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The 10 Most Impactful People in the 401(k) Industry

The contributions from members of this group resulted in something new and impactful, good or bad, and they are still active in the same or similar role where they continue to have the opportunity to affect the industry.

Now that 401kWire has revived its 100 Most Influential list after almost a decade, I thought it would be a good time to list the 10 most impactful people IMHO. The criteria are that their contributions resulted in something new and impactful, good or bad, and that they are still active in the same or similar role where they continue to have the opportunity to affect the industry.

Here’s my list in alphabetical order:

  • Professor Shlomo Benartzi – Along with Richard Thaler, Benartzi brought behavioral finance to the defined contribution world, which has led to the ideal auto plan, which, if followed, will almost guarantee that people have enough money to retire. These innovations have led to tens of millions more participants and tens of billions more assets. With his new company, PensionPlus, Benartzi is trying to tackle the decumulation problem, which might prove to be harder.
  • Dick Darian – At NRP, Darian helped Bill Chetney build one of the first RPA aggregators and then leveraged that knowledge and those connections to change the DCIO world at BlackRock, helping NFP build flexPath and focusing on selling to aggregators and home offices of record-keepers and broker/dealers, not individual RPAs. But he makes the list as the founder of Wise Rhino, riding the wave of RPA consolidation, which does not seem to be subsiding with more benefits companies entering the fray like Alera and World Insurance (PensionMark) and as firms look to buy wealth advisors.
  • Kevin de LeonCalSavers was one of the first state mandate programs and will likely be the biggest as companies with just one employee will be required to offer a retirement plan by 2026. All but four states have legislation at some phase mandating or suggesting that companies offer a retirement that, along with tax incentives in SECURE 2.0 and group plans like PEPs, could result in many millions more retirement plans.
  • Vince Giovinazzo – Founder of NFP (formerly 401kAdvisors), one of the first RPA aggregators along with Captrust and NRP (now Hub), Gio created RPAG, which provides tools to thousands of unaffiliated advisors, and flexPath, which is one of the fastest-growing target dates offering reduced pricing through CITs to the small and midsized markets.
  • Brian Graff – Though arguably the most influential DC lobbyist for the retirement industry, Graff’s real impact has been formulating NAPA, which grew out of ASPPA and the 2001 401(k) Sales Summit giving RPAs a real identity and bringing them to the attention of lawmakers and broker/dealers, many of whom did not understand what was happening in their own organizations.
  • Ed Murphy – As a mentee of Bob Reynolds, who is the “founder of 401(k)” with all due respect to Ted Benna, they created Fidelity’s DC program, the leading provider. Together they cobbled together the DC divisions of GreatWest, JPMorgan and Putnam, which led to Empower, the fastest-growing provider among the Fab Five through acquisitions (MassMutual and Prudential most recently) and organic growth. Will they be able to “empower” Personal Capital to provide wealth services to their almost 20 million DC participants?
  • Fielding Miller – As founder of the leading RPA aggregator, Captrust, over 30 years ago, Miller was early on the convergence of wealth and retirement at the workplace focusing on acquiring wealth advisors more than five years ago and more recently shifting to participant, not plan, revenue. Others are scrambling to catch up.
  • Charlie Nelson – Though unaffiliated after recently leaving Voya, Nelson created an acquisition and outsourcing machine at GreatWest, the foundation of Empower, and FastCore, which has led to widespread record-keeper consolidation. He took a large but stumbling Voya to the next level through upgraded tech and personnel. Will it be able to leverage the convergence of benefits and retirement at work? If it does, it will be without Nelson who is expected to reemerge at a senior position soon.
  • Fred Reish – An early pioneer in the ERISA world when most law firms and courts struggled to understand its importance, Reish highlighted fiduciary concepts to the DC world, especially advisors, and helped fi360 create some of its IP. Though certainly at a point in his career when most retire, Fred is still going strong.
  • Jerome Schlichter – Claiming to have lowered record-keeping costs by over 10 basis points, Schlichter’s early efforts have opened the floodgates to DC litigation with over 200 lawsuits filed in the past two years, which have migrated from large plans record-keeping costs to target dates, RPAs and smaller plans.

People to Watch

  • Most RPA aggregators but especially:
    • Joe DeNoyior – Hub
    • Randy Long – SageView (should also be in Honorable Mention list)
    • Vince Morris – OneDigital
    • Peter Mallouk – Creative Planning/Lockton
  • Rob Barnett – Wilmington Trust (recently purchased by a private equity firm) brings CITs to smaller DC plans and substantially lowered investment costs
  • Lew Minsky – DCIIA, Retirement Research Council, Plan Sponsor Institute
  • Aaron Schumm – Vestwell, the only fintech record-keeper focused on RPAs
  • Spencer Williams – Retirement Clearing House and the new Portability Service Network

Honorable Mention and Past Professions (impactful but not top 10, no longer active in the DC industry, or in a role to have the same effect)

  • Nevin Adams – Morning Dash, PlanSponsor, ARA
  • Ted Benna – Johnson Companies
  • John Bogle – Vanguard
  • Phyllis Borzi – DOL EBSA
  • Jerry Bramlett – 401k Company, NextPlan, FuturePlan
  • Bill Chetney – 401kAdvisorsUSA, NRP, GRPAA, Viking Cove
  • Mark Phillips – ADP
  • Charlie Ruffel – PlanSponsor, PlanAdviser, Kudu Investment Management
  • Don Trone – fi360, 3 Ethos
  • Marcia Wagner – Wagner Law Group

So did I miss anyone or include someone not worthy? Let me know your thoughts.

Fred Barstein is founder and CEO of TRAU, TPSU and 401kTV.

TAGS: People
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