My Takeaways from a Great ASPPA Conference
What a great ASPPA conference! Between PenChecks’ 20th anniversary and ERISA’s 40th, there was a lot to celebrate. And as our industry continues to undergo rapid change, the conference theme of “Raising the Bar for America’s Retirement System” couldn’t be more appropriate or timely.
For me, the 40-year retrospective on ERISA delivered one of the real highlights of the conference. In particular, I found the panel of ERISA decision makers – Alvin Lurie, Ann Combs, Mark Ivery and Brian Graff – to be very interesting and informative. They provided a fascinating historical account of how ERISA came about and how it evolved over the years. And they firmly believe that ERISA has contributed significantly to the growth of the pension industry while expanding the definition of a pension and the role of the fiduciary.
On Sunday, PenChecks was proud to partner with ASPPA in announcing the winners of this year’s annual PenChecks/ASPPA QKA Designation Scholarships. The scholarships were very well received by conference attendees, many of whom stopped by our booth to personally thank PenChecks for taking the lead in this area. Again, our congratulations to this year’s winners!
Another interesting item to come out of the conference was the new IRS and Department of Labor position on auditing third-party administrators. Apparently, both agencies intend to place more emphasis on evaluating how TPAs operate their businesses; the rationale being that if TPA firms have well-defined policies and procedures in place, it will increase their ability to administer their clients’ plans in a compliant manner. This may represent a departure from the way the IRS and DOL typically operate, but the consensus seems to be that it’s a good move on their part. And it certainly speaks to the ASPPA program of having retirement plan firms go through a certification process.
I want to personally thank everyone who took the time to stop by the PenChecks booth to say hello and learn about our products and services. We had more people than ever visit our booth this year, and while I’d like to think it was due to our exciting rebrand and anniversary celebration, I suspect that the free cupcakes and popcorn also had a lot to do with it. In fact, the question heard most often at the PenChecks booth was, “Hey, do you guys have any more of that yummy popcorn?”
All humor aside, I personally came away from the conference with some new insights on where our industry is heading. As I gaze into the PenChecks crystal ball, here’s what I foresee happening over the next 10 years. I believe the Affordable Care Act, which currently has numerous flaws, will get amended many times, allowing it to evolve into a worthwhile program for all citizens. This will allow America’s employers to stop offering healthcare to employees – a benefit for both employers and employees as it will free up dollars that can be redirected to providing better retirement benefits. We may even see a revival of the defined benefit plan, although not the same as we know it today.
I also see a continuing decline in the number of providers in our industry. For example, only 10 years ago we had more than 50 institutional record keepers. We now have 20, and I predict that number will shrink by half within the next five to 10 years. Also, we’ll end up with a small number of boutique firms that will provide new services and systems aimed at the lower end of the middle market. These smaller, more targeted firms will need newer and more efficient technologies to effectively serve their clients.
These are indeed exciting times for our industry. And the impending changes underscore even more the need for well-educated retirement plan professionals to ensure we continue delivering quality products in a cost-effective, ethical manner. My thanks to ASPPA for another great conference, and for providing a much-needed platform to discuss the many challenges and opportunities facing our industry.
President & CEO