Altigro is on the grow as workers take larger stakes in their savingsSteven GreenbaumÂs Fairfield company does the invisible back-office paperwork that keeps retirement plans running Â and his business has grown as Americans take on the challenge of saving for retirement.
GreenbaumÂs father, Jerome Greenbaum, founded the Altigro company in 1960. Steven Greenbaum runs the companyÂs pension business, while his brother, Brad Greenbaum, leads AltigroÂs employee benefits division.
The company started with a few dozen retirement plans when Steven Greenbaum came on board in 1973 shortly after graduating from Boston University. Now, Altigro Pension Services is the third-party administrator for 600 retirement plans, most of them small companies with fewer than 50 employees.
Much of AltigroÂs growth is word-of-mouth. Steven Greenbaum teaches continuing education classes to insurance agents and accountants, Âand that has been a very good marketing tool for me,Â he said. An agent whoÂs completed the course Âwill call me up three weeks later and say, ÂI have a client who needs retirement planning, can you help me?Â IÂve gotten business from every single one of these that IÂve done in the past 10 or 12 years.Â
Client referrals also come from financial planners, attorneys and accountants: ÂYou build a network Â and you have to continually build it, because all of a sudden you wake up and say, Âthree or four guys I used to deal with Â theyÂre retired in Florida nowÂ.Â
Brad Greenbaum said the third-party administrative industry has been able to grow by taking over the back-office administration chores that otherwise would be a drain on the big mutual fund companies. For some of these big firms, Âthe back office is considered a hindrance that generates complaints Â ÂI didnÂt get my report on time,Â that sort of thing,Â he said. ÂSo this has created a cottage industry of pension administrators like Altigro.Â
Steven Greenbaum expects to add between 50 and 60 new retirement plans this year Â Âbut we might also lose 20 or 30 plans, because the company goes out of business; or the founder retires; or they terminate the plan because, in this business climate, they canÂt afford it.Â
He sits down with small-business owners and designs a 401(k) plan for the owner and the employees Â but he doesnÂt give investment advice, or move the money around. Steven Greenbaum recommends an asset management firm that looks like a good fit for the small business, and he deals with more than a half-dozen of them, including John Hancock, MassMutual and MetLife. He also runs the enrollment meetings, at which workers are taught, step-by-step, what their 401(k) plan offers and how to make intelligent investment decisions.
Altigro then labors behind the scenes, making sure 401(k) records are kept in compliance with federal regulations. If an employee borrows money from the 401(k), the paperwork goes through Altigro; if that employee leaves the company and takes the money out, Âwe cut the check,Â Steven Greenbaum said.
Working on the front lines of the 401(k) world has shown him that most employees know and care very little about managing their own money, said Steven Greenbaum, pointing to the popularity of so-called ÂlifestyleÂ 401(k) options, which put the investments on autopilot depending on the individualÂs expected retirement date. But he said workers should at the least read their companyÂs 401(k) booklet carefully.
Traditional pensions, where the employer takes on the risk of investing money on behalf of the workers, have been largely displaced by the 401(k): Steven Greenbaum said only about 10 percent of the plans he administers are traditional pensions.
Most young workers doubt Social Security will be there when they retire Â and this group hangs on Steven GreenbaumÂs every word when he delivers his 401(k) enrollment primer.
ÂI donÂt think IÂve ever talked to anyone under the age of 35 who has any belief at all that Social Security will be there when they retire,Â said Steven Greenbaum, 60. Young adults Âthink they have to do this for themselves, and that no one else will do it for them.Â
Altigro Pension has acquired five third-party administrators since 1997, including two this year, and Steven Greenbaum is looking for merger opportunities in his market area of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. He needs to be close by so he can visit clients in person: ÂIÂm not going to buy a company in California.Â
Steven Greenbaum said his clients are a cross-section of New JerseyÂs extremely diverse small-business landscape, and he gets a kick from visiting them and finding out what they do.
He said Altigro can keep growing because its clients are small businesses. ÂNew small businesses are being started every day, and they want to deal with the guy across the table Â they can see him, judge him and decide if they like the way he talks.Â
E-mail to [email protected]