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The Accidental Plan Sponsor®

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Most retirement benefits for American workers are built up through workplace savings plans where employers play a pivotal administrative and legal role as the plan sponsor. The Accidental Plan Sponsor®, hosted by Josh Cohen, Head of Client Solutions for PGIM DC Solutions, explores the origins, evolution and trends within the employer-based retirement system and examines other ways, both domestically and globally, that benefits can be delivered.


United States


Most retirement benefits for American workers are built up through workplace savings plans where employers play a pivotal administrative and legal role as the plan sponsor. The Accidental Plan Sponsor®, hosted by Josh Cohen, Head of Client Solutions for PGIM DC Solutions, explores the origins, evolution and trends within the employer-based retirement system and examines other ways, both domestically and globally, that benefits can be delivered.




Season 2 Episode 8: Non-Accidental Plan Sponsors

As we wrap up season 2 of the podcast, Josh Cohen and guest co-host Michael Kreps come full circle to discuss alternative approaches to the U.S.’s employer-based retirement system. Instead of employers playing the role of the plan sponsor, what if the Federal Government stepped in? Or, what about the private sector? We discussed the proposed Retirement Savings for American Act, Pooled Employers Plans (PEPs) and much more. Josh and Michael are joined by two prominent influencers in the retirement space: Teresa Ghilarducci, professor of economics at The New School for Social Research, and Rick Jones, a Senior Partner in AON’s wealth practice. Key Takeaways: [2:07] Josh shares his two a-ha moments: One in 2010 when he visited Australia and learned about superannuation funds and the second a few years later when he heard about USA Funds. [3:03] Guest co-host Michael Kreps joins Josh, remembering the time that they met for the first time for a coffee, not knowing that they will end up hosting a podcast together. [3:41] Michael talks about his proposal to the Senate. [6:11] What if the Federal government plays the plan sponsor role for the private sector workers? Teresa Ghilarducci, professor of Economics at The New School for Social Research, speaks of the personal journey that motivated her efforts in this field. [10:30] Teresa speaks of the Mandatory Universal Pension System (MUPS). [16:46] Teresa’s most recent proposal, a thrift savings plan for all workers. [19:20] Teresa endured a harsh pushback after the global financial crisis and received the name of ‘the most dangerous woman in America.’ [20:17] Michael shares his thoughts about the Retirement Savings for America Act. [23:01] Michael discusses whether the government should be involved in running plans. [24:21] Rick Jones, a senior partner in the wealth practice at AON discusses pooled employer plans (PEPs). after discussing his career choices that led to his current position. [25:50] Rick discusses the employer's role in the US System and why he is passionate about PEPs. [28:37] The two main problems of the Multiple Employer Plans (MEPs) are the common nexus and the one-bad-apple rule. [30:06] Rick speaks of the Secure Act.: , including who plays the role of the plan sponsor in PEPs and the fiduciary duties required. [35:05] Rick expands on the opportunities provided by pooling. [38:11] Michael adds his perspective on PEPs and its early efficacy indications. [42:14] Michael shares his wrap-up comments about the overarching question: Who plays the role of the plan sponsor? [44:06] Josh closes two full seasons of the podcast, addressing this podcast's central question and its complexity: We need Intentional plan sponsors!


Season 2 Episode 7: The Implementers

Josh Cohen and guest co-host Michael Kreps have been telling the story of how some policy makers, think tanks, industry groups and politicians worked to address some of the gaps in our retirement system. One of those gaps is the millions of Americans that don’t have access to workplace savings plans. In this episode, they focus on the work being done at the state level and the process of moving from policy design and legislation, to implementation. They speak with two individuals who have been instrumental in getting these plans implemented: Katie Selenski, executive director of the CalSavers Retirement Savings Board, and Angela Antonelli, research professor and executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Retirement Initiatives at the McCourt School of Public Policy in Washington DC.


