DCIIA and SPARK Share High Hopes for 2020 Collaboration

The SPARK Institute and DCIIA will work together to accelerate the development of retirement plan industry technology, prevent cyberfraud and study the potential role of blockchain.

The Defined Contribution Institutional Investment Association (DCIIA) and the SPARK Institute (SPARK) recently announced a plan to partner on several joint projects in 2020.

The advocacy organizations tell PLANADVISER their objective in forming this partnership is to more efficiently focus on shared goals and initiatives that promote the U.S. retirement system and improve savings and retirement security for working Americans. Lew Minsky, president and CEO of DCIIA, notes his organization is recognizing its 10th anniversary in 2020, and that he looks forward to working even more closely with Tim Rouse, SPARK Institute executive director.

Moving forward, the SPARK Institute will become a founding member of the DCIIA Retirement Research Center and utilize its capabilities to conduct primary research on recordkeeping issues, policy developments in Washington and more. Other potential topics of research mentioned by Minksy and Rouse include the electronic delivery of retirement plan documents, as well as the subjective behavioral tendencies and decisions of real-world investors and participants. Both organizations see their new collaboration leading to significant expansion in their collective research capabilities. 

“We believe there is a gap in the current research landscape and in the dialog about retirement planning,” Minsky says. “With SPARK and DCIIA working together, we are going to be able to pull together all the right parts of the ecosystem to execute on truly market-informed, policy-relevant research. We aim to provide insight which is practical and actionable and which will make a difference in the way we talk about plan designs, investment structures, administrative strategies, etc.”

Minsky and Rouse say they particularly look forward to working together on the linked topics of cybersecurity, fraud prevention and financial services technology development. They also cite blockchain technology as an exciting area to study.

“The industry has realized that by working together on cybersecurity issues, we are stronger than if we remain in our own silos,” Rouse says. “Cybersecurity and fraud prevention is not an area where companies in this space are looking to get a competitive advantage over one another—quite the opposite. We are promoting a cooperative outlook and we have been putting together best practices and case studies for what works and what doesn’t work in cybersecurity.”

Minsky and Rouse recall an industry event DCIIA and SPARK held in October 2019, during which the topic of blockchain was discussed. A blockchain is a series of records of data that cannot be modified and is managed on computers of different entities. Each of these blocks of data are secured and bound to each other using cryptographic principles. The interest and enthusiasm around the topic inspired the two leaders to make technology development a key theme in their 2020 collaboration.

“The consensus at that event was that blockchain could have a huge impact on our space,” Rouse observes. “Like cybersecurity, blockchain is an area where collaboration is needed and which thrives on a consortium model. At the 2019 event, the most popular ideas for the use of blockchain were creating protected digital identities for participants, and doing the same thing for plan data. We’re just at the beginning of this conversation, but it’s a very important one to start.”

Another main part of the DCIIA and SPARK Institute collaboration will be a series of conferences that look at the state of the U.S. retirement system and compare this to the global outlook. The goal is both to learn from places like Australia or the United Kingdom while also being able to pass on what U.S. employers and service providers have learned.

“Over the last few decades we have seen a significant transformation in the U.S. retirement system, and globally that transition is a little behind where we are,” Minsky says. “We have knowledge to share, and on the other hand, we can learn from the automation best practices they have implemented in the United Kingdom, or the high default savings rates in Australia. We will be studying all of this.”