Retirement-plan professional talks about people’s financial preparedness for the next stage of their lives.
Jim Sampson is a retirement-plan professional with 18 years of experience. He is the managing principal of Warwick-based Cornerstone Retirement Advisors and is responsible for providing investment advisory and fiduciary services for retirement plans for more than 100 local businesses.
He is a member of the National Association of Plan Advisors and a founding lecturer at The Retirement Advisor University, which has a partnership with the UCLA Anderson School of Management. He holds the designations of Accredited Investment Fiduciary and Certified 401(k) Professional.
Sampson has a bachelor’s degree in sport management from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
PBN: You were named to Planadviser’s 2014 Top 100 Retirement Plan Advisers list in April for the third year in a row. Do you have one essential principle that guides your work and leads you to be chosen multiple times for this type of recognition?
SAMPSON: I try to follow one simple belief each day -do what is right for our clients and everything else will take care of itself. There are many conflicts of interest in the investment world, so our firm is very transparent in everything we do. We serve as an investment fiduciary for our clients, which I believe is crucial to our success, so it’s very important to me that our clients know that we put their needs above all else.
PBN: Various studies have been done that found a large percentage of Americans are not adequately financially prepared for retirement. Have you found these studies to be accurate, based on your work with small and mid-sized companies?
SAMPSON: In general terms, these studies are fairly accurate, which makes our mission even more critical. In addition to helping small- and mid-sized companies offer the best retirement programs they can, we also spend as much time as possible with their employees to help them understand how their savings levels can impact their ability to retire, both positively and adversely. If we can get at least 90 percent of employees saving at least 10 percent of their pay, we’ll have a great chance of reversing the results of those studies. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but that’s our goal.
PBN: Rhode Island has faced many years of economic challenges and high unemployment. How has that impacted the businesses you work with and their employees, in terms of their retirement plans?
SAMPSON: It has certainly been a challenge, but the stock market has seen a strong rebound, which has helped the growth of the retirement accounts for many of our clients. Seeing their account values bounce back has given confidence to these hard-working employees, especially those who continued to save during the tough times, because they were “buying their investments on sale,” as we like to say. By saving and investing while the markets were down, they benefitted that much more when the markets rebounded.
PBN: Are there trends or new regulations substantially impacting retirement plan options offered by Rhode Island companies?
SAMPSON: Based on studies in behavioral finance, there is a great deal of evidence that we can change savings behaviors simply by changing plan defaults. By removing barriers to entry and making the overall process simpler, we can really make a difference in helping people get to that retirement finish line. One of the more impactful trends along those lines is automatic enrollment. An employee would only need to complete a form if they do not wish to participate in the plan, instead of filling out a form to start saving, which is the current process. The data on auto enroll plans shows that considerably more people save when the default is to do so, compared to when the default is not to save. We are very focused on the overall retirement readiness of our clients’ employees and this is just one easy way to put more people in a position to succeed.
PBN: Cornerstone Retirement Advisors has a trademarked six-step process that helps clients manage their fiduciary responsibilities and engages their employees in taking control of retirement planning. Can you describe some of those steps or offer a general review of them?
SAMPSON: Our process allows our client companies to either enhance the program they currently have or find a new one, if necessary. The key is that we’re not selling a product. Our service is completely independent of the record-keeper or investments a company uses for their plan. Once we’ve helped a company fine-tune its plan, we work with the employees to help them get the most out of it. We translate the complex topics of saving and investing into things that people do every day. When we see the proverbial light bulb go on above someone’s head, I know we have made a significant impact on their life. That’s the part of our business that I love the most.