A new study from MassMutual suggests that advisors trying to nab employer retirement plans as clients haven’t refined their “elevator pitch” and are not sure how to distinguish themselves in a world where services (such as investment selection) are becoming increasingly commoditized.

But to figure out how to pitch those retirement plans, advisors must know what employers want, and that’s a combination of more education for employees, good service and help with fiduciary responsibilities, said Elaine Sarsynski, executive vice president  of MassMutual Retirement Services and Worksite Insurance.

“Overall, retirement plan sponsors who rely on an advisor do more to encourage their employees to save for retirement and tend to focus more on their employees’ financial well-being,” said Sarsynski, speaking at a Midtown Manhattan luncheon on Tuesday. That’s a good thing. Also, those plans that work with advisors are more likely to feel that their employees are feeling more empowered to save and are on track to retire at the appropriate age.

The survey, called the "MassMutual Winning Combination Study," conducted last summer and fall by Greenwald & Associates, polled 565 employers, 449 of which actually work with advisors while the rest do not. “That was important because we wanted to better understand what precipitated the use of an advisor,” said Sarsynski. The study looked at plans that were $1 million to $75 million in size.

Although the study suggests that many plan sponsors are happy with their advisors, when they have them, there is a disconnect between advisors and employer-sponsored retirement plans over each one’s fiduciary responsibilities in the relationship.

“We expect this to be more of an issue as DOL [regulations] get released this spring,” says Sarsynski. “Nearly a third of our sponsors say they are not a fiduciary to the plan. Another 18 percent say they aren’t sure as to whether or not they are a fiduciary to their plan.”

As far as those plans with advisors, only 34 percent say the advisors are acting as fiduciaries, and 22 percent aren’t sure.

“This is kind of disturbing,” Sarsynski said, “but according to advisors, it’s not really that surprising.”

According to the study:

“Most of the advisors we spoke with [in focus groups] do not serve as fiduciaries to their clients’ plans, and they do not think they would be able to do so without help from an outside source such as the plan provider."