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As we move toward the end of another year, plan sponsors should make time to review their 401k plan providers. Most employer plan sponsors use an investment adviser to help them with their 401k plans. This is a smart decision since most advisers are able to save plan sponsors at least as much as they charge. How can you tell if you are working with a top 401k investment advisor? A top 401k investment advisor:

Top Advisors…

Sign on to your plan as fiduciaries

You should not hire or continue to work with an advisor who will not sign on to your plan as a fiduciary. Look for an advisor that will work with your 401k plan without any fiduciary exceptions.

Have clean backgrounds

Investment advisors who have been sued in the past are likely to be sued in the future. You don’t have to work with problem advisors. Check the background of your investment advisor, or an advisor you are thinking of hiring, using BrokerCheck. BrokerCheck is a free service provided by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), a financial industry regulatory agency under the direction of the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC). Any violation you find on the BrokerCheck website for your existing advisor should cause you to begin searching for another. Similarly, any violation you see should cause you to drop an advisor from the list of advisors you are thinking of hiring. A top 401k investment advisor will have a clean background.

Do not accept soft dollar payments

Soft dollar payments are received by some advisors from mutual fund families. Consider only those advisors who practice fee transparency. These advisors will produce a bill for you each quarter for the services they provide. Their only source of revenue is the fees they receive from their clients. A top 401k investment advisor does not accept soft dollar payments.

Are objective

Don’t hire an investment advisor that is also an asset manager or recordkeeper. For example, many employers use mutual fund companies as their investment advisor as well as asset manager and/or recordkeeper. No surprise, these investment advisors tend to overuse the investment funds their mutual fund family offers. This is a conflict of interest which compromises the investment advisors objectivity and may also be a breach of your fiduciary duty.

Work for investment advisory firms

This may seem logical, however, there are a lot of plan sponsors that hire accounting firms or banks to provide investment advisory services to their retirement plans. Hire a professional who works for a firm whose core business is providing investment advice. There is a major difference in the quality of advice you will receive.

Are able to work with everyone

Many employers use investment advisors who are required to recommend proprietary products or who aren’t able to work with the entire universe of investment options or providers. Investment advisors who work for brokerage firms or mutual fund companies fall into these categories. Hire an advisor who has no conflicts of interest and will make the best recommendations for your plan and participants.

Finally, the SEC has put together a nice list of questions that you may wish to consider asking a prospective or existing investment advisor. Good luck finding a top 401k investment advisor to work with your plan!


About the Author

Robert C. Lawton, AIF, CRPS is the founder and President of Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC. Mr. Lawton has over 30 years of retirement plan consulting and administration experience and has provided consulting services to many Fortune 500 companies including: Aon Hewitt, Apple Inc., AT&T, First Interstate Bank, Florida Power & Light, General Dynamics, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, IBM, John Deere, Mazda Motor Car Company, Northwestern Mutual, Northern Trust Company, Trek Bikes, Tribune Company, Underwriters Labs and many others. Mr. Lawton may be contacted at (414) 828-4015 or

About Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC

Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC is a Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based independent, objective Registered Investment Advisory (RIA) firm providing investment advisory, fiduciary compliance, employee education, vendor management and plan design services to 401(k) plan sponsors. The firm currently has contracts in place to provide consulting services on more than $400 million in plan assets. For more information, please contact Robert C. Lawton at (414) 828-4015 or or visit the firm’s website at: Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC is a Wisconsin Registered Investment Adviser.

Important Disclosures

This information was developed as a general guide to educate plan sponsors and is not intended as authoritative guidance, tax, legal or investment advice. Each plan has unique requirements and you should consult your attorney or tax adviser for guidance on your specific situation. In no way does Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC assure that, by using the information provided, plan sponsor will be in compliance with ERISA regulations. Investors should carefully consider investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses. The statements in this publication are the opinions and beliefs of the commentator expressed when the commentary was made and are not intended to represent that person’s opinions and beliefs at any other time. The commentary does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC and should not be construed as recommendations or investment advice. Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC offers no tax, legal or accounting advice and any advice contained herein is not specific to any individual, entity or retirement plan, but rather general in nature and, therefore, should not be relied upon for specific investment situations. Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC is a Wisconsin Registered Investment Adviser and accepts clients outside of Wisconsin based upon applicable state registration regulations and the “de minimus” exception.