Brian O'Donohue

Teaching a crash course in plan administration to a newcomer

BIO:  Brian O’Donohue is senior client service manager for Newport Group in Charlotte, North Carolina. In a former role with the company, he worked in the participant service center. Prior to that, he was a senior registered phone representative with Merrill Lynch.
CLIENT:  Twinstate Technologies
CLIENT INDUSTRY:  Telecommunications
CLIENT HEADQUARTERS:  Morrisonville, New York
CLIENT PLAN ASSETS:  $5.2 million
CLIENT PLAN PARTICIPANTS:  56 active participants

When the retirement plan administrator at Twinstate Technologies, a telecommunications firm in Morrisonville, New York, abruptly left the company, the head of human resources (HR) unexpectedly received that added role.

“Upon [the former administrator’s] departure, there was a lot of scrambling to try and figure out where things with the plan stood, how things were being done and if there were any issues to resolve,” Glen Gehrkens—the man’s replacement—recalls.

Gehrkens, whose plan knowledge was limited to employee enrollment and education, spearheaded the effort, and he says it could not have been done successfully without the help of Brian O’Donohue, senior client service manager for Newport Group. “I was basically starting from square one,” Gehrkens says. “I was brand new [at this], and he had to on-board me. I needed to figure out what we needed to do, what the procedures were and the reporting requirements. He got it all sorted out as quickly as possible.”

Gehrkens guesses O’Donohue may have had a client in the same circumstances before, because the education was done “in a very calm and collected way,” helping Gehrkens get up to speed gradually, without being overwhelmed.

O’Donohue, who has a regular caseload of 50 to 60 plan clients, says, “Not all plans require attention on a day-to-day basis, but when this situation happened with Twinstate Technologies, the company got a little more of my attention.”

After making sure payroll contribution deferrals were still occurring, O’Donohue says, he set Gehrkens up with access to Newport Group’s online system, where he could access reports and plan and participant data. In addition, O’Donohue helped introduce him to Newport Group’s automatic notification system.

Gehrkens quickly discovered that his plan’s census work had been left undone and was overdue. “Our former administrator hadn’t done any of the census work. I wasn’t too savvy with using the self-service portal, so O’Donohue helped generate reports, for starters. Without having someone as responsible and on the ball, it could have been a really big mess.”

The compliance issues were not as extensive. “We have a third-party administrator [TPA] who takes care of that,” says Gehrkens. “But Brian was a great resource,” providing input that helped clarify some operational best practices.

It has been a year since Gehrkens took over as plan administrator, and he now shares the responsibilities with others. He credits O’Donohue with how much he has learned over that time, citing, for example, the necessity of “making sure we have well-documented processes in place and a series of checks and balances.”

“Brian is very knowledgeable, and I always trust that his answers are correct and in the best interest of Twinstate and our employees,” Gehrkens adds. “Again, if it weren’t for his being able to step in during our ‘401(k) crisis,’ we would have been in a very unstable situation with little to fall back on for resources.” —Judy Faust Hartnett
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