403(b)wise
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403(b)wise Turns 10; Joe Biden Weighs In
March 29, 2010

Wow! Ten years ago this month (April 2000) fellow educator John Moore and myself launched 403(b)wise. Here's what we wrote about that moment on our first year anniversary:

Just over a year ago, with the flick of a key, 403(b)wise was launched. We distinctly remember staring into the glowing screen wondering, "Good, God, what have we done?"

And just what have we done in the past decade? Not that much. But together with the legions of 403(b) advocates and Discussion Board posters — Steve Schullo, Scott Dauenhauer, Ted Leber, Joe MacDonald, Judy S., "tony", Michael Devault et. al — and the countless emailers, site visitors and purchasers of Teach and Retire Rich who have educated their co-workers, I think that together we have done a hell of a lot. Consider, prior to 403(b)wise, the Boston Red Sox had gone decades without winning a World Series and the idea of the New Orleans winning a Super Bowl was as crazy as the notion that some Toyotas were less than safe. Coincidence? I don't think so.

In all seriousness, I truly believe that collectively, we have made a difference in raising awareness about the myriad of 403(b) abuses, and by providing a source of consumer focused information. We are particularly proud of our reform efforts in California. Shortly after the launch of 403(b)wise, an effort was made to alter California insurance legislation (770.3) which basically said that if an employer offered one insurance company's 403(b) product, it had to allow other insurance companies to offer 403(b) products. This led to absurdly long vendor lists (100 plus "choices") that were often toxic to investors (read: mostly high-fee high-commission annuity products). The goal of legislative changes was to give employers more say over whose products were offered. The insurance industry — surprise, surprise — fought these proposed efforts with sometimes unseemly tactics, often aimed at 403(b)wise. At one point the industry was running two websites denouncing efforts to alter 770.3. No surprise there. But what was a surprise was the urls of these sites: www.403bwise.net and www.403bwise.org. Today we own these domain names and 403(b)wise is a legally registered trademark. But even more importantly, while we didn't win legislatively, reform efforts led to the creation of 403bcompare, a site that allows participants to finally get fee information in a simple, transparent way (NOTE: I along with planner Scott Dauenhauer, and advocate Steve Schullo served as consultants on the creation of 403(b)compare). The beauty of 403(b)compare is that it doesn't matter where you live, you can still use the site. And since California is so large, there's a good chance that products sold in say Maine, are registered on 403(b)compare.

As far as the 403(b) market goes, I am convinced it is only going to get better for investors. True, some employers have recently dropped low-cost choices in favor of higher cost products often sold by insurance companies. However, I believe this phenomenon is temporary (five years or so) as employees continue to ask hard questions (Why am I paying so much for my 403(b)? Why does the NEA endorse a firm that charges loads?), and low-cost providers like Fidelity (a new site sponsor), 403basp (current site sponsor) and TIAA-CREF (past site sponsor) aggressively go after market share.

So what is on tap for the next 10 years? I am currently a huge fan of Marble Brewery's red ale so that's what I'm drinking at home. But as far as the website goes, we will continue to make 403(b)wise the best site for 403(b) information on the web. We recently made our popular FAQ section available in Spanish and are looking at ways to add more Spanish content. We currently operate a retirement plan information portal for employees of Montgomery County Public Schools and are in conversations with other entities to create more of these education portals. I am working on a financial literacy book (still torn between two title ideas: Financial Literacy Simplified or Financial Literacy for Those Tired of Being Shit On — the latter title will either be of enormous benefit or enormous detriment in my efforts to reach young people). Finally, I recently launched a financial literacy initiative Pollinate: The Teacher Financial Literacy Project that seeks to improve both teacher financial literacy and the teaching of financial literacy. I will be writing more about that effort soon. In the meantime, I'm going to go eat some cake. As far as birthday gifts go, we want what all 10-year-olds want: a new bike!

I'll close with a sampling of some of the birthday greetings we have received:

"This is a big F-ing deal! – Joe Biden
"Go F-yourself!" – A. Nnuity Salesperson
"May you never make it to 11!" – Val U. Builder


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