NGPF Podcast: Tim Talks to Tony Isola, An Advocate for Better 403(b) Plans
From a trading desk on Wall Street to a classroom in an underserved community and then back again to an investment firm, Tony Isola has seen 403(b) plans from all sides, and he doesn't like what he sees. High fees, weak transparency, teachers not being well-served or as Tony likes to say "What isn't wrong with 403(b) plans?" He’s disrupting this broken system by creating an alternative at Ritholtz Wealth Management, which he refers to as “the Amazon of 403(b) plans," for a fraction of the cost. He empowers teachers and instills in them the confidence they need to face their financial planners and complacent school districts. His end goal is to fight for a solution to give teachers the return on investment on their retirement accounts that they deserve.
- 0:00–1:06 Introduction
- 1:07–4:01 From a Wall Street office to the classroom in an impoverished school
- 4:02–8:56 What isn’t wrong with 403(b) plans?
- 8:57–14:09 Paradox of (investment) choice
- 14:10–16:09 Conflict of Interest 101
- 16:10–20:20 Cream of the crop: Vanguard
- 20:21–22:29 Why the age old system doesn’t work today
- 22:30–23:56 The low-down on target date funds
- 23:57–24:30 A word from NGPF
- 24:31–31:37 Caught up in a fish net of annuities & the only way out is paying fees
- 31:38–38:07 Ritholtz, the Amazon of 403(b) plans
- 38:08–41:01 #1 red flag: is the financial advisor paid per commission?
- 41:02–44:13 A treasure trove of resources for teachers
- 44:14–49:45 No middle ground when it comes to being a fee-only fiduciary
- 49:46–50:29 Best thing bought for under $10
- 50:30–51:38 Money doesn’t buy happiness
- 51:39–52:05 Tony’s advice for teachers: cost matter
- 52:06–53:48 Best online blogs
- 53:49–56:01 Call this coincidence what you may, this was destiny
- 56:02–56:44 Conclusion
- Tony heads up the educator 403(b) division at Ritholtz Wealth Management in New York City
- Platform mentioned on the podcast: Aspire, which helps with retirement planning, is a mutual fund supermarket
- Prior company:
- ATI Investments
- Above & beyond the rest: Vanguard, wealth management
- Ritholtz blog [Tim's note: My go-to on a daily basis]
- Tony Isola’s blog: A Teachable Moment
- Morgan Housel, Collaborative Fund
- Abnormal Returns
Other websites mentioned:
- “[403(b)] is an absolute travesty… There’s really only little oversight, so the school district’s only obligation is one of an administrator… But as far as the investment choices, there is absolutely no oversight. It’s a horrific, exploitative mess.”
- We tell teachers: “Even if you don’t want to use us, at least get Aspire on your vendor list because then you’ll have an opportunity to choose a low-cost mutual fund.” Whereas everything else on their list is either a high-cost annuity or a high-cost mutual fund.”
- “If you’re investing in the market over long periods of time and you don’t think you’re going to make money over decades, why are you even investing in the market?”
- “Here’s what I think is the worst thing: when these [vendors] get you into a 403(b) annuity, they then start to infect all your other financial accounts… Next thing you know, you’ll own this whole life insurance policy that is very expensive and doesn’t provide anything near an adequate level of insurance.”
About the Authors
Danielle is a native of Southern California and a recent graduate from the University of Maine, where she braved the frigid winters—a feat in and of itself—and earned her Bachelor's degree in International Affairs. She has a passion for working with non-profit organizations and serving populations in underprivileged communities. When Danielle isn't writing NGPF blog posts, spearheading various outreach projects, or managing contests and flash surveys, you can find her doing some sort of outdoor activity, learning a new hobby, or cracking what she thinks are witty puns!
Tim's saving habits started at seven when a neighbor with a broken hip gave him a dog walking job. Her recovery, which took almost a year, resulted in Tim getting to know the bank tellers quite well (and accumulating a savings account balance of over $300!). His recent entrepreneurial adventures have included driving a shredding truck, analyzing executive compensation packages for Fortune 500 companies and helping families make better college financing decisions. After volunteering in 2010 to create and teach a personal finance program at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, Tim saw firsthand the impact of an engaging and activity-based curriculum, which inspired him to start a new non-profit, Next Gen Personal Finance.
To get access to NGPF answer keys, assessments, and teacher-only resources: create a FREE Teacher Account