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401(k) Real Talk Transcript for February 7, 2024

Transcript of Episode 92 of 401(k) Real Talk.

Greetings and welcome to this week’s edition of 401k Real Talk. This is Fred Barstein contributing editor at’s RPA Edge and CEO at TRAU, TPSU & 401kTV - I review all of last week’s stories and select the 5 most important and interesting ones providing open honest and candid discussion you will not get anyway else. So let’s get real! 


And the beat goes on as the surging US economy added 350,000 new jobs in January doubling estimates while unemployment fell to 3.7%. Overall, 3.1m jobs were added in 2023 all of which could lead to interest rate cuts.

The Professional & Business svcs sector which had lagged in the past added 74,000 jobs while healthcare and education added 112,000 positions. Hourly Wages increased .6% beating inflation which cd lead to the estimated 5.8 workers on the sideline to come back into the market.

On the other hand, Challenger Gray & Christmas, an executive recruiting firm, reported that the #/firms laying off workers increased by 98% in 2023 while bond king Jeffrey Gundlach questions the job 3s noting that 88% of states + DC reported higher unemployment rates.

Regardless of who is right, the war for talent continues with the emphasis on benefits, especially DC plans at the forefront as concerns about the viability of Social Security rise, continues with an emphasis perhaps on retention v. recruiting.


Mariner Wealth advisors announced the acquisition of Andco and Fourth Street which manage $109bn, mostly institutional money much of which is in the retirement market. Not only did the 2 acquisitions double their AUM, Mariner is an example of an RIA aggregator focused on the retirement market along with Creative Planning.

As wealth & retirement converge at the workplace, pairing the two capabilities together is no longer a nice-to-have exemplified by Captrust’s push into wealth over the past 7 years followed by other RPA aggregators more recently.

This convergence is heating up and now Mariner is right there at the top of the heap.


Due to inflation and high interest rates, MarshBerry, the leading benefits, P&C and now retirement M&A banker reported a dip in deals in 2023 echoed by Devoe & Echelon while Wise Rhino is seeing a slight downturn for RPAs as well as the pool becomes smaller.

Yet PE $ is increasing accounting for 68% or 185 of the 275 deals, done from 292 in 2023 as the market matures and deals get bigger like the Focus Financial sale to private equity, Thomas Lee’s announcement to sell Hightower and, of course, Goldman’s sale of United Capital to Creative planning as well as refinancing and rebranding at CI Financial.

Meanwhile United Capital’s founder Joe Duran started his own firm Rise Growth Partners with a $250m war chest and Karl Heckenberg, former CEO at Emigrant partner, raised a whopping $1 bn for his new firm Constellation Wealth.

So rather than a trend, the recent dip in advisor M&A seems to be a road bump as the convergence of wealth & retirement heats up.


Cerulli’s recent research is showing that only 7% of advisors recommend active TDFs with an equal number recommending either passive or blend funds. Which, like the job growth numbers fly in the face of data as American Funds, an active money manager, led all other TDF providers in inflows with almost $20bn who, along with Fidelity accounted for all inflows in 2023. May be a case of asking what wd someone do v. what they are doing.


Are the new crop of fintech record keepers led by Guideline, Human Interest, Vestwell & Betterment viable. According to the irreverent Retireholics and venerable former Voya retirement head Charlie Nelson, the answer is no.

But unlike their internet RK predecessors of the early 2000s who espoused disruption and world dominance, these new fintechs who have raise $1.5 bn collectively are riding the waves of the explosion of small plans and convergence which many existing TPAs and RKs cannot.

Read my latest column which goes in depth into the subject profiling some of the top players that RPAs and wealth advisors need to know about.


So those were the most important stories from the past week. I listed a few other stories I thought were worth reading covering:

Please let me know if I missed anything or if you have any comments. Otherwise, I look forward to speaking with you next week on 401kReal Talk.


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