Interview with EBA Retirement Adviser of the Year: Dr. Gregory Kasten, Part I
Each year, EBA names an adviser of the year that exemplifies nimble management and engagement in the ever-shifting waters of employee benefits. Dr. Gregory Kasten, the founder and CEO of Unified Trust Company, took home the honor of Retirement Adviser of the Year. Dr. Kasten took some time after the recent award to speak with us about retirement, the move from medical to financial, and provide some advice to small businesses and their employees.
Andrew: Dr. Kasten, congratulations for the EBA Retirement Adviser of the Year Award! What an honor! Thank you for taking the time out to answer a few questions. What would you say makes you so passionate about our industry?
Dr. Kasten: I am most passionate about improving participant outcomes. The industry has spent the last 20 years trying to educate participants and the impact on outcomes has been negligible. Last year, the industry spent over $1 billion on employee education. Most of that money was wasted. A recent study showed 56% of participants were either unaware that they had educational materials available, or completely ignored them.
The desired outcome should be an adequate benefit. “Adequate benefit” means replacing the participant’s paycheck. The problem is most participants don’t have a goal of benefit adequacy. They don’t know how much retirement will cost and whether or not they are on track.
Andrew: I find most would love to have a frank discussion on how they’re doing for retirement, comparable to how folks want to talk to someone they can trust when finding a physician. What drew you to finance and away from a career in medicine?
Dr. Kasten: I was initially drawn to the retirement world to take care of my own retirement plan. Later, I found many other individuals were asking for the same type of help.
What I looked to establish in my financial practice was the same standard of care in the financial world that exists in the medical world. In other words, in the doctor-patient relationship, concern for the patient is first and foremost. Secondly, the Hippocratic Oath requires that one should function in a way that “at first does no harm.” Thus, the doctor-patient relationship is very similar to the fiduciary duties under ERISA, which require a duty of loyalty, and duty to act as a prudent expert standard of care.
I was always amazed how much product and analytical effort is conducted in the financial world with no analysis as to whether or not it is beneficial or not. It just sounds like an impressive thing to do.
Andrew: I agree. I’ve always looked at working in the finance world as helping others understand something confusing. As the CEO of your own retirement firm, what has been your vision for Unified Trust for the past (almost) 30 years?
Dr. Kasten: Beginning in 1985, I was a 3(38) investment manager well before that term gained popularity. I first started as a registered investment adviser, but quickly realized that many advisers do not have enough capital or dual controls to be able to safeguard the client. Most clients do not ask the right questions about the ability of a registered investment adviser to make for fiduciary mistakes or even to be able to protect the client.
So, in the early 1990’s, I decided to charter a trust company because clients would be better served in the trust environment. We first chartered a state trust company named First Lexington Trust Company. In 2000, we converted our state-chartered to a national bank charter under the Department of the Treasury office of the Comptroller of Currency and renamed the company Unified Trust Company, NA.
Andrew: It’s always inspiring to see how bigger, successful businesses come from small ones. I’ve got plenty more questions for you. Sit tight Dr. Kasten and we’ll get to those next time.
Stay tuned for the second part of this interview for more insight from Dr. Kasten on working as an adviser and what companies should look for when searching for the perfect provider!