SURVEY SAYS: Industry Conferences

June 23, 2014 ( - Throughout the year, those who work with retirement plans can find a number of conferences to attend in an attempt to improve career knowledge.

Last week, I asked NewsDash readers, “Have you attended industry conferences during your career with workplace retirement plans?” and “What has been the biggest benefit of attending?”

Respondents included plan sponsors (56.8%), advisers/consultants (10.8%), TPAs/recordkeepers/investment managers (29.7%) and attorneys (2.7%). Nearly four in ten (37.8%) indicated they have attended more than 10 industry conferences during their careers working with workplace retirement plans. Sixteen percent have attended six to ten conferences during their careers and about one-third (32.4%) have attended one to five. More than 13% said they have not attended any industry conferences during their careers.

When asked what has been the biggest benefit they’ve received from attending industry conferences, the number one answer, selected by 28.1% of readers, was “keeping abreast of regulations related to our plan type(s).” Nearly 19% said the biggest benefit has been keeping abreast of trends and best practices related to their plan type(s), and 15.6% chose “getting continuing education credit to keep my certifications/designations.”

More than nine percent each indicated the biggest benefit of attending industry conferences has been meeting/interacting with peers (9.4%) and learning what our peers are doing with their retirement plan(s) (9.4%). Three percent each selected “Getting ideas for improving participant engagement,” “Getting ideas for improving education and communication,” “Learning about investment types and monitoring investments” and “Learning about plan administration processes (i.e. rehire administration, forfeitures, nondiscrimination testing).” Interestingly, no one selected “Getting ideas for improving plan design” as the biggest benefit of attending industry conferences.

In “other” responses, responding readers listed finding out what they are doing is correct, finding out others have the same issues, and getting away from the office as the biggest benefits they’ve received.

In verbatim responses, readers shared specific conferences they enjoy or think are best and why. Some readers offered their second, third or other choice for biggest benefits. Several readers noted that the benefit received from attending conferences changes over one’s career in the retirement industry, with learning a bigger benefit earlier in one’s career and interaction a bigger benefit later in one’s career. That is also a factor in which conferences readers feel are best to attend, as they noted some conferences offer more entry level information, while others offer more detailed and technical sessions. Editor’s Choice goes to the reader who said: “All of the reasons above are important reasons to attend. When we insulate ourselves in our job and don’t keep up with what is happening with our peers and the industry, we limit our effectiveness.”

Thanks to everyone who participated in our survey!


ISCEBS [International Society of Certified Employee Benefit Specialists] Annual Symposium is the best use of my time.

The ISCEBS Annual Symposium is, by far, the best conference. The biggest benefit of attending is that it has a specific retirement plans track. The speakers know that the attendees are industry professionals (many who are holders of the RPA [Retirement Plan Associate] and CEBS [Certified Employee Benefit Specialists] designations) so programs are presented at a higher level. These are not the entry-level benefits sessions one would find at a general human resources conference. This conference is not a schmooz-fest with motivational speakers and a vendor hall where sellers are tripping over each other to get attendees to come to their after-hour parties. It is 2.5 days packed with solid education sessions and lunch/evening networking opportunities.

I attend the Sungard Advanced Pension Conference (ASP) every year, which takes place several months after the annual ASPPA [American Society of Pension Professionals & Actuaries] conference. The ASP finds a way to take the broad range of topics covered at ASPPA and then drills down to those topics most relevant to small/mid-sized plan market. You get to know the speakers personally and have a lot of interaction with industry leaders.

Along with the quantity of information presented, and the excellent quality of the offerings, meeting and interacting with others in this industry makes each conference I have attended noteworthy. There is always something that resonates and stays with me. I love when it finally comes to fruition and becomes part of the plan!

It's hard to pick one benefit! When I assumed my current role, the desk had been "empty" and I had a huge learning curve. Industry conferences were how I learned to manage the day-to-day, what to watch out for, and how to improve our Plan. Now that I have a handle on things, I enjoy brainstorming with peers and learning from others' experiences. Being "in the room" with people who do what I do is both refreshing and educational and those times are the highlight of the year!

The conferences that I've attended are well run, have more than enough sessions as well as networking capabilities.

During my career, I have worked as a trust officer in retirement plan services and in plan investment administration and ops as a plan sponsor (in the investment sub of a Fortune 500 company that invests the funds of its retirement plan). None of the conferences that I've attended have offered sessions dealing with the matters that I work with, so I've stopped attending conferences.

I think what you get from a conference changes with your level of experience. When you are just starting your career you get a lot of knowledge about plan design, trends, etc. When you've been in the industry for 25 years like me, you typically know more than most of the speakers that are presenting, so you are just there for the CE.

My company seems to view conferences as a waste of resources. We have excellent advisers, and I read voraciously. I look forward to reading the "biggest benefit" posts of those who do attend them.

They are very helpful in this ever changing world but the topics seem to be more entry level (after 28 years of being a TPA) it would be nice to see more advanced topics/workshops that are more question-led if possible. We do in house training that way - have a subject with maybe an hours material and may or may not do any of the pre-prepared presentation but get the ball going and answer questions - these have gone on for hours with the right group.

Verbatim (cont.)

Other significant benefits have been continuing education credit, interacting with peers and keeping abreast of trends and regulations. My favorite has been the ACOPA [ASPPA College of Pension Actuaries] Actuarial Symposium due to its relevance to my practice.

They really help to remind you others face the same things you do and they become a great reference source

I attend user group conferences where we meet with other recordkeeping institutions using the same recordkeeping platform. These conferences are invaluable, both from a product standpoint and interaction with peers who are in precisely the same line of business.

It’s a nice way to be at work without constant need to respond to the daily pressure, as long as you leave a competent staff back in the office!

Conferences are a good chance to get away from the office for 3-4 days. However, with budget (travel) cutbacks no one gets to go away to a conference anymore.

Keep it in perspective, for both the plan and yourself, and learn that you're neither as good nor as bad as you thought. Then listen or share as your turn comes up.

Overall ASPPA seems to do this the best with technical and non-technical balance. SunGard technical conferences are good as well.

All of the reasons above are important reasons to attend. When we insulate ourselves in our job and don't keep up with what is happening with our peers and the industry, we limit our effectiveness.

I'm often asked by colleagues about the best conferences to attend - budgets (and time) are limited, after all. Seems like there are more choices than ever, with narrower and narrower focus, ostensibly to appeal to the interests of vendors hoping to separate us from some of those limited budget dollars. More is not more, in most cases, and the more specialized the conference, the easier it is to see that ahead of a wasted two days....

Sponsoring organization is key to benefiting from conference attendance


NOTE: Responses reflect the opinions of individual readers and not necessarily the stance of Asset International or its affiliates.
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Please contact the PLANSPONSOR Reprint Manager, Michelle Judkins.