Ascensus: Philly firm counts America's $billions in the cloud

On the list of local companies that are big enough to go public (no plans announced), make room for Ascensus, a 2,000-employee Dresher firm with $300 million-plus in yearly sales and 33 percent annual growth. It calls itself the largest independent retirement-plan record-keeper for banks, insurers, mutual funds, and state college-funding (529) programs, which oversee retirement money for 50,000 employers and plan managers, with several million account holders.

Vanguard Group, the mutual-fund industry leader, is a client. So are states including Illinois and Oregon, for the new generation of small, private-employer retirement plans that has yet to take hold in Pennsylvania and that faces opposition from some plan managers who don’t like the competition. BNY Mellon, whose fund-accounting arm is a big employer in Wilmington, and Wells Fargo are among Ascensus’ competitors.

A former unit of Bisys, the fin-tech conglomerate, Ascensus was acquired with a bundle of businesses by Citi in 2007. Citi sold the accounting group to buyout king JC Flowers & Co., which merged it with Crump & Co. and sold it in 2015 to private-equity investors Genstar Capital and Aquiline Partners. It’s been rolling up smaller firms: New Jersey’s ExpertPlan in 2012, and Retirement Educators, National Retirement Services, and Matthews Benefit Group last fall.

Ascensus employs about 650 at its Montgomery County headquarters, with room for 200 more on site, said chief executive Bob Guillocheau. There are also offices in Arizona and Minnesota.

“Philadelphia’s a great place to have this business,” said Guillocheau. “You can do a lot of hiring out of the colleges — Penn State, St. Joe’s, Villanova, Temple, Drexel, Gwynedd Mercy, which is around the corner from our office, and Penn.”

Unlike a lot of the investment firms whose funds it checks, Ascensus survived the recent investment recession “without having to fire people.” It was a good time to add staff, with many talented people available amid the wreckage of Wall Street. The market is tighter now, which “is a good thing for the broader economy,” Guillocheau said diplomatically. If it makes hiring tougher, it’s also made it easier for companies to pay into their retirement plans.

Since Genstar and Aquiline bought in, Ascensus has built up its management team, adding David Musto from Great-West Investments in Colorado as president, and Raghav Nandagopal and Christian Fulmino, a veteran of News Corp., to oversee acquisitions. Chief financial officer is Jim Lucania, a Penn and UCLA grad formerly at Checkpoint Systems in Thorofare, Gloucester County.