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Preparing Employer-Plan Clients for Form 5500 Audit Process

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What You Need to Know

  • Sheliga believes all advisors should be aware of five key moments that can grow their business.
  • She says the window for one of those moments, creating and auditing a plan’s Form 5500, is open now.
  • One idea: Use that window to ask prospects how their current providers have been doing.

There are five critical moments in the year that offer advisors the chance to opportunistically sell and provide support, expertise and attention to existing and prospective client relationships.

These five key moments can strengthen or weaken your relationship with your employer client.

The 5 Key Moments are:

  1. The annual census.
  2. Compliance testing.
  3. The Form 5500 creation and auditing process.
  4. Preparation of required notices.
  5. Measurement and planning.

In this article, we will discuss preparing clients for Form 5500 preparation and audit.

The window of opportunity to reach out to your business owners for this key moment is now — in early August.

With most plan sponsors filing for an extension, the form is due Oct. 15 for a calendar year. Without an extension the form is due July 31.

The Form 5500 Series is part of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) reporting and disclosure framework. It is intended to ensure that employee benefit plans comply with government regulations.

Some plans are also required to have an independent Certified Public Accountant’s audit, which can create additional work for the plan sponsor.

In early August, retirement plan sponsors will have the Form 5500 preparation and filing fresh on their minds.

This is an opportunity to ask current and prospective clients about their experience.

Their answers can reveal how satisfied — or dissatisfied — they are with their current provider.

Below are a few questions to ask plan sponsors that can guide the conversation and reveal common pain points in their experience with their current providers:

  • Was the Form 5500 completed on time?
  • Did you understand the required steps?
  • Did you get the support you needed from your provider?
  • Was the Form 5500 signature-ready?
  • Did the provider sign and file it on your behalf?
  • Did you need to request an extension?

For plans that required an independent CPA audit, how did the provider work make the process easy? Did the provider supply information to and work directly with the CPA?

If the current provider hasn’t met expectations, advisors can add value by letting them know:

  • Some providers can offer signature-ready Form 5500s and will file on the client’s behalf at no extra cost.
  • Some providers create an audit package that is specifically designed to streamline a CPA review.
  • Some providers also work directly with a CPA during the audit process

Retirement plan sponsors rely on their advisor’s expertise for success to bring them partners to the table who can help ease this moment of truth.

This summer, take a proactive approach to this important milestone in the year by planning ahead and getting client conversations scheduled.

This is an opportunity to set yourself apart by aligning with the right provider partners.


Katie SheligaEkaterina “Katie” Sheliga, MBA, AIF, CPFA, is the national accounts sales director at The Standard and a registered representative at StanCorp Equities, Inc.

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