New York Life Retirement Plan Services has introduced an advisory services platform tailored for union members, but analysts say it could be a difficult time to introduce an advisory platform of any sort.

OnTarget Personal Advisor provides union members that use the New York Life Insurance Co. online access to research, education and advice services through Morningstar Retirement Manager.

Deanna Garen, the managing director of participant solutions for New York Life Retirement Plan Services, said in an interview last week that union workers have unique retirement planning needs that require a unique platform.

A union worker could work multiple jobs that have different retirement benefits, she said. "The typical advice provided to a 401(k) is not going to work for the union marketplace."

For example, a traditional retirement calculator provides savings recommendations based on an employee's current savings and contributions to a defined plan, Garen said, but a journeyman carpenter could have seven different employers, and each could be contributing to the carpenter's retirement plan at a different rate.

New York Life's advice platform can also calculate retirement savings according to hourly wages, which are typical for union workers, she said. "The members of different locals and different trades have a lot of different pension plans and benefits. We have captured all of those different tools on one platform."

Analysts said an advice platform will be critical as retirement plans become increasingly specialized, but it could be difficult to get new services to catch on, because of difficult market conditions.

Geoffrey Bobroff, the president of Bobroff Consulting Inc. in East Greenwich, R.I., said if larger providers want to cross-sell additional services, they need to start by offering advice, but most providers are wary of introducing services until market conditions rebound.

Garen said that New York Life thinks there is an opportunity to gather more assets by offering advice to union members. As of March 31, New York Life Investments, the retirement arm's immediate parent, had $4 billion of assets under administration from Taft-Hartley plans, or 15% of its total assets under administration.

"This platform really gives us a competitive advantage, because there really isn't another advice module that is tailored specifically for union members," she said. "We understand those differences and the needs of the union market."

New York Life Retirement Plan Services offers an array of advice modules for defined contribution and benefit plans, Garen said, and it is developing a module for pre-retirees and retirees to help them determine how to use their savings after retirement.

"We want to continue to provide holistic solutions and give advice after retirement," Garen said. "We have the data that shows that by combining an annuity at the point of retirement, but still remaining in the market is the best way to deflect inflation."

The new platform is available now for free to union members, and it will be made available over the next several weeks to participants in other New York Life Taft-Hartley plans.

New York Life Retirement Plan Services, which has offices in Westwood, Mass., and Parsippany, N.J., managed more than 1,900 defined contribution, defined benefit and deferred compensation plans as of March 31.

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