Retirement plan sponsors are hiring advisors based on the advisors’ willingness to accept the fiduciary responsibility now required by the Department of Labor, according to Fidelity Investments.

For the first time, this is the top concern of a large portion of retirement plan sponsors, according to Fidelity Investments’ seventh annual “Plan Sponsor Attitudes” study released Wednesday.

The top concern for 38 percent of the 976 plan sponsors surveyed is meeting their fiduciary responsibility under the new DOL rule, while only 24 percent listed it as a top concern last year, according to the study, which included employers who have set up retirement plans that use a wide variety of record keepers and range in size from 25 to 10,000 participants.

For those plan sponsors who have advisors, satisfaction levels are high. Seventy-two percent are satisfied with their advisors, with two-thirds saying they get good value from them. Despite this, the percentage of respondents actively looking to change their advisors reached a new high of 23 percent, says Fidelity.

The sponsors are looking for more knowledgeable advisors who are experts in a variety of areas, including how to best manage fiduciary responsibilities. “They want advisors who proactively make suggestions and help with plan design, and advisors who help sponsors manage fiduciary responsibilities,” says Jordan Burgess, head of specialist field sales overseeing defined contribution investment-only sales at Fidelity Institutional Asset Management.
Plan design and performance have become greater concerns. In the last two years, the study says, an all-time high of 86 percent of plan sponsors have made plan design changes and 87 percent have made investment menu changes.

“Advisors who specialize in the retirement plan market are delivering increasingly greater value, offering services that allow them to operate as a fiduciary, as well as building scalable ways to manage investment menus and serve their plan sponsor clients,” says Burgess.

“While plan sponsors are more satisfied than ever, they are also starting to expect more from their advisors,” he adds. “The Department of Labor’s rule on investment advice gives specialist plan advisors the opportunity to raise the game. If they are successful at demonstrating their knowledge, these plan advisors could potentially expand their share of the market and become even more competitive.