If Wall Street were the NBA, I'd liken Principal Financial Group (NYSE:PFG) to Tim Duncan -- it might not seem flashy, but it'll beat you anyway. Unlike competitors T. Rowe Price (NASDAQ:TROW), Prudential Financial (NYSE:PRU), and Legg Mason (NYSE:LM), I can't name any of Principal's superstar fund managers, nor remember many of their commercials. But in reviewing the transcript of CFO Michael Gersie's speech at a recent Raymond James investor conference, I was impressed with Principal's solid positioning and quiet-but-steady nature.

Principal Financial Group is a financial-services company specializing in the retirement market -- think 401(k)s, or health and life insurance. It sports an in-house asset management team, and it recently bought Washington Mutual's (NYSE:WM) mutual fund division. The company seems very well-positioned because, as Gersie noted, a new era of do-it-yourself employee benefits is upon us, as defined-benefit obligations go the way of the dinosaur. By its own estimate, Principal Financial Group commands an 8%-15% share of the market (depending on how you calculate it) for providing retirement services for small-to-medium businesses.

Principal's asset-management division's excellent performance has also earned high Morningstar ratings, and has helped it add $1 billion a month to assets under management. Principal also noted that it has a 54% retention rate of assets when an employee of a firm it serves leaves that company; typically, such funds are very hard to retain.

Principal's prime strengths are its steady earnings and strong competitive position. When a business selects a provider like Principal to do its 401(k)s, employee stock options, and other services, it will probably stick with that provider for awhile, given the headaches involved in setting up such a complex administration plan. (Speaking from experience, just thinking about such efforts makes me frustrated.)

Principal's one-stop-shopping aspect also contributes to its moat. Only a handful of competitors can provide its wide variety of services in-house, including asset management, defined-benefit plans, defined-contribution plans, employee stock options, and non-qualified plans. Principal benefits from offering such comprehensive services because its customers only have to deal with one provider, and their employees can consolidate their statements. Principal also has a national network of distributors to provide a local presence; that's an extremely critical asset for financial service companies, where products are often sold based on personal relationships. All in all, I think investors who favor unexciting but successful companies will like Principal Financial Group. More importantly, this company's shareholder returns, at an annualized average of 20% over the past five years, are very exciting indeed.

Related Foolishness:

Principal Financial Group has earned a five-star rating in Motley Fool CAPS. Give CAPS a try to see our community's ratings on more than 4,000 stocks.

Legg Mason is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Washington Mutual is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. Try any one of our investing services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Emil Lee is an analyst and a disciple of value investing. He doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned above. Emil appreciates your comments, concerns, and complaints. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.