The issue of fees and expenses related to the operation of a 401k plan continues to draw great attention. We have pulled together a number of items that we think will give you a good feel for the issues you need to consider.
This archive contains not only the most current material on the topic, but also older items that are still relevant, provide background, perspective or are germane to the topic.
If you find a broken link or an items that you feel is outdate, irrelevant or no longer appropriate, please let us know.
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If the recent case of Sigetich v. The Kroger Co., filed in the Western District of Ohio on November 5, 2021, is any indication, we have reached a turning point in which plaintiffs have started suing plans with really low fees. The complaint alleges that the Kroger 401k Plan had a $30 recordkeeping fee, which they claim is 50% too high, but in reality, is lower than nearly every plan in America today. The case shows how the Supreme Court needs to step in and halt the ability of the plaintiffs' bar to impose improper liability on the fiduciaries of America's retirement plans, absent legitimate proof of real fiduciary imprudence and harm to participants.
During the final session of PLANSPONSOR's virtual 2021 Best Practices Conference, experts talked about the mechanics of benchmarking plan investments and fees, what to look for when benchmarking, and where to get help. Plan sponsors should consider two necessary elements when benchmarking investments. Meanwhile, whether fees need to be benchmarked depends on how they are paid.
This term the Supreme Court is considering -- for the first time -- critical issues in DC plan fee litigation, in Hughes v. Northwestern. This piece discusses the recent decision by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, dismissing plaintiffs' claims in Forman v. TriHealth, Inc. 401k Retirement Savings Plan Retirement Committee. Forman illustrates an issue that is also likely to be presented in Hughes: how fact-specific must plaintiffs' complaint be to survive a motion to dismiss?
Employers that sponsor a retirement plan should be concerned with the risk of excessive fee claims, as the number of these has skyrocketed recently. Chubb's Alison Martin shares steps plan fiduciaries can take to reduce the chances of a lawsuit or increase their chances of successfully defending against one.
The GAO tested participant understanding of some sample fee disclosures, and the results were disappointing. Almost a decade after the DOL fee disclosure regulations became effective, it is clear that they are failing in their intended goal of demystifying retirement plan fees. Without waiting for the DOL to act, plan fiduciaries can implement the GAO recommendations and insist that their participants get disclosures that clearly provide the essential information they need to make investment decisions.
When was the last time you reviewed your retirement plan: 5 years ago, 3 years ago? If it has been over a year, it may be time to benchmark your retirement plan, but it doesn't have to be a chore this time around. This video clip outlines five main areas of your retirement plan and the questions you should be asking.
Without taking the proper measures of disclosing your fees or ensuring they're competitive and reasonable, your plan offerings probably won't seem as effective for your employees. As a sponsor, you should know that the higher your plan's fees, the less your employees will have to contribute to their plans. This is why you want to review your fees to make sure your employees can trust and depend on you to help them save for retirement. But how often should you review your plan fees?
The annual report provides insights into plan design and trends and represents the most comprehensive data available to understand defined contribution plan fees. BrightScope has an express disclaimer that its report is for general information on fees and is not intended for benchmarking the costs of specific plans. But plaintiff lawyers often ignore this disclaimer and cite the report to support their excessive fee claims, and thus it is important to analyze the BrightScope data to evaluate how your plan compares. This article documents the significant trends and statistics in the BrightScope report.
The DOL has required defined contribution plans to provide participants with information on plan and investment fees. During a 2010 news conference, then-Assistant Secretary of Labor of the DOL's Employee Benefits Security Administration Phyllis Borzi said fee disclosure rules are designed to "make sure everyone knows what they are paying for and how this affects plan balances." However, a recent Government Accountability Office study found this has not always been the case.
Almost 40% of 401k plan participants do not fully understand the fees they are paying, a Government Accountability Office report released Thursday found. Moreover, 41% of participants incorrectly believe that they do not pay any 401k plan fees, according to the report.
The DOL regulations regarding service provider fee disclosures clarify that plan fiduciaries are responsible for assessing the reasonableness of fees charged to plans in relation to services performed. Before a plan fiduciary is able to assess the reasonableness of plan fees, the fiduciary has to receive required fee disclosures from their covered service provider. A covered service provider is considered a party that enters into an agreement with a retirement plan to provide certain services.
The study found that 401k plan participants investing in mutual funds tend to hold lower-cost funds, the expense ratios that 401k plan participants incur for investing in mutual funds have declined substantially since 2000, and the downward trend in the expense ratios that 401k plan participants incur for investing in hybrid and bond mutual funds continued in 2020.
As the retirement plan industry continues to evolve, with new products and solutions announced daily, plan sponsors have to remain diligent that they fulfill their fiduciary obligation to their participants. PLANSPONSOR recently spoke to James about the need for transparency in the retirement plan industry and what plan sponsors should evaluate when examining costs.
The role of retirement plan governance has become increasingly important as employers face increased scrutiny of how they operate their 401k plans in the current legal and regulatory environment. CFOs and human resource managers administering 401k plans and serving on 401k plan committees have increasingly been held responsible for fiduciary breaches. Plan fiduciaries should conduct due diligence to reprice services and replace underperforming funds given asset-based fees and significant growth in plan size, due to rising markets and recurring contributions.
