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TPA/ Administrator's Workload


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I work within a payroll company where the main objective is sell as many plans as possible to meet sales goals. Right now we have over 300 plans and more coming in every day.. Including myself there is only 1 other person that knows how to administer the plans. I have only other employee that unfortunately doesn't understand the concepts so his role is minimal. Also, being a payroll company our area uploads the contributions for our payroll clients which is more than a full-time job by itself.

How big is a typical caseload for 1 administrator? I am seriously considering resigning after 7 years because I do not feel I can give the quality service that needs to be given to clients. I'm tired of working many long hours and cringe that our busiest season is right around the corner. The stress is beginning to affect my physical and mental well-being but I find myself wondering if I should just suck it up and continue in this situation. I've never resigned from a company before.

The only perk is that I can work from home.

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Its impossible to say "typical" workload to be honest.  Depends on the plans and what task support you have.  If the plans are complicated enough, maybe you max out at 30-40, if they are simple enough, maybe 130 would doable.  

It does sound like a troubling situation though.  No matter what the typical workload is, if you feel you cant give clients the quality service they should get, its an issue, and it needs to be addressed.  I would start looking for a backup plan in case you need to leave though.  Remote work isn't as rare as it used to be.

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Disregarding the "how many" question, since as RatherBeGolfing points out, it is basically meaningless, and focusing instead on the real question here - should I quit my job?

This is not an easy question, and ultimately only you can decide what to do. There are countless posts on this board complaining about the quality of plans sold by payroll companies, and I think it's clear why - those companies tend to be solely focused on sales volume and not interested in providing their employees with the training or resources they need to do proper administration.

There are always going to be stressful times of year in this field, no matter who you work for or what you do. In our firm, sales and ongoing administration are separate departments - for admin, the most stressful time of year is October 15. Different people respond differently to stress, and jobs with this sort of annual cycle are not for everyone. That said, having a good team makes all the difference when you know you are all in it together.

I would start sending out resumes if I were in your position. If you haven't updated it recently, do it now; with 7 years experience working on plans you probably have a lot to add. I wouldn't suggest leaving your current job until you have something new lined up though.

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The TPA I am with tries to keep us at 45 plans, simple or not.  Stress is minimal. More plans than that is ridiculous and sometimes impossible.  My husband was an admin and got fired more than once from a TPA that had him at 100 plus plans -- impossible.  I am near retirement and will stick it out but I encourage you to find something that makes you happy.  TPAs are piling more work on admins and it's not worth it. Good luck!! 

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3 hours ago, Riley Britton said:

The TPA I am with tries to keep us at 45 plans, simple or not.  Stress is minimal. More plans than that is ridiculous and sometimes impossible.  My husband was an admin and got fired more than once from a TPA that had him at 100 plus plans -- impossible.  I am near retirement and will stick it out but I encourage you to find something that makes you happy.  TPAs are piling more work on admins and it's not worth it. Good luck!! 

That all depends on the support the administrator gets from the company.  If there is a good tracking system in place and good management overseeing it, then it will remove some of the burden.  If the data collection requests are largely sent out and collect by support staff, that reduces some of the work.  Is there staff to handle the approval of distribution requests?  Billing?  Someone preparing docs and amendments?

I've been in places that had a lot of support, so I could manage my caseload a lot better and even be somewhat proactive with my clients rather than being merely reactive.

I've also been in places where the admins were similar to independent workers, getting a caseload and being responsible for everything, including sending out YE requests and followups, approving distribution requests, preparing docs and amendments, PS illustrations, testing.  Everything.  With only a modicum of oversight.

I don't think keeping everyone at a static level of cases despite complexity.  A small plan with brokerage accounts and a less-than-knowledgeable employer can take up more time during the year than some large plan filers at a good carrier.  The TPA needs to balance that across its admins.  Otherwise you can foster resentment.  "How come I get all the difficult plans, whilst Lisa only gets the 10-person John Hancock plans? I'm working until 6 every night while she goes home at 4:30..."

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1 hour ago, Riley Britton said:

We do have a huge support staff, but still I would not want 100 plus plans.   And we don't do overtime here.   8 hours a day is it! 

