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Ripples in the Pond

I am writing this quarter’s column fresh on the heels of participating in the American Retirement Association’s semi-annual Board of Directors meeting. For those who are not aware, the Board is comprised of current and past leaders of the various sister associations under the ARA umbrella, along with ARA CEO Brian Graff. The passion which this group of volunteer leaders has for the ARA’s stated mission of “Working for America’s Retirement” is palpable, and it is shared by the dedicated ARA staff members who attend to deliver various presentations on the state of the organization from an operational and membership support perspective.

None of us is as smart as all of us, and this meeting always reinforces one of the ARA’s long-held tenets: that as interactive sister organizations, we are synergistically stronger together than if operating in a vacuum. It is personally fortifying for me to witness during these meetings tangible evidence of how we can bring value to those we endeavor to serve, not only by what we know individually, but also by what we contribute collectively — rooted in our respective areas of expertise, experience and perspective — as we collaborate on the development of strategies and solutions. Frankly, I leave each meeting inspired, enlightened and humbled.

Part of the agenda for each of these two-day meetings focuses on matters relative to the management and direction of the organization from an ARA perspective, with time also allotted for an update from each of the sister organizations about their respective perspectives and issues at hand.

The rest of the meeting is dedicated to discussing the state of the industry and our preferred positioning as an organization within the current and future environment that will surely expand to focus on retirement security for all Americans, with a dual mandate of expanded coverage and enhanced retirement readiness. This focus by the powers that be is already evident in the social policy priorities being espoused within the current political discourse, draft legislative proposals and recent regulatory efforts.

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Let me assure you that a top priority of the ARA Board and staff and the leadership of each association and its committees of volunteers is how best to work in the best interests of our respective members and firm partners. However, of even greater importance is how best to utilize our collective expertise, experience, synergies and scale to position ourselves as a respected thought leader on retirement security and deserving of being considered part of the solution-crafting process. If we ignore the latter, we will be perceived as just another self-interest group lobbying to protect our small piece of the pie at the expense of the greater good. That perception will surely be counter-productive for us as an organization and for the industry in the long run. That possible outcome is not lost on the leadership of the ARA.

I am prone to analogies and metaphors, so please indulge me and let me close with a metaphor. Let’s imagine we are on a walk in our favorite park and we come upon a still pond or small lake. When we were young, what was more fun than finding a small, flat rock and propelling it across that still water to see how many skips we could get? In many ways, those light, fleeting skips are like many of the causes we focus our attention on during our lives. A series of brief, inconsequential interactions before the stone sinks away without consequence or impact. Then, after we tire of that exercise, we look for the biggest rock we can handle to throw high and far toward the middle of the pond to see how many ripples the impact can create and how far the ripples go out even after the rock has long disappeared from sight under the water.

Today’s selfless volunteers within the ARA family are ripples in the pond of those who volunteered before us, each of whom were like a rock of commitment and effort that dropped into the water. And like them, we have a responsibility to drop like rocks into the pond that is the pursuit of retirement security for all Americans — and to create new ripples speeding outward.

Success is defined by many as fame or fortune, lifestyle or possessions. But all that is fleeting and, like the skips of a stone across the water, entertaining but soon forgotten. I would suggest that success is better measured by whether one’s body of work over a lifetime made the world a better place — measured by both deeds and the impact of the ripples in the pond they triggered.

To those who volunteer their time and contribute their financial donations to support the efforts of the ARA and its sister organizations, thank you! To those on the shoreline, consider throwing your rock of commitment into the pond with us. We need all the help we can get in working for America’s retirement — making a difference that ripples on long after we have disappeared from sight.

Jeffery Acheson, CPFA, is the founder of Advanced Strategies Group, LLC. He serves as NAPA’s 2018-2019 President.