Growing up, I often listened to Paul Harvey with great fascination. His stories were most interesting in topic alone. However, I grew to understand that capturing even the smallest of details could shift the entire meaning of a story. I must confess my intrigue with details is probably deeply rooted with years of listening to Mr. Harvey, a broadcasting legend.

The significance of details has once again been confirmed. Just last week, I read an article titled “Recession No Hindrance to 403(b) Transformation” on

Several colleagues and I found we were skeptical with the results because the survey indicates that plan sponsors are adjusting well to the final 403(b) regulations. These results are simply not consistent with the perception in the market.


Spending many years working with defined contribution plans, with a focus on 403(b) in the more recent years, my curiosity drove a need to understand the missing details that would help explain these survey results.  With much appreciation, I want to thank Aaron Friedman, National Practice Leader – Non-Profit, at The Principal and Terri Hale, Media Relations at The Principal for allowing me the opportunity for candid conversation while learning “the rest of the story!”

We explored the topic of expertise involved in completing such a survey.  My initial concern about expertise was quickly minimized when I learned about the Profit Sharing/401(k) Council of America, PSCA, committee that includes representatives from The Principal, Fidelity, MetLife, TIAA-CREF, Diversified and five 403(b) plan sponsors.  Without question, this committee brings leading experts together to analyze data captured during the survey.  

A sampling of other topics included what seemed to be a high participation rate; low percentage of hardship distributions; multiple vendor vs. exclusive vendor arrangements and centralized compliance platforms.  The administration platforms and the variety or types of investments associated with the plan sponsors who make up the population of employers surveyed would certainly influence the survey results.  Mr. Friedman and Ms. Hale enlightened me greatly and provided a brand new paradigm in which to absorb the survey results of The 2010 403(b) Plan Survey from the Profit Sharing/401(k) Council of America, PSCA.  

We pondered the survey results and found a very positive story.  It seems the populations surveyed, even though challenged with new complex regulations, were generally ERISA plans and may have benefited from services provided by an established centralized compliance administration platform. In February 2010, TIAA-CREF published survey results indicating challenges for plan sponsors and that many remained confused with new IRS regulations.  However, keep in mind that the population for TIAA-CREF may be highly concentrated with public education and non- ERISA 403(b) plans.    

It is clear that the 403(b) market is shifting and evolving.  It is very important to understand the characteristics of the population of plans surveyed when considering results as they are not created equal and may be facing significantly different challenges when factoring in elements such as ERISA vs. Non-ERISA, multiple vendor vs. exclusive vendor and centralized compliance platforms with active plan sponsors.  The devil is certainly in the details! 

It seemed to me the overall WOW factor for the PSCA survey was the increase of 43% of plan sponsors responding to the survey.  This curious reader concluded that plan sponsors are becoming more familiar with and comfortable sharing their plan designs and investments.  This is exactly what the IRS and DOL want to see.  These results may be a good example of “It’s working!”