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Why 401(K) Provider Aspire Is Feeling So Calm

A better mousetrap, outside the box, win-win; if the latest term to enter the business lexicon catches on and becomes cliché, you’ll have Pete Kirtland to thank (or blame).

“It’s instividual,” Kirtland, president and CEO of retirement plan service provider Aspire Financial Services says, before explaining the mashup of institutional and individual.

He’s discussing the Tampa-based company’s initiative in the payroll-deductible IRA space, something that’s receiving attention with the “tailwind of the state mandates, where employers will be required to offer retirement plans to employees that aren’t covered.”

“We have 60 million workers in this country without access to retirement plans, which I really feel awful about,” he continues. “The reason is the cost, especially with small businesses, and the fiduciary liability. The payroll-deductible IRA solves for both.”

Shouldering the burden and a good deal of forethought are reasons for Kirtland’s mellow mood. Indeed, the firm was founded 13 years ago largely to address many of the issues now contained in the DOL’s final fiduciary rule. So while others fret, Aspire calmly moves forward.

“I almost feel guilty about not freaking out about the fiduciary rule,” Pete Kirtland adds with a laugh. “There will be this massive transfer of business over the next 18 months to advisors with true fiduciary capabilities, and away from the ‘two-plan Tonys’ that should probably never have been in the business in the first place.”

Innovation back then included a flat-dollar fee model, one “right out of the gate,” when similar firms were an asset-based model. The firm also invested the revenue-share back into the fund that generated the revenue, something not seen at the time.

Innovation today is the fact that they can support any type of plan type, whether it’s a 401(k), 403(b), 457, IRA, etc. Because it’s their own proprietary technology, they can offer “a truly customized retirement solution at the institutional level, one that’s completely private-labeled.”

The tech-heavy company is of course asked about the rise of robo-advisors, which Kirtland says are “coming out of the woodwork.”

“You can’t integrate with everyone,” he says, “but what I’m really excited about is that I just got off the phone with one that said we don’t have to integrate right away. We can operate in a ‘separate but together’ fashion and then integrate when it makes sense.”

Surprisingly, Kirtland concludes that he hasn’t “jumped on the multiple employer plan bandwagon, but I may.”

Aspire is the proprietor of InvestLink—an open-architecture platform “designed to link people, investments and technology.”

“The platform supports flexible plan design, one view across all plans, open-investment options, transparent and competitive pricing models, and private-label branding options,” according to the company. “The industry is changing and Aspire’s service model is prepared for the regulatory and industry requirements. The company is focused on superior customer service, strategic relationships and participant advocacy and engagement.”


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