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401(k) Real Talk Transcript for January 24, 2024

Transcript of Episode 89 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 channel and CEO at TRAU, TPSU & 401kTV returning from holiday and a long retreat—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! 


Though announced late last year, the AON acquisition of NFP is worth noting and another example of convergence. There has mostly been a bright line between the institutional and advisor sold retirement markets. Though retirement is a small percentage of NFP’s revenue which is led by P&C, benefits & wealth and there is likely not much integration expected between AON and NFP immediately, the deal could be a harbinger of large market firms like AON looking for more exposure in smaller, retail markets.

Meanwhile, Madison Dearborn, which bought then public NFP for $1.3bn in 2013 and sold it for a reported $13.4bn to AON, has shifted focus buying Wilmington Trust, now Great Gray, and separating flexPath/RPAG and their senior leadership from NFP Retirement last year both with a focus on CITs, practice management and technology.


It’s hard to keep up with all the developments at Vestwell, a leading fintech record keeper. They recently announced a $125 million capital raise at a $1 billion valuation led by Lightspeed Ventures increasing the total invested to $227.5m with profitability 18 months away and a possible IPO if they are not acquired beforehand.

Vestwell bought Sumday from BNY Mellon a few years ago cornering the government auto IRA market and recently purchased Gradifi, a student loan debt repayment provider, from Morgan Stanley. Along with emergency savings and HSAs, Vestwell offers managed accounts with a high percentage of plans deploying them -  they are currently working on a lifetime income solution.

As the small plan market explodes, Vestwell is well positioned with leading tech and the ability to safely share data – they have major partnerships with Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan and are uniquely focused on partnering with advisors.


Pontera, another fintech focused on DC plans and advisors, announced a partnership with Commonwealth to enable their advisors to manage client’s 401k accounts just after getting another $60 m in funding late last year.

With $9.3 trillion in DC assets and $800bn rolling out of plans annually, not only are ERISA plans a prime target for wealth advisors, the workplace could be a great way for RIAs to find new clients.

Pontera enables advisors to safely leverage their client’s credentials acting as a cyber shield providing a viable and safe solution to allow both RPAs and RIAs to integrate and manage participant assets which is sorely needed as wealth and retirement converge at the workplace.


The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a major issue that could affect the DOL though it is not your typical ERISA lawsuit.

Cited tens of thousands of times by other courts, the Chevron doctrine allows courts to defer to agencies when legislation is ambiguous. Likely to be overturned with backing from conservatives which claim that Chevron enables the deep state, the ruling could emasculate DOL rule making in general and their new fiduciary rule specifically. Stay tuned.


Is the party over for the RPA M&A market? With many of the larger, well known practices sold and a limited pool of RPAs to begin with, the leading M&A banker Dick Darian thinks so.

But the convergence of wealth and retirement is growing attracting RIA Aggregators like Creative Planning and Carson while RPA Aggregators are buying wealth firms which could lead to a resurgence if successful.

Read my recent column and interview with Darian to learn what’s next for RPAs.


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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