Lincoln National Corp. will soon add financial advice to its Web site for retirement plan participants.
"Almost every request for proposal asks whether we provide this - that was the thing that really drove us to it," said Michael Richardville, the Philadelphia insurer's second vice president of marketing for employee sponsor retirement plans.
Under an agreement announced Tuesday, participants will be able to click through Lincoln's Web site to that of mPower Advisors LLC of San Francisco.
The service will be available toward late summer as an option to plan sponsors in the Lincoln Alliance Program, which is geared toward midsize and large employers.
Sponsors are looking to retirement plans to provide investment advice, Mr. Richardville said Wednesday. "Like any large player in this marketplace, we've wanted to offer a complete program," he said.
mPower will complement Lincoln's Web site, which already helps participants track investments, Mr. Richardville said.
Neal Ringquist, a senior vice president at mPower, said Tuesday that Lincoln customers who click on the "advice" button on their Lincoln retirement plan Web site will be sent to an mPower site that will already have their personal information, including age, gender, and account balances.
The site will ask questions about goals and risk tolerance, offer advice about asset allocation, and make security-specific recommendations, he said.
The system "is not like a travel agent where you send them off; it's like a cruise director, with ongoing advice," Mr. Ringquist said. mPower's system will update the advice it gives to participants as their life situations change and their holdings increase or decrease, he said.
Plan sponsors will get to decide if they want to provide the advice to their plan members, Mr. Ringquist said. The cost per person depends on the number of people in the plan, he said.
Mr. Richardville said Lincoln would be offering some features - such as basic educational materials - to plan sponsors free of charge, so they can become familiar with mPower's offerings.
The Lincoln Alliance Program provides retirement plans to 62 large employers, representing about 60,000 people. The plan supports 250 mutual fund families, including more than 3,000 mutual funds, sold through Lincoln Financial Advisors, a broker-dealer.
mPower has similar partnerships with First Union, Aetna, American Express Retirement Services, Putnam Investments and Credit Suisse Asset Management.
Mr. Ringquist said half the people whose retirement plans offer mPower's advice use the service, though that figure varies from company to company. About 800,000 people are actually using the service, he said.
Online trading consultant James Punishill of Forrester Research said Tuesday that advice engines like mPower's are popular with consumers and are quickly becoming a necessary part of a retirement plan's Web site.
"If you don't offer advice as one of your components, then you are going to lose bids to be the plan administrator," he said.
Automated advice systems do not replace people, he said; rather, they expand the universe of consumers who have access to financial planning advice.
"There are 17 million people who don't have any other investments besides their 401(k) who aren't getting any other investment advice," Mr. Punishill said. These consumers - whose only source of investment advice is "their buddy at the water cooler" - are the ones who stand to benefit the most when their retirement plan adds an advice component, he said.
Lincoln National provides annuities, life insurance, 401(k) plans, life-health reinsurance, mutual funds, institutional investment management, and financial planning and advisory services. The company manages has $94 billion of assets.
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