Although this will clearly drop hints to my age, I am proud to have just celebrated my 30th anniversary at UAI Technology! (UAI is the parent company of University Conference Services, the host of the Mid-Sized Retirement and Healthcare Plan Management Conferences.) When people used to say that time flew by, I never really understood just how accurate that really is. I remember my first day at UAI like it was yesterday. Fresh out of graduate school and a post-graduation tromp through Europe, I entered the workforce much greener than I realized and have been plugging away ever since.

One of the first projects I undertook was to take over the tracking and processing of the company’s retirement plan. Those of you who have been around for a few years probably remember VisiCalc (which was ultimately supplanted by Lotus 123, which then succumbed to Excel.) This was pre-VisiCalc. Yes, even before personal computers! We tracked this by hand, on giant 11X17 paper spreadsheets. Daily valuation? Ha!!! We had two plans back then, both defined contribution. One was a Money Purchase Pension Plan and the other was a profit sharing plan. 401K plans were not yet even on the radar screen.

Little did I know but we were also–quite by accident–operating a plan that was not quite 100% compliant. As many small companies had done back in those days, our plans were drafted by our corporate attorneys. The plans were perfectly fine, but the administration of the plans was not quite up to snuff. We relied on our attorney to tell us what we needed to do to run the plan. Unfortunately, he either didn’t know or just forgot to tell us about this minor little thing called a form 5500.

One day, not terribly long after I started, I received a nice little letter from the IRS asking where these 5500 forms were. I walked into the office of the owner of the business and asked him if he knew anything about it. His reply was “I never heard of a 5500, you better call Charlie!” Charlie advised us to write a letter to the IRS and explain our ignorance and beg for forgiveness. He prepared four years worth of 5500 forms for us which we bundled with the letter and shipped off to the IRS. Fortunately the IRS was very understanding. They didn’t penalize us and just “asked” us to make sure we filed all the rest on time. You can bet that every 5500 from that day forward was promptly filed!

This experience was one of the reasons that we started running retirement plan conferences. We thought that if we had problems like this, other small and mid-sized companies might be facing similar problems knowing what they had to do to properly run their plans and offer their employees the benefits they wanted to provide. It turns out we were correct. We also had pretty good timing, since retirement plans started going through a complete transition as the rise of defined contribution plans was just gaining steam. The state of retirement plans is far different than it was 30 years ago, and still going through changes.

The difference in the healthcare world is equally astounding. Do you remember when health insurance was intended to be protection from catastrophe? Ah yes, good old “major medical plans.” Drug cards and $25 doctor’s visits were not in plan designs back then. You had a deductible ($50 in my initial plan) and then you were responsible for 80% of healthcare costs up to a certain level when the plan would cover you at 100%. Most employer plans were pretty similar, with the biggest difference being what your employer would pay on your behalf. Network discounts didn’t exist. HMO? If you heard those initials, it was probably just someone messing up the initials of the relatively new cable movie channel with similar initials.

As a 23 year old kid, I didn’t really care much about what my health insurance was. And retirement–way too far out in the future to think about. I had student loans to pay and a car to buy! Past experiences definitely have an impact on current views. For instance, when I discuss the importance of employers having communication messages tailored to the audience that they are trying to reach, these memories play an important part.

It seems like these 30 years have gone by in the blink of an eye. It’s really been a great ride so far. I’ve had a chance to meet thousands of dedicated plan sponsors through our conferences and have had the opportunity to work with hundreds of great employees at our company. I view these 30 years as just the start of a ride that hopefully has many more miles!

Mark

PS Look to my next posts, where I’m going to really start diving into the healthcare reform law.