Season 2 Episode 6: Laboratories of Democracy

In the 1932 Supreme Court ruling, Justice Louis Brandeis popularized the phrase “laboratories of democracy“ to describe how “a single courageous state may, if its citizen choose, serve as a laboratory and try novel social and economic experience without risk to the rest of the country.” Many states have looked to become laboratories to address some of the gaps in the US current retirement system that federal policy hasn’t yet been able to successfully solve. Josh Cohen and guest co-host Michael Kreps talk to two early experimenters, Hank Kim and Daniel Biss, to learn from their experiences turning policy ideas into legislation. Hosted by Josh Cohen, The Accidental Plan Sponsor podcast explores the history, evolution and future of employer-based retirement plants, including the 401(k), through the eyes of its creators -- providing unparalleled insights into an imperfect system that works for many, but not all. Key Takeaways: [:38] Josh Cohen, your host, approaches the fact that some states have become laboratories to address some of the gaps in the current retirement system, which federal policy cannot tackle yet. [3:44] How did states get involved in retirement policy when it is typically taken care of at a national level? [4:32:] Michael Kreps, Principal at Groom Law, shares some of his recollections and experiences about the journey that some of the states have been going through. [6:06] What drove some states to go down this path of turning policy ideas into laws? Who were some of the most important players? [7:15] Hank Kim, Executive Director & Counsel at NCPERS, talks about Secure Choice Plans (a term he coined himself). [9:04] Hank talks about how he began working on pension issues, starting with the union of firefighters. [9:37] Hank speaks of the history of NCPERS. [11:32] Hank explains why NCPERS showed interest in the private sector. [16:08] Hank talks about the Californian, Oregon, and Illinois policymakers and how they couldn't get around political challenges as they defined the benefit pension approach. [21:27] Illinois was the first state to pass legislation approving the launching of an auto IRA program. Daniel Biss, Mayor of Evanston, explains how he plays a part in the story of retirement security. [33:40] Daniel explains why states can be the laboratory of democracy. [35:05] Michael shares his perspective about states being laboratories of innovation and if state experiments could contribute to a consensus around a national policy. Thank you for tuning in. If you liked what you heard, please subscribe and leave us a review wherever you listen to your podcasts. Links: The Accidental Plan Sponsor Mentioned in this episode: More about Michael Kreps More about Hank Kim More about Daniel Biss


Season 2 Episode 5: This Odd Couple’s Auto IRA Proposal

The Auto IRA concept has been one of the most influential proposals to address gaps in the current US retirement system, namely the persistent coverage gap for small private-sector employers. Josh and guest co-host for the next few episodes, Michael Kreps, discuss the genesis of auto-IRAs with two individuals from different political backgrounds who came together to conceive and promote the proposal and implementation efforts: guests David John and Mark Iwry. David is a Senior Policy Advisor at the AARP Public Policy Institute and the Deputy Director for the Retirement Security Project at the Brookings Institution. Mark is a former Deputy Assistant Secretary for the US Treasury, a Nonresident Senior Fellow at Brookings, and a visiting scholar at the Wharton School. Tune in to hear how David and John’s paths crossed to result in the bipartisan Auto-IRA now operating in several states today. Key Takeaways: [:14] Lorenzo and Yolanda Harris have been operating Janico Building Services for more than 30 years. [1:07] The Harris were facing the same issue that millions of small businesses in the US encounter today, the ability to provide a low-cost quality workplace retirement savings vehicle for their employees. [1:33] Janico was the first company to provide an Auto RAA program to their employees. [5:13] Michael Kreps, Principal, Chair of Retirement Services Practice, introduces himself. [6:51] Michael shares the emphasis for this part of season 2. [8:10] There have been decades of proposals about how to fix the retirement system. Michael talks about how some things turned better and sometimes worse, but the Auto RAA is one of the most influential proposals in recent history. [9:00] David Jone introduces himself. [9:55] David shares how he began working with congressmen. [10:30] Mark Iwry talks about his professional and personal journey. [11:50] Mark wanted to make the world a better place through public policy, and he found a mentor to whom he talks about [13:52] Mark found his passion the healthcare reform. [15:18] Mark explains why the initiative was out of the norm. [17:08] They were trying to solve a pendent issue in the US retirement system. [17:28] Pension simplification was introduced by Mark with simple RIA. [18:49] Mark and David got together to combine concepts. [20:21] How did Mark and David, coming from such different backgrounds, come together with a proposal? [22:15] Mark and David talk about when the idea of auto RAA came about. [24:15] David shares what happened at the Heritage Foundation Auditorium. [25:02] To which employers did the original legislation apply? [26:26] Who will run these plans? [26:49] Josh explains a Threat Saving Plan (TSP). [27:35] One of the primary goals of the TSP proposal was to encourage more adoption of private-sector savings. [29:01] Mark and David tested the program, and over time people recognize it was something they could do to attract better-quality employees and keep them. [30:45] Mark and David started to get offers from lawmakers. [31:38] David and Mark got both presidential candidates to endorse their proposal. [33:44] The auto RAA was included in many of Obama’s budgets, but Obama Care happened. [34:56] They couldn’t get the proposal pass at a Federal level, but they could still try at the state level. [36:54] David was very reluctant about trying the auto RAA at a state level. [38:33] David talks about the employer's role in the auto RAA as the plan sponsor. [40:48] Thankfully, David and Mark continue to be active. [42:05] Michael talks about the impact of Mark and David’s work on the auto RAA concept. [44:15] David and Mark have been pushing for decades for the auto RAA to become a reality. Thank you for tuning in. If you liked what you heard, please subscribe and leave us a review wherever you listen to your podcasts. Links: The Accidental Plan Sponsor Mentioned in this episode: More about Janico Building Services More...


