management are simple by design. It helps that Ascensus has a broad range of investment options, offered through an open architecture platform and via simplified savings tools that help clients to track their progress on the road to retirement readiness through tangible benchmarks.
How does Ascensus present itself to the market?
It’s a service culture. Every activity is completed with the client in mind. We prioritize quality and integrity as core values. We encourage our team to be bold. From the top down, we are an entrepreneurial culture and our team believes and executes proactively with this in mind.
Of course, we have different levels of service. Our elite advisors and TPAs benefit from additional support and access, just as in any customer loyalty program. These clients get dedicated service teams, additional levels of consultation, greater access to our senior leadership, early access to product roadmaps, and strategic account managers that act as trusted advocates for the advisor or TPA inside of Ascensus.
Describe Ascensus’ expertise servicing startup plans.
We have a broad range of experience, but we do have a “sweet spot” with smaller plans and massive expertise supporting new plans. We offer an attractive price point for startups and we use our scale to deliver quality client service and a solid investment lineup. Startup plans have access to the same open architecture as everyone else.
We are particularly adept at plan establishment and onboarding and we can take many of the administrative burdens off the shoulders of new plans. Small business owners are incredibly busy and we take them through the startup process step-by-step online, working with their advisors and TPAs. Most of what we do is automated, so there is very little paperwork. We use a dedicated service team that stays with new clients throughout their first year, including through discrimination testing and the filing of their Form 5500 with the Department of Labor.
What sets Ascensus apart from other companies that work with start-up plans?
We have deep expertise, onboarding 5,000 plans per year. And recordkeeping isn’t a means to some other end for us. We’re not an investment firm looking to drive investment flows; we take a consultative, educational approach. We help small firms to understand that many goals that they thought might elude them–like providing an employer match to workplace savers–may in fact be achievable.
Connect the dots between technology, expertise, service, and retention.
We use a series of metrics to judge all of these elements. Does the technology work? Are clients satisfied with our expertise? We measure client satisfaction in several ways and consistently score high on surveys for service, onboarding, and overall satisfaction. As of September 2018, our Net Promoter Scores for these areas hovered around 91%.
Our relationship managers, empowered with custom-built predictive analytics, continuously assess how well we’re serving our plan sponsor clients and what kinds of questions or issues are most prevalent. This enables us to be a step ahead, proactively consulting with our clients, financial advisors, and TPA partners to ensure their plans stay on track.
How do you keep associates positive and engaged?
I truly believe that there is a clear value chain between satisfied employees and satisfied clients. At Ascensus, we put associates first. There is an entrepreneurial spirit inside the company–an opportunity to be bold, think bold, and make changes if one discovers a better way to service clients.
To recognize associates’ expression of our core values, we bestow a peer-to-peer I-Client award every month. From top to bottom, everyone knows what our core goals are. By helping our clients and their employees to save for life’s most important moments, I believe that our firm serves a noble purpose. And this belief is widely held from the C-suite, throughout the organization.