I wanna work where you work.

50 plans is 4 a month, one a week.  I could handle that!

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This is an interesting thread.  It's not really about how many plans, for the reasons mentioned - size and complexity.  A different metric, not necessarily the be-all and end-all, is revenue.  I think most owners feel their admins should be billing at least 2 times their salary plus benefits; some maybe 3X.  I'm a lousy businessperson/owner and never really got to 2X.  300 plans with one person primarily responsible sounds pretty crazy to me.  I imagine they would be totally and completely screwed if you left...

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43 minutes ago, Bird said:

This is an interesting thread.  It's not really about how many plans, for the reasons mentioned - size and complexity.  A different metric, not necessarily the be-all and end-all, is revenue.  I think most owners feel their admins should be billing at least 2 times their salary plus benefits; some maybe 3X.  I'm a lousy businessperson/owner and never really got to 2X.  300 plans with one person primarily responsible sounds pretty crazy to me.  I imagine they would be totally and completely screwed if you left...

I think the goal nowadays is 3X.  This is also why NEED support staff.  The biggest eye-opener for me once I had to use detailed time-tracking was how incredibly wasteful it is to have highly competent personnel perform clerical tasks, which is often the case in smaller firms where each employee does it all for their client list.  

 

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11 minutes ago, RatherBeGolfing said:

The biggest eye-opener for me once I had to use detailed time-tracking was how incredibly wasteful it is to have highly competent personnel perform clerical tasks, which is often the case in smaller firms where each employee does it all for their client list.

Bingo! We used to call it stepping over a $20 to pick up a $1. Of course, on the other hand, since most of the experienced personnel are salaried, employers sometimes couldn't care less if those folks have to work 80 hours a week for the same pay - until people start leaving, they will keep piling it on. I hasten to add that by no means are all employers like that, but you know they are out there.

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Kudos for working at a payroll company AND knowing how to administer a retirement plan. That is very much the exception rather than the rule at these companies more concerned with sales than service, expecting that convenience and/or inertia will retain enough clients despite generally subpar service. Anyone who thinks the likes of ADP and Paychex et al care much about the quality of service after a sale is on-boarded is deluding themselves more than certain people in a large pale house around the middle of the east coast.

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Agree with CuseFan.  I just completed an IRS audit of a 401K plan handled by Paychex, not even a plan of mine. Nine months of torture, mainly because Paychex would not release any of the pertinent information the auditor required.  

There was a question similar to yours on another Board a few months ago.  Someone asked how many plans is too many to work on, she mentioned she had over 150 and is a 1 person operation.

The answer was unique - what type of operation do you want to run - data processing or consulting.

The "80/20"s are the ones you have to watch out for - spending 80% of your time and receiving 20% of what you're worth.

Good luck you

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5 hours ago, Belgarath said:

Bingo! We used to call it stepping over a $20 to pick up a $1. Of course, on the other hand, since most of the experienced personnel are salaried, employers sometimes couldn't care less if those folks have to work 80 hours a week for the same pay - until people start leaving, they will keep piling it on. I hasten to add that by no means are all employers like that, but you know they are out there.

Interesting! None of our admins are salaried, no matter how many designations one has, or how experienced you are.    

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34 minutes ago, Riley Britton said:

Interesting! None of our admins are salaried, no matter how many designations one has, or how experienced you are.    

You are paid hourly?  I would think that is more the exception than the rule in our little world.

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11 hours ago, RatherBeGolfing said:

Absolutely the exception.  I guess that ties into the 40 hour work week with no overtime

Yes, everyone in our office (except management) is paid hourly.  No overtime.  But really if you're spending more than 40 hours a week to get your work done, that means you have too many plans to administer. 

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On 12/10/2020 at 8:03 AM, Bird said:

This is an interesting thread.  It's not really about how many plans, for the reasons mentioned - size and complexity.  A different metric, not necessarily the be-all and end-all, is revenue.  I think most owners feel their admins should be billing at least 2 times their salary plus benefits; some maybe 3X.  I'm a lousy businessperson/owner and never really got to 2X.  300 plans with one person primarily responsible sounds pretty crazy to me.  I imagine they would be totally and completely screwed if you left...