Season 2 Mid-season Trailer

For the second half of season 2, Josh Cohen will be joined by guest co-host Michael Kreps, Principal at Groom Law Group, to dissect the biggest questions and potential solutions that are being worked on in the retirement space.


Bonus: Perspectives from Josh’s Global Colleagues

Josh gets on the ground insights from three colleagues in PGIM’s Institutional Relationship Group: Ben Price, Howard Nowell, and Philip Hsin.


Bonus: Meet Josh’s New Boss

Michael Miller, a long-time industry veteran and Head of PGIM DC Solutions, joins Josh to share how he got into the retirement space and some insightful perspectives on DC trends and pressing issues.


Bonus: Josh’s Key Takeaways: Non-US Retirement Systems

In the first half of season 2, Josh traveled the globe to hear from local experts about how their countries tackled the challenge of building a retirement system. Listen to Josh’s reflections on lessons learned and common themes.


Bonus: Global Episodes Recap with John Mitchem

John Mitchem, global financial consultant and retirement expert, joins Josh to discuss episodes from the first half of season 2 while weaving in his experiences and expertise.


Season 2 Episode 4: Singapore’s All-in-One System

Most retirement systems across the globe have three pillars: a government run social security system, an employment-based retirement system, and, finally, additional individual retirement savings. On the fourth stop of our global tour, we travel to a country where the government runs the whole thing…Singapore! Their comprehensive system goes beyond retirement and is run by the government through the Central Provident Fund (CPF). In this episode, Josh Cohen interviews Desmond Chew, a senior manager at CPF, to help explain its history and how it works, and Joe Cherian, a professor who lays out a methodology which helps evaluate both Singapore’s system and others around the globe. Join us to hear about this all-in-one approach! Key Takeaways: [:25] Josh Cohen, your host, introduces today’s topic: Singapore, whose government runs the whole retirement plan, and in fact, reaches well beyond retirement. [2:25] Singapore established a mandatory retirement system called the Central Provident Fund (CPF) the basis of the system played today. [2:50] Mr. Desmond Chew (Group Director- Housing) has served in the CPF for more than 20 years. Desmond explains what exactly CPF is and what is its role. [7:51] CPF supports other goals apart from retirement, Dr. Chew speaks about the importance of public housing. [10:52] MediSave are contributions that increase as workers age and its purpose is to be destined for medical expenses. Desmond shares the most important aspect. [13:08] Josh and Desmond dive deep into how the money is invested and the role the GIC plays. [15:25] Desmond talks about the case of those individuals who are ready to take more risks with their savings. [16:45] The system balances individual choice with collective responsibility, Dr. Chew explains how. [20:02] Joseph (Joe) Cherian (Professor of Finance at NUS Business School) shares his background and career journey. [22:10] Joe talks about what happened in 2014, a conflictive time for Singapore’s retirement system. [22:54] Joe wrote an article named: Seven Pillars of a Good Retirement System, stating why CPF meets most of these pillars and the possible areas for improvement. [30:06] Can the US or other countries adopt a system like this? Joe thinks it's difficult to emulate the historical and governmental influence, so he does not recommend it unless the country has a good and solid government. [33:06] Stayed tuned for the bonus episodes! Thank you for tuning in. If you liked what you heard, please subscribe and leave us a review wherever you listen to your podcasts.


