As far as years go, 2020 was just plain rough, to put it nicely. Not since the Great Depression and World War II have our lives been so disrupted in so many ways. The challenges came fast and furious, forcing us to adapt in ways we never thought we would. And with the coronavirus continuing to spread like wildfire, with new and possibly more virulent strains entering the fray, 2021 isn’t looking like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Even with vaccinations finally starting to become available, 2021 is shaping up to be another difficult year with more changes on the horizon for all of us. Even so, I believe we can make 2021 an amazing year by combining what we learned in 2020 with two of our strongest human attributes – resilience and perseverance. First, a little history.
That Will Never Work
In 1993, 30 retirement plan third-party administrators (TPAs) got together to share their likes and dislikes about the retirement plan industry. As one might expect, opinions varied widely. But they all agreed on one issue – nobody liked processing distribution payments. It was a time-consuming, inefficient process. The workforce was becoming increasingly mobile, making it hard to keep track of former employees. Worse, distribution processing was a money-loser rather than a money-maker.
After much discussion, the group came up with the idea of starting a business that specialized in making benefit payments for TPAs – and in 1994 PenChecks® was born. As the founders began spreading the word about their plan to make money by processing distribution payments for TPAs, the typical reaction was, “Good luck with that; it will never work!” Turns out the naysayers were almost right.
Like many upstart companies, PenChecks’ formative years were a struggle. Several of the original investors left the endeavor after the first year, and additional capital was needed to operate the business. Convincing TPAs that distribution processing was not their core business, and that outsourcing this function to PenChecks could help them work more efficiently proved tougher than expected.
But the business eventually prospered and took off. As we expanded our service offerings to meet the needs of the rapidly evolving retirement plan industry, many of our new products also met with skepticism. Offer a commercial IRA account for missing participants? “That’s nuts! What financial institution will take an IRA for a person that can’t be found or may no longer exist.” We interviewed dozens of banks before we finally found one that would partner with us on a Missing Participant IRA program. Today, these IRA products are standard within the industry, and can be established with several reputable organizations.
Offer a solution for uncashed distribution checks? “No way! It’s not that big of a problem.” Turns out it is, with millions of dollars in retirement assets going unclaimed every year. These days, banks, insurance companies, trust companies, brokerage firms, mutual funds and others are increasingly using outsourced uncashed retirement check solutions to reduce fiduciary risk and properly manage the funds.
We had our share of highly skeptical reactions to what we were trying to accomplish. But we persevered, and 26 years later PenChecks Trust® is proud to be a recognized leader in innovative outsourced distribution processing services.
Looking Back at 2020
Thanks to COVID-19, 2020 was a year overflowing with challenging and unexpected situations – from both a personal and business perspective.
Have the entire staff work from home? Communicate with customers, prospects and fellow employees through little boxes on a computer screen rather than face-to-face? Wear masks over our faces everywhere we go? Shut down all schools and teach kids remotely with both parents working at home? You’ve got to be kidding!
But COVID wasn’t kidding, and so all of us were forced to adapt to situations and circumstances we never thought possible. Not only did these challenges change the way we work and live, they changed the way we think about how we work and interact with each other. We didn’t necessarily want to. We did it because we had to in order to survive. And we did survive, through resilience and perseverance.
At PenChecks, one very positive outcome of 2020 was learning a lot about ourselves as individuals and as an organization. We discovered we could all work from home and still provide the service our clients expect from us. We learned it was possible to continue development of a major new software platform (Amplify) and successfully launch it in the midst of all the disruption in the work environment. Perhaps most important, we learned that with resilience, perseverance and teamwork we could adapt to almost any situation. We discovered that if we stayed true to our core values we could hurdle seemingly insurmountable challenges after all.
PenChecks has exciting plans to continue adding more new features and capabilities to Amplify. Our goal is to simplify your benefit distribution process while exploring new ideas to help make your business more successful. I believe that by practicing resilience and perseverance we can make 2021 a year to remember for all the right reasons.
With several effective vaccines being dispersed throughout the country, we can finally begin to see some light at the end of the tunnel, although that tunnel is surely still longer than most of us would like. Chances are that many of the changes forced upon us by COVID-19 won’t revert back to the old normal. Which means we may have to come up with new adaptations and workarounds throughout the year.
In 2021, we will all certainly face more challenges that initially give rise to skepticism rather than confidence. In these uncertain moments, I know PenChecks will continue to seek the opportunities – after all, it’s what PenChecks has done its whole existence. I encourage all of you to take solace in that and believe in your success “opportunities” as well. Even if they are foisted upon you by a global pandemic.
Spiro G. Preovolos
President & CEO, PenChecks Trust®