Why & How I Became a Retirement Plan Compliance Consultant & TPA
I’m often asked why and how I ended up as a compliance consultant and third party administrator for qualified plans. Was it fate? Did an aptitude test mention I was particularly adept in understanding qualified retirement plan regulations? I know fate or what I refer to as an accident brought me into the industry. However, my passion for the industry was developed out of the world in which I was raised.
Growing up in Oklahoma, some of my formative years were in the 1980s. The decade of big bangs, hard rock, hair bands, guitar ballads, the Brat Pack, and the oil boom. The early 80s in Oklahoma were times of great excess, crazy spending and lots of oil. People were rolling in the money and drinking Champagne out of their cowboy boots (or so the stories go). Then came the bust. Penn Square Bank fell and so did the Oklahoma economy. My father owned a CPA firm, and many of his clients were oil companies or oil related companies. Things in my house became tight and tense. My parents both worked and continued to strive to ensure my siblings and I could still attend Catholic school because of the faith based education we received there. My father and his father before him had both attended Catholic schools, and it was important to my parents that their children do so as well. Our daily school lives focused on giving to others and sharing our time and talents. It is where I began to develop my passion for service. My parents’ goal was for us to graduate high school, attend college and earn our undergraduate degrees. They had both paid their own way through college, and hoped to be able to help us pay our way as much as possible. It was a struggle for them, and even at my age I recognized the strain and understood what was going on around me. As with many Oklahomans at that time, my parents didn’t save for retirement at a young age because they were busy making sure the bills were paid and their kids were able to continue living the life they were accustomed to.
Much of my childhood was spent working at my father’s CPA firm. As early as grade school, if I had a day out of school, instead of sleeping in at home, I worked for my Dad as slave labor. I filed billing (when billing was still printed on dot matrix printers and filed in actual files in a filing cabinet). I spent hours filing invoices in an office behind closed doors with the lady in charge of billing who smoked 5 packs of cigarettes a day in her office. When that was done, I moved to the conference room, where I “got to” replace old pages from the CCH reference books with the new, updated pages. I replaced thousands and thousands of pages in their CCH volumes over the course of my childhood.
I began “officially” working at the firm straight out of high school. I wanted to major in art and be an artist, but my father strongly suggested (or insisted) that I pursue a degree in something that would pay the bills. He said I could dabble in art in my free time (free time, ha! Those of you who have ever worked for a CPA firm know that there is no such thing as free time allowed.). So, I followed in his footsteps and decided to major in accounting. After reading all of the CCH books front to back over the course of my childhood, who wouldn’t?
When I joined the firm, my supervisor and surrogate big sister soon told me about our SARSEP retirement plan (anyone else remember those?) She explained it was a way for me to defer a portion of my salary on a tax deferred basis into an IRA and save for retirement. She explained to me that even though there was no match, I should start saving for retirement immediately. She explained how the funds would grow on a tax deferred basis and eventually, at 65, I could retire comfortably. So, at the ripe old age of 18, I began saving for retirement. She told me I should save 10%, so I did. The next thing I knew, I was learning how to administer retirement plans called Keoughs (another plan from back in the day!) Then, I graduated to 401(k) plans. This was in the day of DOS based software with manual input and balance forward accounting. Oh, the glory days! Soon participant direction of their investments became the new craze. And so began my career.
Today, I am passionate about saving for retirement and teaching others why they should save and how. My goal is for everyone I service to be able to retire in a dignified manner and live the life they dream to live. I’ve tried to pass this passion along to my kids, at least as far as their own retirement is concerned.
– Shannon Edwards, ERPA, QPA, QKA, APR, APA
President & Founder of TriStar Pension Consulting