Season 2 Episode 3: Building A Nest In The UK

Often retirement policies in a country are a result of a patchwork of initiatives over time. Wouldn’t it be nice if a country could take more of a blank slate approach? In this episode, Josh Cohen interviews Helen Dean, CEO of the National Employees Savings Trust, or NEST, which is the largest pension scheme in the United Kingdom based on the number of members. Helen has played a central role over the last two decades in government, and now at NEST, developing and implementing a new retirement approach for the UK. Learn how they borrowed a lot of great ideas from other countries, including the US, to craft a system that may just be a model for other countries in the future. Key Takeaways: [:15] Josh Cohen, your host, introduces today’s topic: The evolution of the UK’s retirement system or what Helen Dean likes to call “The biggest social experiment ever”. [3:18] Helen shares her professional journey which started with her getting a degree in psychology and social policy, and involved working for the DWP [6:39] The UK did something unique: They created a pension committee with three individuals: a business leader, a trade union leader, and a leading academic. [8:51] How do you get individuals to save more? Education and advice didn’t get people to save more. [11:31] Helen shares what her team and she proposed (which was very different from what they saw in the US model), they wanted to require automatic enrolment for all workers. [19:00] Helen shares how the employer community got on board with NEST, after seeing the benefits for the UK and for their own businesses. [22:28] Helen shares how they turned again to the US to adopt their ideas for emergency savings. [23:56] Helen talks about how NEST manages investments for controlling risks and optimizing returns. [25:18] NEST started to invest in liquid and private assets, high-quality sustainable businesses that assure a good return over the long term. [28:43] Helen openly shares her thoughts and feelings about her past two decades dedicated to building NEST from scratch, seeing it grow, and witnessing the amazing impact it has had so far. [31:29] Stay tuned for the next episode where Josh will take the audience to Singapore. Thank you for tuning in. If you liked what you heard, please subscribe and leave us a review wherever you listen to your podcasts. Links: The Accidental Plan Sponsor Listen to Season 1 Episode 5: How Target Date Funds and Behavioral Economics Shaped Retirement Plans Mentioned in this episode: More about Helen Dean


Season 2 Episode 2: The Down Under Edition

Here’s what you need to know about Australia’s Retirement System: It’s really big. It’s government mandated. It’s privately run. It’s really sophisticated. Still curious? Host Josh Cohen’s two guests have played meaningful roles in the system’s development from the highest levels of government and industry. The Honorable Nick Sherry started one of the first modern Superannuation Funds in Australia and then went to be the leading minister in the government overseeing the industry. Ian Silk ran the largest Super Fund called Australian Super. There’s a lot we can learn from their experiences. Key Takeaways: [:19] Josh Cohen, your host, introduces today’s topic: Australia and their compulsory retirement system with very sophisticated investments that cause admiration worldwide. [2:30] Josh is accompanied by two experts to dive deep into the origin and evolution of the Australian retirement system. [2:55] Nick Sherry joins the conversation. He is a former Australian politician who served as a member of the Australian Senate for the state of Tasmania from 1990 until 2012, Sherry was sworn in as the Assistant Treasurer in 2009, after serving as the first Australian Minister for Superannuation and Corporate Law. [4:39] Nick shares how he accidentally got involved in the retirement space. [5:45] Nick explains how Australia began to shape a new retirement policy. [6:40] Josh describes how the industrial awards system work along with the social wage. [7:56] Nick shares the development of the House Plus Fund. [9:10] Nick explains the administrative hassles they had to overcome in the late 80s’. [10:09] Nick becomes in charge of an additional pension reform when he just assumed the role as a Senate for the state of Tasmania. [12:32] Nick talks about initiating the Cooper review. [13:25] What happens at retirement? [14:01] Nick speaks about his life now that he is retired but still very active! [14:38] Josh explains what fund mergers are about. [15: 23] Ian Silk, Chief Executive at AustralianSuper, joins the conversation by providing answers about how Fund mergers work in Australia. [16:47] Ian talks about his vast experience in the field of funds. [17:18] Ian dives deep into the five sectors the retirement providers fall into. [18:30] Ian describes two reasons why the owners have decided not to run their own plans. [20:05] Compulsion arrived to change how things were doing in regards to retirement. [20:34] An important feature of the Australian retirement system: An employer can run his/her own plan or pick a super plan as the default for his/her workers. There is always a default investment option if the employer doesn’t make an election. [21:28] Josh talks about Industry funds that arise in the late 1980s and Ian expands on the topic. [23:39] Josh introduces the fourth sector: The retail sector. [25:32] Ian explains how people took their funds from retail to industry. [25:43] The fifth sector is called the Self Managed Super, where people decide to run their own Super. Ian describes the one big driver of its popularity. [26:58] Ian explains how Australian Super originated and how it scaled. [28:49] The area of investing innovation is the one that is admired by many in Australian Super. Ian describes this particular feature of the Australian Super. [30:02] Ian shares what improvements could be done to an already sophisticated Australian retirement system. [31:03] Ian talks about the secret to the success of the Australian retirement system. [32:11] Ian shares the proudest moment of his career, realizing that low to middle-income workers in Australia have something significant to look forward to in retirement that wasn’t the case 30 to 40 years ago. [33:23] Josh shares his key takeaways from the amazing conversations with Nick Sherry and Ian Silk. [34:55] Stayed tuned for the next episode: The UK edition. Thank you for tuning in. If you liked what...


