Interview: JD Carlson, Plan Design Consultants

I used to say that the problem with third party administration marketing was that most of it wasn’t very good. Then I heard about JD Carlson and his Retireholi(k)s video on YouTube. As someone who loves out of the box marketing, I thought what JD is doing is just ingenious.

Q: How did you start in the retirement plan business?
A: My father founded PDC in 1975 and was always interested in having me take over. However, I was going in a completely different direction. I owned a surf shop in San Diego, got married, started having kids. As real life bills started to pile up, I called my Dad and said “Hey, tell me more about this 401(k) stuff.” The career change was out of necessity but I love it now. I really enjoy the process of running a business, the challenges, the people, the constant changes.

Q: How do you think the TPA business has changed since you started?
A: Oh my gosh. From our company’s perspective we are an entirely different company now than say 15 years ago. Technology has changed things in a big way by creating tons of efficiencies. Our goal these days is to strike the perfect balance between old school quality and new school ease and efficiency.

Q: Many plan sponsors don’t understand the value of a TPA, how do you get that message across?
A: I think it is important for your Advisor partners to be solid advocates of your firm. An Advisor can help clients understand the value in your services. It’s also important that your ongoing communications have an element of education in them, a bit of self promotion I guess doesn’t hurt either.

Q: How did you come up with Retireholi(k)s?
A: My sales team and I would have these great 401(k) conversations after work or behind closed doors and I always thought that Advisors would love to hear these unfiltered and “real” interactions. It evolved into the idea of an edited show type of format. I was a huge fan of the web show Diggnation back in the day, so it’s loosely based off that. The beer part, well that’s just a no-brainer.

Q: How has the reception been to your YouTube videos?
A: Honestly, its been really unbelievable. Completely exceeded our expectations. We get great feedback from Advisors and Industry Pros from all over the country. It’s been a ton of fun.

Q: Have the videos offended any potential clients and financial advisors who may take it too seriously?
A: First of all, I don’t think anything “offensive” happens on the show. If people actually watch the shows they will find them packed with valuable retirement plan talk. The beer and the occasional hijinks are just there for fun and entertainment. No Haters yet, but I have told the boys that when we start getting some, it’s means we’ve finally “made it”

Q: Any rules on which beers you won’t drink for the videos?
A: Nope, we had Coors Light on Episode 12. But typically its a craft beer of some kind and we love to connect it with Advisors we know or favorite beers of our audience, etc. People are sending beer to our office now, so we always love to showcase those as well.

Q: What is the value of a good TPA?
A: A good TPA takes the client’s responsibilities on as their own. Quality control and making sure things get done properly. Dotting I’s and crossing T’s. The Non-TPA world is predominately a “garbage in-garbage out” solution built with the wrong kind of efficiency. Things are incorrect but nobody knows until the sh*t hits the fan.

Q: Have you been able to connect to plan sponsors and their advisors about plan design?
A: Absolutely and when we can work side by side with a Plan Sponsor and the Advisor on the design elements, that when good things happen. That’s the value in an experienced Plan Advisor, they know the importance of design and play a key role.

Q: How has fee disclosure impacted your business?
A: Sounds cliche’ but I worked in full fee disclosure back before the regs. So the only difference now is that the outside world has more proactive questions and I see a small push towards transparent products with no revenue share, which is a good thing in my opinion.

Q: How do you think the fiduciary rule will impact your business and the retirement plan industry?
A: I think from a positive perspective it means that Advisors and Sponsors will take things more seriously. More involved Advisors and Sponsors will be a phenomenal thing. However, I thought 408b2 would cause a similar trend and I don’t really think it changed a whole lot. So, we will still have to see the impact this new rule will have.

Q: What do you think of payroll providers in the TPA business?
A: No Comment. Haha 🙂

Q: Where can people find out more information about your company and those Retireholi(k)s videos?
A: Chad, Justin, Mark and myself are not only the PDC Sales Team, we are also really, really close friends. Almost like brothers. We are all happy to answer any questions about our firm and our approach to TPA work. Pretty easy to find us out there on social, etc. and we are fairly active on social media Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, Myspace….wait did I say Myspace??!!

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