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A look at the recent NAST symposium
http://www.savingforcollege.com/articles/a-look-at-the-recent-nast-symposium-1066

Posted: 2017-05-19

by Brian Boswell

Financial Professional Content

The 2017 Treasury Management Training Symposium, the largest conference from NAST (the National Association of State Treasurers) is one of three conferences that occur each year where 529 plan stakeholders have an interest. As part of the conference, the CSPN (College Savings Plans Network) an affiliate of NAST gets together to discuss and move forward pressing issues affecting the 529 savings and prepaid market.

The conference spends a lot of time reviewing all the hard work its members have put in for its constituents; what marketing campaigns were most effective and which were not, technology that has been implemented, and changes that were made. It's a knowledge share, with industry proponents demonstrating best practices for plan oversight and plan construction, marketing, glidepath construction, and much more. But the action items those events where collaborators work directly towards improving the 529 marketplace happen on the day before the official opening of the conference, when all the CSPN subcommittees get together in person.

Let's (finally) make a national awareness campaign into a reality

In 2016 the annual Edward Jones survey of over 1,000 U.S. adults showed that 72% of Americans didn't know what a 529 plan was, which was actually down over the preceding year. Similar surveys have born this out time and again: People don't know what 529 plans are. It's a terrible name, it's intimidating, hard to remember, and equally difficult to explain.

Which is why since at least 2001 when I first entered the 529 marketplace (and probably even before then) there has been the desire to have a national marketing messaging campaign like the Got Milk? campaign originally created by Goodby Silverstein & Partners for the California Milk Processor Board in 1993. That board was created by a group of California dairy processors kind of like 529 plan providers and the CSPN.

The dairy farmers of California, however, never had to deal with mountains of disclosure requirements and a vast group of financial services providers that are as much competitors as they are peers. Still, the 529 industry is highly collaborative, and it's fair to say that some form of national advertising campaign is both desired by 529 stakeholders and would further benefit the plans.

So it was welcome news that not only is a national campaign in the works with a target audience scoped, desired outcomes better defined, etc. but more importantly that a budget has been approved by the CSPN Executive Board. It's not much, but enough to get the ball rolling to issue an RFP to solicit bids from firms that would create and distribute the campaign and get things started. I look forward to turning on my radio and hearing a simple, straightforward message explaining what a 529 is to potential college savers.

Let's push forward 529-positive legislation & policies

If you're thinking, "Doesn't NAST and CSPN always do this?" then you are correct. But there are a couple big items that came up during the course of the committee meetings prior to the official conference open. Namely:

  1. The H.R. 529 Bill announced earlier this year is not forgotten, but it's future is uncertain given the currently tumultuous political climate. Initial responses from legislators have been positive to all of its proposed updates, particularly additional versatility between ABLE accounts, removal of the twice-per-year restriction on reallocations, and allowing withdrawals to be used to pay for student loans without incurring the additional 10% penalty. Even if the legislation did not push through in the near future, it's likely we'll see these changes at some point.
  2. There is support for the removal of 529 plan assets from consideration in the federal financial aid formula. Despite how little they count against need-based aid today, it is still a pain point for many college savers, who see even that 5.64% cap on assets impacting the EFC as a reason to forego the savings vehicles. It adds unnecessary confusion for what little it counts towards the formula today. Removing it from consideration entirely will greatly simplify messaging to college savers from plan proponents, and directly augment savings.

Financial Professional Content

The 2017 Treasury Management Training Symposium, the largest conference from NAST (the National Association of State Treasurers) is one of three conferences that occur each year where 529 plan stakeholders have an interest. As part of the conference, the CSPN (College Savings Plans Network) an affiliate of NAST gets together to discuss and move forward pressing issues affecting the 529 savings and prepaid market.

The conference spends a lot of time reviewing all the hard work its members have put in for its constituents; what marketing campaigns were most effective and which were not, technology that has been implemented, and changes that were made. It's a knowledge share, with industry proponents demonstrating best practices for plan oversight and plan construction, marketing, glidepath construction, and much more. But the action items those events where collaborators work directly towards improving the 529 marketplace happen on the day before the official opening of the conference, when all the CSPN subcommittees get together in person.

Let's (finally) make a national awareness campaign into a reality

In 2016 the annual Edward Jones survey of over 1,000 U.S. adults showed that 72% of Americans didn't know what a 529 plan was, which was actually down over the preceding year. Similar surveys have born this out time and again: People don't know what 529 plans are. It's a terrible name, it's intimidating, hard to remember, and equally difficult to explain.

Which is why since at least 2001 when I first entered the 529 marketplace (and probably even before then) there has been the desire to have a national marketing messaging campaign like the Got Milk? campaign originally created by Goodby Silverstein & Partners for the California Milk Processor Board in 1993. That board was created by a group of California dairy processors kind of like 529 plan providers and the CSPN.

The dairy farmers of California, however, never had to deal with mountains of disclosure requirements and a vast group of financial services providers that are as much competitors as they are peers. Still, the 529 industry is highly collaborative, and it's fair to say that some form of national advertising campaign is both desired by 529 stakeholders and would further benefit the plans.

So it was welcome news that not only is a national campaign in the works with a target audience scoped, desired outcomes better defined, etc. but more importantly that a budget has been approved by the CSPN Executive Board. It's not much, but enough to get the ball rolling to issue an RFP to solicit bids from firms that would create and distribute the campaign and get things started. I look forward to turning on my radio and hearing a simple, straightforward message explaining what a 529 is to potential college savers.

Let's push forward 529-positive legislation & policies

If you're thinking, "Doesn't NAST and CSPN always do this?" then you are correct. But there are a couple big items that came up during the course of the committee meetings prior to the official conference open. Namely:

  1. The H.R. 529 Bill announced earlier this year is not forgotten, but it's future is uncertain given the currently tumultuous political climate. Initial responses from legislators have been positive to all of its proposed updates, particularly additional versatility between ABLE accounts, removal of the twice-per-year restriction on reallocations, and allowing withdrawals to be used to pay for student loans without incurring the additional 10% penalty. Even if the legislation did not push through in the near future, it's likely we'll see these changes at some point.
  2. There is support for the removal of 529 plan assets from consideration in the federal financial aid formula. Despite how little they count against need-based aid today, it is still a pain point for many college savers, who see even that 5.64% cap on assets impacting the EFC as a reason to forego the savings vehicles. It adds unnecessary confusion for what little it counts towards the formula today. Removing it from consideration entirely will greatly simplify messaging to college savers from plan proponents, and directly augment savings.

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