The conventional wisdom is that investors without advisors often make the wrong choices. They don’t save enough. They botch their retirement planning. People with advisors do better.

But that’s not always true.

Some advisors, specifically plan advisors, are not helping but hurting investors when it comes to achieving goals, as many people fall behind in their retirement savings.

A new study finds that the defined contribution recommendations of some retirement plan advisors are actually generating inferior returns that lag benchmarks.

“It is critical for plan sponsors that such recommendations are beneficial to participants,” according to the study, “Use of Advisors and Retirement Plan Performance.”

Rui Yao, a University of Missouri financial planning expert and study co-author, examined retirement plan performance in 401(k)s based on plan advisor recommendations.

The study found investment advisor performance in defined benefit plans over a recent three-year period was “significantly and negatively” related to retirement plan performance in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

“For example, in 2013, the estimated average treatment effect of advisors was -0.04% in monthly expected returns, and this difference would be -0.48% annually. Over the long run, as in most retirement planning cases, this compounding effect would have a large economic impact,” according to the study.

Getting the most from private savings and persuading Americans to save for retirement are essential, as a recent National Institute on Retirement Security study found millions of Americans have inadequate savings.

The Yao study looked at retirement plan performance based on the use of a plan advisor and the plan size and plan choices offered. It found that plan advisors alone are not enough to ensure strong retirement plan performance.

Why are some plan advisors hurting retirement saving efforts?

Yao, a CFP, contended that some advisors “are incentivized to market different funds, and while they are financial experts, they do not always have a fiduciary responsibility to their clients.”

Henry Luong Hoang, a CFP in Newport Beach, Calif., says effective plans must be properly structured.

“The first crucial step is to set up the plan correctly initially to avoid conflicts of interest between the advisor and client,” Hoang says. “By taking full fiduciary responsibility and removing incentives for choosing select funds, an advisor can keep her sole focus on quality advice and successful outcomes for clients.”

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