2015 Service Stars |Individual

Aerika Young Walker

Helping a 403(b) sponsor handle a changing regulatory and legislative climate

BIO: Aerika Young Walker has been a senior relationship manager for VALIC in Houston for 12 years, having previously served three years as a compliance administrator. She has worked in financial services for 18 years—in employee benefits, consulting, compliance and human resources (HR).
CLIENT: Central Park Conservancy, New York, New York
PLAN TYPE: 403(b)
PLAN SIZE: $30 million

“I felt deluged with all the changes taking place, not only with retirement plans but with human resources [HR] in general,” recalls Sheila Kendall of when she began working with Aerika Young Walker of VALIC in 2009. Kendall, associate vice president of HR at Central Park Conservancy, a private New York City nonprofit, then faced a daunting set of plan sponsor challenges, including new federal regulations for 403(b) plans. “Aerika’s initial words to me were: ‘Don’t worry, it won’t always be like this. There will come a time when we won’t need to speak as frequently. It’s my job to help your plan run smoothly.’ No truer words were ever spoken.”

The fact that Young Walker worked three years in HR for the former Chase Manhattan Bank, now Chase Bank, helps her relate to her client, she says. “Because I’ve been on her side of the house, I feel like I understand where she’s coming from,” Young Walker says of Kendall. To her clients, “I’m like an extension of HR.”

In 2009, the Central Park Conservancy converted from VALIC’s annuity platform to its mutual fund platform, a move Kendall says the sponsor made to enhance the investments and services available to participants. (Later, in 2012, the plan had a second vendor, but consolidated those assets at VALIC.) At the same time, 403(b) sponsors had to adapt to new rules that ranged from the mandate to have a written plan document to new requirements for handling participant distributions.

“The new 403(b) regs hit them so hard,” Young Walker recalls of the conservancy. That meant she spent considerable time initially educating the sponsor about its fiduciary duties under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and the crucial importance of prudent processes. “I wanted to give [Kendall] confidence that anything can be fixed,” Young Walker says.

She succeeded. For example, she helped the sponsor to develop a smoother process for completing its annual Form 5500s. “Our Form 5500 filings have become effortless,” Kendall says.

Even now, Young Walker and Kendall generally have a one-hour phone call scheduled biweekly. The relationship manager shares with her sponsor client any compliance, administrative or investment issues that have come up with the plan, but they also often talk about broader industry developments. In that case, VALIC regulatory, legal or compliance experts sometimes join the call to speak with Kendall.

During these calls, Young Walker answers Kendall’s questions about developments such as fee disclosure regulations. “We have talked a lot about that, because it is her job as a sponsor to make sure she understands what all the fee disclosure documents mean. I had to make sure she understood things that she never really had to delve into before,” Young Walker says.

In their conversations, Kendall says, Young Walker “was and still is diligent in making sure I understand any changes before getting off the phone.”

Young Walker likes working with sponsors to utilize the expertise she and VALIC have and to “clean up their plan and make it easier to administer,” she says. To make that possible, she starts by carefully reading all plan documents and talking with a new sponsor client in-depth to uncover the “hot-button issues” where it most needs help, Young Walker says.

“A little bit of investment of time on the front end is going to pay dividends down the line,” she says. —Judy Ward
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