Emplanet Inc. is launching an online 401(k) service today that lets financial advisers, banks, and independent brokers design and sell a retirement plan in one client meeting.
Emplanets one-year-old e-401(k) platform, available at www.emplanet.com, originally sought to reduce the costs and high administrative workload associated with 401(k) plans by automating the service and providing online access to products.
However, the Westborough, Mass., firm now says its new service will speed up the establishment of 401(k)s by giving advisers online access to plan proposals, real-time custom quotes, plan setup tools, and educational resources.
Gary Gould, senior vice president of business development at Emplanet, said the service will let advisers streamline a process that once took months.
Employers dont want to go through a Web site to buy their 401(k) plans on their own, Mr. Gould said. Employers dont want to change how they buy their 401(k)s or how their 401(k)s are managed. They just want everything to be quicker.
After answering an array of questions, advisers can use the site to set up a 401(k). Once the plan is set up, administrative elements such as enrollment, eligibility tracking, and notification are automated. The service also integrates with the emerging e-human resource portals, which lets employees manage their company benefits over the Internet.
All of this will benefit advisers, Mr. Gould said. It takes time for even a sophisticated adviser to understand all the nuances of a specific employer and the 401(k) services they needed. With this service, any sort of sales representative can sell a 401(k) plan without being an expert.
The service will be distributed through banks, brokerage firms, and insurance companies, he said. We focus on financial institutions.
On a banks Web site, Emplanets service has the look and feel of a bank service, Mr. Gould said. This gives banks a way into the e-401(k) industry without having to start from scratch, he said.
Jamie Punishill, an analyst at Forrester Research, said the service will force major retirement service providers to play catch-up.
Large 401(k) providers like Vanguard and Fidelity have antiquated technology that make a transition to a faster system like this one tough, he said. Emplanet has raised the bar to an infinite level.
The new technology will squeeze the industry from both directions, Mr. Punishill said. While Emplanets automated system presents an inexpensive alternative for smaller companies, its speed makes it an intriguing option for larger companies as well, he said.
Big plan sponsors like Ford or General Electric are always looking to find the best system, and consultants will tell them that this is it, he said. That really threatens the biggest and most profitable 401(k) providers.
Emplanet has relationships with five companies, including two banks. Mr. Gould said it is negotiating with other banks and that he is confident more deals will be closed soon.
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