In the first season of Better Call Saul, Jimmy visits a retirement home and learns that the management company has been systematically and massively overcharging their residents for various items like Kleenex where they have to pay upwards of $8 per box. He became suspicious when looking at one of the resident’s bills and seeing that it was written in such small print that it was clear the management company didn’t want the residents to understand the details of their scam. Upon uncovering these misdeeds, Jimmy gathers evidence in order to bring this company to trial where he and his brother Chuck seek $20 million in damages due to racketeering, which is defined as:
“A service that is fraudulently offered to solve a problem, such as for a problem that does not actually exist, that will not be put into effect, or that would not otherwise exist if the racket did not exist. Conducting a racket is racketeering. Particularly, the potential problem may be caused by the same party that offers to solve it, although that fact may be concealed, with the specific intent to engender continual patronage for this party. An archetype is the protection racket, wherein a person or group indicates that they could protect a store from potential damage, damage that the same person or group would otherwise inflict, while the correlation of threat and protection may be more or less deniably veiled, distinguishing it from the more direct act of extortion.”
In the case of the retirement plan industry, it’s more than just one company conducting a racket. It’s a network of large retirement plan service providers, attorneys, and government regulators who continue to tout the importance of the survival and growth of their industry in order to solve our “retirement crisis” that they have all played a major role in creating so they can further their own careers. Similarly, they all recently agreed on the increased “transparency” that would be brought about by a “fee disclosure” law that not surprisingly turned out to be so convoluted that nobody has been able to fully understand what was disclosed nor has anyone been able to understand what services they are actually paying for or if these service fees are reasonable in light of the services they are using. If it was clear that retirement plan advisors get paid comparable to brain surgeons, perhaps a light bulb would go on in the heads of business owners and executives that might motivate them to ask this one basic question: “How much money in HARD DOLLARS have retirement plan participants been paying for each service every year?” Shockingly, many of these uninformed plan sponsors include law firms, banks, and accounting firms – the very service professionals we rely on to give us advice!
There have been several programs put on by NPR, Bloomberg TV News, 60 Minutes, and PBS Frontline attempting to expose how the retirement plan industry operates. However, none of them have had any effect, likely because even these programs haven’t delved deeply enough into how intertwined each of the industry players truly are. Until enough people are able to peel back all the layers and become outraged at what is happening to our money, nothing of any significance will change.