Who are the Top 10 Small Business 401k Providers?

January 30, 2017 by Healy Jones
top 401k providers

Who are the top 10 SMB 401(k) recordkeepers in 2017, and how do you compare these providers and pick one that is right for for your small or midsized business?

Every year, PlanSponsor magazine* ranks the top recordkeepers by assets, clients and the market that they serve (small business, mid-sized businesses etc.) This ranking provides a unique view into the 401(k) provider market, helping 401(k) advisors and the companies that sponsor retirement plans understand which vendors are winning marketshare and gaining clients.

If your company is considering switching 401(k) providers, these lists can help narrow down the vendors that you choose to speak with. We’ll talk more about how to run a 401(k) provider selection process below the rankings.

The definition of top small business 401(k) provider

Using the PlanSponsor data, we are defining a top small business 401(k) provider by the number of plans, with under $10 million in assets, that each recordkeeper is servicing. For mid-sized businesses, we are are looking at the data for plans with $10 million to $100 million in assets – once again, using the PlanSponsor data.

It is important to note that, in this post, we are defining a provider as a 401(k) recordkeeper. The recordkeeper is basically like the bookkeeper of the plan. Your company’s employees are probably using the recordkeeper’s website to monitor and modify their investment selections. As the employer handling 401(k) plan’s administration, it is likely that you are logging into the recordkeeper’s site to make employee deferral rate changes (that is, unless you have 401(k) payroll integration, which links your payroll to your recordkeeper). Learn more about what a recordkeeper does here, and learn about the various vendors needed to service a 401(k) plan here.

Who were the top 401(k) providers in 2017?

The top 10 401(k) providers ranking have been stable for the past two years, with only one new provider making it into the top 10 list for defined contribution plans under $10 million in assets, according to PlanSponsor’s annual recordkeeping surveys.*

Top 10 Small Business 401(k) providers

401(k) Plans under $10 million in assets

2017 Rank Provider Name 2017 Plans Managed 2016 Rank 2016 Plans Managed Rank Change Plans Managed Growth
1 Paychex, Inc.  76,800 1 71,800 0 7%
2 ADP Retirement Services  65,480 2 54,306 0 21%
3 John Hancock  54,824 3 54,206 0 1%
4 American Funds  50,954 4 45,139 +1 13%
5 Principal  49,794 5 48,692 -1 2%
6 Voya Financial  44,843 6 44,737 0 0%
7 Ascensus  44,182 9 44,115 2 0%
8 Nationwide  36,203 7 37,264 -1 -3%
9 Empower  32,650 10 32,265 1 1%
10 MassMutual  29.103 not in top 10 not in top 10 up na

MassMutual moved into the top 10 small business 401(k) providers list, bumping out VALIC, who was 2016’s number 10. Otherwise, the list is very consistent, with only American Funds and Principal swapping spots. Paychex, ADP and John Hancock continue to own the top three spots – unchanged from the previous year. However, only ADP and American Funds showed double digit year-over-year managed plan growth, with a 21% and 13% year-over-year growth respectively.

Top 10 Mid-Sized Business 401(k) providers

Plans between $10 million and $100 million in assets

2017 Rank Provider Name 2017 Plans Managed 2016 Rank 2016 Plans Managed Rank Change Plans Managed Growth
1 Fidelity Investments  6,308 1 5,865 0 8%
2 Alliance Benefit Group  3,750 na up na na
3 Empower Retirement  3,170 3 2,693 -2 18%
4 TIAA  3,065 2 2,958 -1 4%
5 Principal  2,587 4 2,370 -1 9%
6 Voya Financial  1,938 5 1,789 -1 8%
7 MassMutual Financial Group  1,719 6 1,605 -1 7%
8 Transamerica Retirement Solutions  1,524 7 1,437 -1 6%
9 Prudential Retirement  1,435 8 1,412 -1 2%
10 Vanguard  1,368 9 1,319 -1 4%

The top 10 mid-sized business 401(k) providers had more drama than the small business list. One recordkeeper moved into the number two spot, bumping most of the rest of the group down in rankings.

While Fidelity maintained pole position once again, with over 6,000 companies with $10 million to $100 million in retirement assets served, there were some big moves in the other ranks. Alliance Benefits Group jumped into the number two rank, from not even making the list the previous year. It appears that they added a large number of plans year-over-year, according to PlanSponsor data, and many of these plans must have had between $10 million and $100 million in assets. Their jump moved every other recordkeeper down one slot, except for TIAA and Empower. Empower grew plans managed in this category 18% year-over-year, allowing them to hold steady and push TIAA down two slots.