Season 2 Episode 1: The Chicago Boys and the Chilean Model

Our tour around the globe starts in South America. Chile has been seen in retirement circles as an early pioneer in reforming their retirement system in the late 1970’s. While studied and admired by many, there are many more layers to the story when viewed from historical and current events. Host Josh Cohen talks to two individuals who have played a meaningful role in shaping the system. University of Chicago educated Martin Costabal led efforts in the Chilean government to implement the new system in the midst of the Cold War. Cristian Rodriguez has led the largest retirement plan provider in the country, and is making the case for the systems long term survival. Travel with us to Chile to hear about their unique history and hopefully learn from their creative retirement solutions. Key Takeaways: [:21] Josh Cohen, your host, states the main objective of Season 2: to explore how other countries around the world organized their retirement systems to accommodate a work force that is living longer and working much differently than what the previous generation did. [3:50] Other countries looked up to Chile since they had updated and reformed their retirement system and it used to be viewed as a success. Josh talks about the wider political circumstances in Chile. [5:03] Josh begins to explore the current state of the Chilean system by starting with its beginnings; that is why he talks with Martin Costabal who participated in its creation within the Chilean government. [6:21] Martin shares how he got an offer from the University of Chicago that changed his life; he explains his personal and professional reasons for moving to the United States. [10:30] General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte was self-declared president in Chile after a coup, while Martin was studying abroad. [11:13] In August, 1974, Martin acquired an MBA from the University of Chicago and goes back to Chile to work in the Ministry of Economics with the purpose of instituting policies to reprivatize many industries and battling out of control inflation. He found that an economic blueprint called “The Brick” was already in place with those same goals. [16:17] Martin focused on creating a new retirement system for Chile along with a group of 20 people, based on some foundations from “The Brick.” [19:20] Cristian Rodriguez, Chairman of the Board of AFP Habitat, speaks about the organization and its role in managing pensions. Cristian has been working with Habitat for the past 23 years in several positions, he gives an overview of its evolution over the years. [22:04] The Chilean retirement system lays on three pillars: 1. The government-backed foundational pillar (The solidarity pillar), 2. The employment based pillar (The contribution pillar), and 3. A voluntary saving system (similar to the IRA in the USA). Cristian talks about the pros and cons of each. [34:47] One challenge for the system in Chile is that not all workers save the same. That is why there is a need to modernize the first pillar to include the informal and independent kinds of work that are becoming more and more prevalent worldwide. People also need to achieve a better understanding of the retirement system and the outcomes they will be generating. [38:20] Josh talks about four main factors of any retirement system: Access, Adequacy, Alignment of Interest, and Innovation. He also shares his insights in regards to the Chilean retirement system.


Season 2 Trailer

Season 2 is almost here! We will be taking this podcast global, learning the unique challenges, historical events, and creative solutions developed to meet the ever-evolving challenges associated with retirement systems.


Bonus: Season in Review with Mike Barry

Mike Barry, Josh’s long-time friend and retirement policy expert, returns to discuss episodes from the 2 half of season 1 while weaving in related experiences and expertise.