It's amazing to me how many people seem to ignore this. I've seen administrators with a caseload that were paid 95% of the total billing. The owner couldn't figure out why they were losing money.

While I was at the CPA firm for 12+ years, their plan was 2.5 times. And they ran it pretty narrowly.

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On 12/10/2020 at 8:03 AM, Bird said:

This is an interesting thread.  It's not really about how many plans, for the reasons mentioned - size and complexity.  A different metric, not necessarily the be-all and end-all, is revenue.  I think most owners feel their admins should be billing at least 2 times their salary plus benefits; some maybe 3X.  I'm a lousy businessperson/owner and never really got to 2X.  300 plans with one person primarily responsible sounds pretty crazy to me.  I imagine they would be totally and completely screwed if you left...

This is one of the hardest things to get the average employee to understand.    One of the hardest parts of being a team leader years ago (I now just put my head down and do my work) was annual reviews and pay raise time.  They all wanted a bigger raise (who doesn't including me).   And you had to explain to them where is the money going to come from?   They were part of the billing process and knew we were lucky if we could get small annual increases in our rates.   Their cost of health insurance was going up a bunch and they want a 4-5% raise when billing rates are going up 2%.  That math doesn't work in the long run.  

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Sorry for 3 comments in a row but these were separate thoughts. 

Back to the original question. (I am a bit of a story teller so here goes)

If you are unhappy find a way to fix it.  In the early '90s the company I worked for changed ownership.   I went from loving my job to hating it.   I was slow to leave as I was making good money.   I had great health insurance, a pension plan, a great 401(k) plan..... I am the breadwinner for my family.   So I stuck it out for years for my family.   I was bring it home however.  It was stressing me, my wife......   In the end they froze the pension and laid me off in 2009.  

I landed on my feet quickly.    I look back and realized they did me a favor.    I was hating my job and life for money and benefits.   You spend too much time at your job for too many years to hate it.   You owe yourself and maybe your family better.   Find a way to stop hating the current job or get one you can not hate.  

Sorry if I am stating the obvious but some times in these situations being told the obvious is a favor.  

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1 hour ago, Bill Presson said:

It's amazing to me how many people seem to ignore this. I've seen administrators with a caseload that were paid 95% of the total billing. The owner couldn't figure out why they were losing money.

I know this is a side track, but this is also where detailed time tracking comes in. As much as I still hate the task of accounting for every 6-8 minutes spent on a client, you need it if you are going to hit 2.5-3X.  You have to know how much time you spend on the different tasks so that you can charge accordingly and train accordingly.  If admin A takes twice as long on simple corrections as Admin B, maybe Admin A needs more training, or maybe a specific task should be centralized to a small group of employees.  Most importantly though, are we charging an appropriate amount for task XYZ.

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A lot of great input here from a wide variety of experiences. I worked more than 20 years for an independent, family-owned TPA firm. My (now) business partner and I ran all of the operations of that firm for many years as the owners were not retirement plan administrators (long story). This included managing staff, establishing procedures, reviewing/auditing all work, etc. In addition to those managerial tasks we each were directly responsible for the administration of 120-150 plans each. We had three support staff and two were fired by the owners about 2 years before we left the firm. No reason for the firings of two long-term and dedicated staff members other than to cut costs.

We left and founded our firm with a business model formed around that experience. We have a firm stance that no administrator will handle more than 65 plans. Like many who have posted here the actual number isn't completely relevant. We ensure there is an even distribution based upon plan size, design complexity, and revenue. We won't be the most profitable TPA out there and we are fine with that. Our intent is to maintain a good work-life balance for ourselves and our employees.

Every person has a different breaking point and different financial needs. The advice I share, which is something that was shared with me many years ago - be happy. Money is necessary and we all do what we must, but life is too short to stay in a situation that makes you stressed and unhappy. There are a lot of good TPA firms out there that treat their employees with respect. Your resume should be strong enough to give you plenty of options so go out there and find a firm where you can be happy. Best of luck.

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