Nuances to the top provider lists

Differences between the Top Small and Top Mid-sized provider lists

Obviously, there is a big difference in the recordkeepers who make the top 10 list for small businesses vs. the recordkeepers on the top 10 list for mid-sized businesses. Only four of the recordkeepers are on both lists, Principal, Voya, Empower and MassMutual.

This has implications to a business that is looking to use one of these providers as their recordkeeper. In many instances, the recordkeepers have focused their platforms on a specific sized company, and may not be the right fit for all companies. Managing a $2 million plan is not the same as managing a $20 million plan. A company with a $2 million plan shouldn’t necessarily aspire to work with a provider who ordinally services $20 million plans. For example, a mid-sized provider may have high fixed costs that make them expensive for a smaller plan, but reasonably priced for a larger plan once those fixed costs are amortized over a larger participant or asset base.

An experienced, independent 401(k) advisor can help improve the provider search – bringing forward a list of recommended recordkeepers that are right for that specific company’s needs, then negotiating with those recordkeepers to come up with attractive pricing that works for the company and its employees.

What is a 401(k) advisor vs. a 401(k) provider vs. a recordkeeper

At ForUsAll, when we think about small and mid-sized businesses, we tend to think less about the assets that a company has and more about the employee base. A company with 25 employees is usually pretty different than a company with 250 employees, and a business owner at a successful, 20 person consulting firm thinks about her 401(k) differently than the HR manager at a 400 person manufacturing company. The HR infrastructure, workforce composition, etc. are likely very different – if not unique – at each of those businesses. While the assets at each of these companies is likely correlated with the employee count, using assets is a rather crude way to determine if a plan is associated with a small business or a mid-sized business. (Of course, that is exactly what we’ve done here!)

The ability to think about each company as an individual entity, with specific needs, is where a 401(k) advisor like ForUsAll can help. As an independent 401(k) advisor, ForUsAll is focused on helping small and mid-sized businesses get the most out of their 401(k). Some of the responsibilities of a 401(k) advisor include:

  • Working with a company’s management team to recommend the right recordkeeper (i.e. provider) – as well as negotiating attractive recordkeeping pricing.
  • Acting as an investment fiduciary (hopefully a 3(38) fiduciary, but at least a 3(21)), setting up and monitoring and managing a diverse, low-fee fund lineup.
  • We believe that your advisor should also step up, assisting in keeping your plan compliant from an administration perspective, which we do by bringing on 3(16) fiduciary services.
  • Optimizing participant communication, using modern digital and online communication strategies to drive employee engagement and retirement success.
  • Setting up the right 401(k) plan design for your participant base.
  • Using technology and experience to offer all of the above services at at attractive fees to your business and employee base.

What the Top 401(k) providers list means for your business

If you are interested in a total do-it-yourself provider search you can just call the top 401(k) providers. You might also want to download our 401(k) provider shopping worksheet. This is a worksheet designed to help you better organize your research when comparing 401(k) providers for your company. The worksheet will help you compare providers across the five key elements to a successful 401(k).

Before beginning your search, keep in mind that the defined benefit market has changed considerably in the past several years. Just moving your plan from one vendor to another top 401(k) provider may not be enough to provide your employees with the retirement plan that they deserve. Some recent, important changes in the market to keep in mind are:

  • New government regulations have increased the burden on companies who offer health plans or 401(k)s. A plan that was compliant may no longer be, so reviewing your plan’s documentation and compliance could be a good idea.
  • Many manual, error prone administrative tasks can now be automated, given how much software has improved recently.
  • Government oversight and fines are on the increase, and 75% of 401(k) plan sponsors that were audited by the Department of Labor failed their audit.
  • Since 2009, fees average fees have dropped by almost 30%. Not all 401(k) advisors and recordkeepers have passed those savings along to their clients.
  • Profit sharing and other retirement plan features that allow for bigger tax-deferred savings are growing in popularity, and many companies and their executives are missing out by not considering these options.

Should you work with a top 401(k) recordkeeper?