Bonus: Let’s Hear More from Don Ezra

Hear outtakes from Don Ezra (guest from Ep. 8), who shares tales about the opportunity that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, his collaboration with Nobel Prize winner Bill Sharpe and his present day activities.


Bonus: Meet PGIM's New DC Solutions Team

Josh invites colleagues David Blanchett and Mikaylee O'Connor of the recently established PGIM DC Solutions team to discuss their background, DC plan innovation, and the role of employers in the retirement space.


Bonus: Brigitte Mardian, The Early Days and Now

In this bonus episode, Brigitte Mardian (guest from Ep. 5) shares stories about her early work, her current research into rainy day savings accounts, and how she earned her current role as Dean of the Brigham Young University Marriott School of Business.


Season 1 Episode 8 - In Consultants We Trust

As retirement plans change and evolve, consultants have become trusted guides for accidental plan sponsors. Episode guests Don Ezra and Rich Nuzum have stood at the highest perch in the world of consultants. Don’s decades at Russell and Rich’s current role in leadership at Mercer span the dawn of the retirement investing consultancy to the present day, where trillions of dollars are invested in defined contribution plans. They’ve spent the majority of their professional careers helping accidental plan sponsors feel less…“accidental.” In this episode, our last of Season 1, we sit down with Don and Rich to discuss the evolution of the DC consulting industry.


Season 1 Episode 7 - Lawyering Up: The Impact of Class Action Lawsuits on the Retirement System

Jerry Schlichter and Jamie Fleckner have some things in common. They both got into law through political activism, and they’ve built their careers on ERISA litigation. But where they differ is largely about who their clients are. One represents plan sponsors and their providers, the other represents employees who feel they have been wronged, and their legal battles have shaped how the defined contribution retirement space thinks about innovation. In this episode, we sit down with each to try to understand the history of these cases, how they work, and how litigation has influenced plan sponsor decision making. Key Takeaways: [:25] Josh opens up today’s episode on lawsuits and the effects it has on innovation. How did we get here in the first place? Let’s ask some prominent lawyers about the history of how this all came to be. [2:25] Jerry has always been an advocate for civil rights and has seen first-hand how much good law and order can do. After being a student protester and passing the bar, Jerry took on race and gender discrimination cases against large companies. [4:05] Jerry’s path eventually led him to investigating 401k plans for minorities. The more he saw, the deeper he dug. He found himself in unknown territory. There was no definition on how companies were making their investments or the types of fees they were charging. If he were to take on this case, he would be going to war with companies with big pockets. [7:55] As a young lawyer that represents plan sponsors at the time, Jamie found himself deep into ERISA topics. Jamie mostly worked around the issue of company stock options and retirement plans, but what Jerry brought to the table was completely different. Plan fees have to be monitored and capped based on what’s happening in the market. Third-party mutual funds saw ‘record keeping’ fees as a loophole. [11:45] Jerry was challenging some pretty ‘status quo’ practices. In trial, Jamie saw first hand how little people understood about ERISA. After a month’s long trial and several witnesses taking the stand, the judge still had a thousand questions on how this process all works. [15:15] Jerry knew he had to be detailed and diligent in his work. They had to make sure their research was accurate. His team read every public information available to understand this better. [18:45] The human element really comes to light in cases like this. A plaintiff was displeased with her plan sponsor and her 401k investments, but inadvertently didn’t know that by suing them, she was also suing her former employer; who she loved. [22:20] Trials are a big production with a lot of emotions to balance in between. Jamie explains why most companies decide to settle, even if they’re in the right. [26:15] Appeal after appeal, Jerry sees his case go to the supreme court. The first 401k excessive fees case in history. [29:15] Despite Jerry and Jamie been on both sides of an ERISA lawsuit more than once, they know that, for the most part, plan sponsors are not crooks. [33:40] As long as plan sponsors make decisions based on the best interest of their participants, everything will be fine. This means, a lot more sponsors are playing things safe when it comes to other people’s investments. Thank you for tuning in. If you liked what you heard, please subscribe and leave us a review wherever you listen to your podcasts. Links: The Accidental Plan Sponsor Mentioned in this episode: More about Jerry Schlichter More about. Jamie Fleckner