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Inside NAPA

It is difficult to put into words how thrilled and honored I am to serve as the President of NAPA. Over the last 20 years, I have been incredibly fortunate to learn from the 401(k) pioneers who have shaped the work we do. I have enjoyed participating alongside the great leadership team that preceded my term, working on numerous initiatives and priorities as part of the NAPA Leadership Council. 

During the last year or so, we have experienced an extraordinary and challenging period. While many individuals, families and organizations have faced tremendous difficulties, our industry, as a whole, has evolved, risen to the challenge, pivoted—whatever you choose to call it—to help serve and deliver for our friends, neighbors and clients in need.

We still have significant work to do! The landscape is maturing rapidly, which is why I am excited to be serving NAPA and the American Retirement Association at this time. When I came into the retirement plan industry nearly 16 years ago, I wanted to help people improve their financial lives. I felt so strongly about this that we developed our firm’s central mission and values on “helping more people than ever before get on track for their financial future.”

I was born and raised in often-neglected West Virginia. You may smirk at that sentence, but there are plenty of examples of a sports commentator on a top 10 football game giving the score as “Texas 10 and Virginia 13” (leaving out “West”). Still, nearly everyone “knows someone” from West Virginia, including many greats like Jerry West, Don Knotts, John Chambers and Booker T. Washington.

I tend to think my upbringing in West Virginia was like those of many of us who grew up in small towns scattered across the country. I had a great and (mostly) financially secure childhood—but was able to see and understand the disparity in both financial knowledge and means. When I was 17, my father passed away unexpectedly. This experience was obviously traumatic and life-altering for my siblings and family, and it magnified the gaps in financial know-how, the importance of financial planning, and the lack of assistance and resources most have when it comes to their money. It challenged me to grow up quickly and, in my opinion, has been a major driver in both my belief system and the trajectory of my life.

Whether you grew up in a small town like me or a major metropolitan area, we know that the 401(k) (and 403(b)) defined contribution plan is the retirement plan for America’s workers. Most individuals and families will never have their own personal financial advisor, but, through their employer’s retirement plan, they can gain access to the financial tools, education and people to help them build and develop their own financial security and success, making an inalienable difference in their lives. This is why I am so drawn to our work and to NAPA. Each day, we are making a difference in the lives of individuals and families in our community and around the country—regardless of their age, income, gender, ethnicity or educational background. Through the private retirement system, we can lower the barrier to entry, if not eliminate it altogether. My focus as President is to further promote and deliver on key initiatives that NAPA has launched and worked toward in recent years, including:

  • Acting in the best interest of employers and employees, as fiduciaries.
  • Expanding coverage so that more of America’s workers have access to a retirement plan, because that’s how and where people save for retirement.
  • Ensuring that minority, underserved and disadvantaged individuals and workers have tools, access and information to improve their financial know-how and financial security.
  • Offering education and curriculum initiatives so plan advisors, practitioners and stakeholders can do more, deliver better, and continue to improve and expand the private retirement system.

I look forward to being a champion, a listener, and a leader—engaging all of you as members and important voices in our work, as we move toward continually fulfilling these initiatives and more. 

Alexander G. Assaley, III, AIF®, is the Managing Principal at AFS 401(k) Retirement Services, LLC in Bethesda, MD. This, his first quarterly commentary as NAPA’s 2021-2022 President, originally appeared in the Summer issue of NAPA Net the Magazine.