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Education Precedents

Professional Development

I’ve been working with retirement plans for my entire professional career, during which I have met, spoken with, and written to tens of thousands of plan sponsors. And yet, in all that time, and with all those people, I’ve not met more than a handful who had chosen that specific role as a career path. More often than not, they’ve found themselves in that role with no training, education or background in the role beyond an out-of-date plan document and the cryptic notes left behind by a harried predecessor.

Indeed, there’s more than a bit of irony that individuals who find themselves in a job with personal liability for their actions (and the actions of their co-fiduciaries), alongside an expectation of prudence that courts have described as the “highest known to man,” have had little in the way of practical, retirement-plan-focused training.  

That’s a problem for those plan sponsor fiduciaries, of course, but also for the plan advisors who support them. While some may find it easier to lead someone who doesn’t know any better, every quality advisor I’ve ever met much prefers working with plan sponsors who know their job and responsibilities well enough to appreciate the value and contributions of a trained professional.

NAPA members have long valued the benefits not only of education in the field, but the ability – the critical need – to be able to stay up to date on the latest legal and regulatory developments. In addition to conferences, webcasts, and the NAPA Net Daily, we’ve helped you do just that. In the past few years, we’ve launched several NAPA credentials and certificates – the Certified Plan Fiduciary Advisor and more recently the Nonqualified Plan Advisor, as well as NAPA’s PracticeBuilder and Qualified Plan Financial Consultant (QPFC) credential.

Now it’s time for plan sponsors.

This need for education – and acknowledgement of expertise – of plan sponsors was one of the first items discussed with the Plan Sponsor Council of America as they joined the American Retirement Association. We’ve spent the past year in close collaboration with various subject matter experts, including volunteers and the leadership of the PSCA not only discussing this scope of this education need, but also developing a solution.

Last week we unveiled a new industry credential: the Certified Plan Sponsor Professional (PSCA CPSPTM), and – coincident with the NAPA 401(k) Summit – we are extending to NAPA Certified Plan Fiduciary Advisors the opportunity to extend complimentary access for some of their plan sponsor clients and prospects to the education program associated with the CPSP credential.

Leveraging the latest in online education technology and adult learning methods, this three-course, nine-module online program was developed by plan sponsors and some of the nation’s leading retirement experts to improve and enhance plan sponsors’ understanding of how to effectively evaluate, design, implement and manage a comprehensive employer-sponsored retirement plan. It deals with establishing organizational objectives, plan design, behavioral finance and employee engagement, investment concepts, fiduciary oversight and risk management, compliance, and even vendor management. In sum, it deals with a broad spectrum of issues, concerns and insights regarding retirement plan design and administration.

The education program is designed so that plan sponsors with varying levels of experience and expertise can move through the course flexibly – but provides enough detail and supporting resources that those who are still relatively early in a plan sponsor role can focus on needed knowledge points. Ultimately, those who attain the CPSP credential, by possessing the requisite experience and passing the rigorous credentialing exam, will have demonstrated that they have the knowledge and practical application skills needed to protect their organization from unnecessary fiduciary risk while helping their plan participants achieve better outcomes.

We’re excited about this new credential, and its prospects – not only for enhancing the knowledge and appreciation of dedicated plan sponsors, and for helping advisors add value to their relationships, but also for the positive impact that valuable, practical, timely education in the hands and minds of dedicated retirement plan professionals surely has on the outcomes from our nation’s retirement system.

You can find out more about the program, the credential and the PSCA National Conference, where we’ll be sponsoring a preparatory boot camp for plan sponsors, at

Note: Knowing that education budgets can be tight, even for this critical role, access to the CPSP education program is available online at no charge to plan sponsors through the generous support of founding CPSP education partners Ascensus, Franklin Templeton, OppenheimerFunds, PIMCO and Wilmington Trust.