Who’s Working for You?: ARA

In a series of articles, PLANSPONSOR is profiling industry groups that work for retirement and health plan sponsors to protect them from onerous burdens and help them with plan design and administration. In this article we profile the American Retirement Association (ARA).

The American Retirement Association (ARA) was founded in 1966 as the American Society of Pension Actuaries (ASPA).


“While we began as an actuarial organization, we have evolved along with America’s retirement system, and today represent every type of pension professional—from business owners, actuaries, consultants and administrators, to insurance professionals, financial advisers, accountants, attorneys and human resource managers,” says Nevin E. Adams, JD, chief content officer at the ARA in Arlington, Virginia. “While the members of the American Retirement Association come from all corners of the country, representing every part of the industry, they are all united by their belief in, and commitment to, the private pension system. We are, as our tagline states, ‘working for America’s retirement.’”


“Empowering retirement professionals to build a stronger workplace retirement system for Americans through information, education and advocacy,” is the ARA’s mission statement.


Plan Sponsor Interests


According to Adams, ARA’s advocacy efforts are focused on enhancing the private retirement system, and on removing barriers to its success. As examples, he says, this includes things like advocating for electronic disclosures, rather than costly and burdensome paper; encouraging incentives that make it easier for employers, particularly smaller businesses, to offer workplace retirement plans; and working to ensure that undertakings like tax reform don’t undermine the availability or utilization of workplace retirement programs.


ARA’s membership of approximately 21,000 is spread across four sister organizations, and they can be members of more than one sister organization. While most are affiliated with a particular association—each has a specific membership focus—several hundred are members of more than one.


The association that counts among its members plan sponsors is the American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries (ASPPA). According to the ARA’s website, “ASPPA is a non-profit professional organization with two major goals: to educate retirement plan professionals, and to create a framework of public policy that gives every working American the ability to have a comfortable retirement.”


ASPPA offers all of its members, including the more than 7,000 who are members of ASPPA, educational opportunities, paired with an advocacy operation that puts it at the center of any legislative debates that could affect what retirement plan professionals do for a living.


How ARA Advocates


The ARA advocates for its membership via regular meetings with regulators, members of the president’s administration, and legislators. It also provides written comments about proposed regulations and legislation, and offers oral testimony in Congressional hearings.


Adams says the most recent regulatory “win” for the ARA was its push to have government regulators—the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Treasury Department and the Department of Labor (DOL)—ease restrictions on participant loan and hardship withdrawal administration for those impacted by the recent hurricanes, and to provide plan sponsors in those areas with more time to file Form 5500s. 

In addition, he says, “We were one of, if not the first, to press for a change to the fiduciary regulation regarding the extension of fiduciary status via plan sponsor education efforts, and have remained active in the discussions regarding the implementation of the new fiduciary rule.”


Most pressing for the ARA right now is tax reform and its potential implications. “This has been front and center in our work with Congress and the Trump Administration over the past several months, both to alert and inform decision-makers about the potential impact, and to help them understand and quantify the impact of various proposals,” Adams says.


He notes that, “A little further out, we’ve been actively involved in recent discussions on expanding health savings accounts, or HSAs, including introducing the idea of letting employers offer workers access to the same low-cost investment options already available in their 401(k), 403(b) or 457 plan accounts. This would allow plan sponsors to develop investment advice and education tools to integrate both accounts into an employee’s financial planning so that workers would see streamlined, consolidated statements that show both health and retirement savings.”


Resources ARA Provides


According to Adams, the ARA offers a wide variety of training and education programs as part of its Retirement Plan Academy. “Our curriculum is carefully expanded and improved each year to address legal, legislative and regulatory changes affecting the pension system and the work of retirement plan professionals,” he says. “Part of that expansion includes employing the latest in online tools and adult learning methodologies, along with a dedicated staff of instructional designers.”


He adds that the ARA also provides access to regular, informative webcasts (including the opportunity for continuing education (CE) credit), as well as a series of networking and educational conferences during the course of the year.


Members also have access to information about the latest trends, industry news, as well as regulatory analysis and updates via the ARA’s websites, and three sister association-specific emails, in addition to two sister association-specific print publications.