The lists of the top small and mid-sized 401(k) providers may not be the right starting point for your 401(k) recordkeeper search. When you are assessing your plan and considering switching providers, consider the how each provider’s’ features and strengths will play across the following aspects of your retirement plan:

  • Employee Experience: Helps employees take advantage & save more
  • Investment Help: Offers low-fee options like target date funds
  • Administrative Work: Automates day-to-day 401(k) administration
  • Compliance: Ensures your plan meets DOL and IRS requirements
  • Low-Fee: Keeps administrative & individual investment costs in check

If you’d prefer to focus on running your business and want to leave the provider search to an experienced 401(k) advisor let’s get in touch! We believe that we can help you improve your current 401(k) and reduce your fees. Talk to us today.

The following is our data section of our original report from January 2017, with data on the top 401(k) recordkeepers from 2015 and 2016.

Who were the top SMB 401(k) providers in 2016?

The top 10 401(k) providers ranking have been stable for the past two years, with only one new provider making it into the top 10 list for defined contribution plans under $10 million in assets, according to PlanSponsor’s annual recordkeeping surveys.*

For mid-sized plans with $10 million to $100 million in assets, the top 401(k) providers list has been even more stable, with most providers staying at the same rank as the previous year, and only one new provider moving into the top 10 401(k) provider ranking.

Top 10 Small Business 401(k) providers – 2016 Rankings

Plans under $10 million in assets

2016 Rank Provider Name 2016 Plans Managed 2015 Rank 2015 Plans Managed Rank Change Plans Managed Growth
1 Paychex, Inc.  71,800 1 67,800 0 6%
2 ADP  54,306 4 46,908 2 16%
3 John Hancock 401(k)  54,206 2 53,079 -1 2%
4 Principal  48,692 3 48,482 -1 0%
5 American Funds  45,139 7 40,044 2 13%
6 Voya Financial  44,737 5 44,557 -1 0%
7 Ascensus  44,115 6 43,863 -1 1%
8 Nationwide  37,264 8 38,051 0 -2%
9 Empower  32,265 not in top 10 not in top 10 up na
10 VALIC  31,183 9 31,503 -1 -1%

In the small business segment, where companies have less than $10 million in their 401(k) plan, the big payroll providers are the number 1 and number 2 providers. This is not a big surprise, given that both Paychex and ADP have large customer bases in the small business segment. ADP appears to have moved up in the rankings quite a bit from 2015; if the PlanSponsor numbers are correct, they added over 7,000 plans year-over-year – quite an impressive feat! The major insurance providers, John Hancock, Principal, and Nationwide stayed relatively stable in their client count, but two of them did scoot down one notch in the rankings – John Hancock and Principal.

Top 10 Mid-Sized Business 401(k) providers – 2016 Rankings

Plans between $10 million and $100 million in assets

2016 Rank Provider Name 2016 Plans Managed 2015 Rank 2015 Plans Managed Rank Change Plans Managed Growth
1 Fidelity Investments  5,865 1 5,673 0 3%
2 TIAA  2,958 2 2,935 0 1%
3 Empower Retirement  2,789 3 2,693 0 4%
4 Principal  2,370 4 2,335 0 1%
5 Voya Financial  1,789 5 1,789 0 0%
6 MassMutual Financial Group  1,605 6 1,685 0 -5%
7 Transamerica Retirement Solutions  1,437 9 1,322 2 9%
8 Prudential Retirement  1,412 7 1,437 -1 -2%
9 Vanguard  1,319 10 1,258 1 5%
10 Newport Group  1,304 not in top 10 not in top 10 up na

The top six mid-sized 401(k) providers rankings stayed constant year-over-year (in the segment defined as companies having $10 million to $100 million in plan assets). The Newport Group has joined the list as a top 10 provider, displacing TransAmerica.

Top 401(k) providers notes

*The 2015 PlanSponsor survey is here, and here is the 2016 PlanSponsor survey. And if you want to read about ForUsAll in PlanSponsor, you can read PlansSponsor’s interview and review of ForUsAll here.

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Healy Jones
Healy joined ForUsAll because he believes that all Americans deserve a fulfilling retirement. As the head of marketing, he’s focused on spreading the word that small businesses can offer their employees a great 401k plan. Prior to ForUsAll, he ran the acquisition marketing team at Sunrun, the nation’s largest dedicated residential solar provider, where he lead the direct to consumer team to hundreds of percent year over year growth. He began his career in financial services, working for JP Morgan, Summit Partners, and Atlas Venture. Healy has an A.B. from Dartmouth College and an M.B.A. from Wharton. When he’s not working, Healy and his wife enjoy taking their daughter rock climbing and filling their wine fridge. When he finally retires, he hopes to start emptying the wine fridge.
Healy Jones

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