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​Stay Engaged!

Inside NAPA

At the time of writing this column, I am preparing for the NAPA 401(k) Summit being held in Tampa, FL on April 3–5. My term as President concludes at the event and, even though my role on the NAPA Leadership Council won’t end just yet, I have been reflecting on the work we have accomplished during the last year and—more importantly, the collective work that we all do every day to help investors, savers, and families improve their financial picture and get on track for a successful retirement.

One incredible aspect of NAPA and the American Retirement Association is that, through our members, we are helping to shape retirement outcomes with a ground-up, grassroots approach while also guiding and advising retirement policy and strategy at the highest levels of federal lawmaking and through coordination with some of our country’s largest corporations (check out our sister organization, the Plan Sponsor Council of America). This multifaceted approach is only successful through the engagement and collaboration of all stakeholders. 

In my opinion, our most critical constituency is America’s workforce—the employees we have the privilege of serving. Here are a few of the key initiatives NAPA is focused on that, I believe, are imperative to further enhancing retirement security for today’s workforce and the generations ahead.

Expanding Access

The ARA has provided data clearly showing that the primary factor that helps an individual to accumulate retirement savings is having a retirement program at work. Employees with access to a 401(k), 403(b) or other workplace plan are 14 times more likely to save for retirement compared to those without one. Furthermore, the 401(k) is the middle-class savings plan—nearly 80% of participants in 401(k) plans earn less than $100,000 per year, and 43% earn less than $50,000.

That’s why it is so important for us to work on expanding coverage to the nearly 50% of employees who don’t have a plan at work. To date, NAPA has supported an incentive-based approach for companies and small businesses to offer retirement plans. Moving forward, we believe a concerted effort of regulatory policy that makes administration and oversight easier and allows the private retirement system to support more access, while maintaining consistency in the rules (or mandates) at a national level, not state by state, will provide more access and coverage to employees at small businesses across the country.

Enhanced and Innovative Services

We need to continue developing products and services for employers and their employees. The retirement plan industry has evolved significantly during the last 20-plus years, ushering in numerous enhancements that have improved the products and services for investors and enhanced their retirement outcomes. 

Today’s 401(k) savers are the first who will rely almost solely on DC plans to save for retirement. We need to provide the tools, resources and products that help them through life’s financial journey. I believe this will mean a combination of policy changes, such as student loan repayment/matching provisions, and product innovation like emergency savings vehicles, HSA “sidecars” and retirement income solutions, among others. None of these products is necessarily “new,” but their elegant integration and efficient delivery is at the crux of their success—and, ultimately, the benefit they can provide to participants and their families. 

Financial Wellness

In concert with providing retirement plans to all employees and delivering the tools and resources for a successful financial journey, investors and savers need—and want—access to professional guidance and advice. The growing trend of financial wellness is incredibly valuable to the vast majority of America’s workforce who don’t have their own personal financial advisor. Helping them with their savings rate and investment allocation is just a small piece to their overall needs.

Delivering comprehensive financial advice in the workplace is going to improve the financial lives for millions of people. I believe these services need to be driven by advisors and financial professionals who are acting in the best interest of the employee. They can’t be robo-advisors or mobile apps, but rather a complement of technology-oriented solutions coupled with an empathetic human element.

Expanding Career Growth in our Industry

We need to expand the number of professionals who can deliver all the services we provide today, and to expand our services to meet the needs and goals of companies, organizations and their employees. 

Numerous universities across the country now offer degrees with a concentration in financial planning or financial services. At our firm, we are fortunate to have hired several young professionals out of these programs. While they have an excellent baseline education, they still have no idea about the incredible industry and work of retirement plan consulting/services. 

Many of today’s younger generation wants to go into a field where they can help make a difference. That’s exactly what we do… but our story isn’t being told well enough. In particular, NAPA has launched a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiative and mentoring programs through the WiRC committee—two starting points for us, as an industry, for doing a better job in sharing what an incredible, fulfilling and difference-making career awaits in the retirement plan sector of financial services. We need to get more (and more diverse) young professionals excited about the 401(k) industry and the wide range of careers that exist—consultants, technicians, software designers, counselors, attorneys, investment managers, writers, storytellers, builders, etc. (I know I am missing more than a few)!


These are big goals. They can’t be achieved in one year or through one centrally oriented group. They become reality through the continued efforts of our industry’s leaders—both the tenured advisors who mentored me and countless others, and the emerging professionals who are pushing the envelope toward our future. It also happens through a competitive landscape where peers and “competitors” push one another to do more, to be better, and to promote the success of the work we do every day. Together, we are all creating this reality.

But there will be critics; there will be naysayers; and there will be setbacks too. Stay engaged! The discipline, resolve and effort from our collective group of caring, aspirational and hardworking professionals will continue to push our industry and all those we serve further. That’s why I am so optimistic about the future of the retirement industry and the work we do.

In closing, it has been a tremendous honor getting to lead NAPA during the last year. I look forward to staying engaged as a voice for the private retirement system and financial literacy/advice, and seeing how together, we all change lives and help more people than ever achieve financial success.

Best wishes!

Alexander G. Assaley, III, AIF®, is the Managing Principal at AFS 401(k) Retirement Services, LLC in Bethesda, MD. He served as NAPA’s 2021-2022 President. This commentary will appear in the Spring issue of NAPA Net the Magazine.