Retirement plan advisors, distributors, and providers are finding themselves responding on the fly to the trends shaping the 403(b) and 457 markets. The old model of manufacturing and distributing is going away, according to The State of 403(b) and 457 Marketplace: Challenges and Opportunities, a Cerulli report released in March that discusses the key attributes and nuances of that marketplace, and offers a look at the providers and advisors serving plan participants in these markets.
The 403(b) market is one of the few retirement plans that advisors can dabble in, especially if they sell or accommodate a non-ERISA 403(b), the report states. Consequently, 62% of all advisors who work in the retirement plan arena have 403(b) assets, the report found. However, the recent report, based on Cerulli Associates’ online surveys of advisors and providers as well as third-party public and nonconfidential sources, reveals that although the current 403(b) model allows advisors into the market, it does not yield much in assets. Advisors with 403(b) assets under management have, on average, total 403(b) assets of $2.3 million. This is 15 times less than the average 401(k) assets under management of $34.7 million. To boot, 85% of advisors who report having 403(b) assets under management have less than $5 million in 403(b) assets, with nearly one-third reporting less than $500,000 in total 403(b) assets. At the same time, 60% of advisors with 401(k) assets have more than $5 million in 401(k) assets, with about one-third reporting between $10 million and $49 million in total 401(k) assets, according to Cerulli research.
When comparing the 403(b) advisor to the “broader advisor universe,” Cerulli research found that the services offered by both are similar, with 60% of all advisors’ time spent in client meetings, client acquisitions, or providing services to clients. However, even though 403(b) advisors spend the same amount of time meeting with participants, 403(b) advisors credit a larger portion of their revenue to commissions–an average of 71% compared to only 22% to asset-based (wrap) fees, while the average advisor attributes 51% of his revenues to commissions and 39% to asset-based (wrap) fees, according to the report. Even though payments from 12b-1 fees and mutual fund C-shares provide ongoing compensation based on assets, in its reports Cerulli considers those payments commissions and not fees. “Thus, there is a disparity between 403(b) advisors and the broader universe of advisors,” the report reads. “Even though 403(b) advisors display similar characteristics as fee-based financial planners (they use a consultative approach, spend time with their clients, and focus on advising their clients), they still gravitate toward commission-based products.” Furthermore, Cerulli believes that 403(b) advisors’ revenue streams are on the brink of changing, mainly due to pending 403(b) regulations. Not only would these regulations favor a single/limited vendor and greater employer control, they will also restrict the ability of participants to initiate a 90-24 transfer from one 403(b) plan to any eligible receiving company of their choosing.