Key findings: 401k plan participants investing in mutual funds tend to hold lower-cost funds. The expense ratios that 401k plan participants incur for investing in mutual funds have declined substantially since 2000. The downward trend in the expense ratios that 401k plan participants incur for investing in hybrid and bond mutual funds continued in 2020. This is a 32-page report.
Benchmarking investment fees is an important function. It's more than that, it's critical to fulfilling your fiduciary duty. But "essential" does not translate to "easy," and there are some common pitfalls in performing that function. This article identifies common problems with benchmarking fees and mistakes that can be made, and how to avoid them.
Benchmarking investment fees is essential to fulfilling a retirement plan sponsor's fiduciary obligation. However, it can be a complicated task. This article shares the importance of accurately benchmarking investment fees and how to overcome some common plan sponsor pitfalls.
A new era of employee activism is underway in which plaintiff lawyers find fertile ground for litigation opportunities, catching many employers unprepared. The focal point of the growing number of such lawsuits is the compensation that employers arrange for payment to the vendors of services to the ERISA plans. Underestimating the economic and reputational risks related to deficiencies in the prudent management of ERISA plans threatens an entire enterprise.
Benchmarking retirement plan fees has become more complex in recent years, as it has moved beyond just scrutinizing recordkeeping and administrative fees. There are two ways sponsors can benchmark their fees. There is the traditional approach of doing an external benchmark by issuing an RFI or RFP. The other approach is to use information from a database of plan sponsors to compare fees paid.
Employers have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure the fees paid by their 401k plan are "reasonable" so excessive fees do not reduce the investment returns of plan participants needlessly. To do that job, employers should benchmark their 401k fees periodically by comparing them to industry averages and/or the fees charged by competing 401k providers. Sounds straightforward, but this information is hard to find and often harder to compare on an apples-to-apples basis.
With retirement plan fees serving as the centerpiece of ERISA fiduciary breach lawsuits, understanding fee dynamics is critical for plan sponsors and fiduciaries. This series explores the different types of retirement plan fees by taking an in-depth look at investment costs, provider fees, and fee allocation methodologies.
The recent increase in litigation over retirement plans and, specifically, the fees those plans are being charged for administration and management, has many companies concerned about what they need to do to protect the plans they manage. Two recent federal district court rulings illustrate the necessity for plan sponsors to have a prudent decision-making process in place to successfully defend against excessive fee litigation.
One of the largest 401k excessive suit settlements has been approved. The settlement arose in a case involving Reliance Trust and its role regarding the Insperity 401k Plan, in which the plaintiffs were enrolled. The plaintiffs are four participants in this plan for Insperity clients. However, the settlement did not actually involve Insperity but was an agreement between Reliance Trust and the plaintiffs.
Nearly three-quarters of Americans surveyed do not know how much they are required to pay in fees to manage their retirement accounts, according to a recent survey commissioned by investment management firm Rebalance. Over half of Americans surveyed (57%) falsely believe that they pay either no fees, or very low fees, to maintain their retirement investment accounts. Also, nearly one-quarter don't even know how much they pay in fees.
The average total plan cost for a small retirement plan declined to 1.20% from 1.23% over the past year, according to the latest 401k Averages Book. The average total plan cost for a large retirement plan also declined, to 0.90% from 0.91%, Joseph Valletta, the author of the book, said in a release. Valletta defines small plans as those with fewer than 100 participants and up to $5 million in assets and large plans as those with more than 1,000 participants and more than $50 million in assets.
Source: Investmentnews.com (registration may be required), March 2021
Fee benchmarking can be a great tool for plan sponsors to ensure that their plan fees are fair and reasonable and also help to fulfill a fiduciary responsibility. Since each fee benchmarking platform has a unique process for aggregating and reporting data, plan sponsors should consider how various data sources, pools of data or report customizations may impact the accuracy and reliability of the report.
To fulfill their fiduciary obligations, plan sponsors need to ensure that service providers subject to 408(b)(2) rules satisfy their disclosure requirements under ERISA. If a service provider fails to meet their reporting requirements under 408(b)(2), the plan sponsor is required to act by sending the service provider a written request for compliance.
As a plan sponsor, you need to identify the fees incurred by your retirement plan and demonstrate a prudent process for monitoring these fees. Through this three-part article, you'll gain an understanding of the major cost components within your retirement plan, the options you have for paying those costs, and best practice strategies for allocating costs to plan participants.
Most weeks, a plan sponsor is sued for breach of fiduciary duty in connection with the investment choices offered under its 401k or 403b plans. A few of these cases get dismissed early in the proceedings. A few go to trial, but most cases settle. Unless dismissed, these claims, whether tried or settled, often involve million-dollar recoveries. What can a plan sponsor do to establish the best record possible if the sponsor and its fiduciaries decide that they want to defend themselves?
Are plan sponsors' responsibilities for making sure retirement plan fees are reasonable different when the plan sponsor pays versus when plan participants pay? There is less risk when a plan sponsor pays retirement plan fees, but that doesn't necessarily mean the benchmarking should be different than if participants pay.
Don't let plan fees scare you. Exorcise your fear by understanding the services performed by your service providers, how your providers are paid, and what their fees are. Then look at the fees charged by other providers to plans of a similar size to yours. Keep calm throughout the process knowing that DOL doesn't expect plan sponsors to have hired the cheapest providers.
Recordkeepers are a critical partner in a successful retirement plan and monitoring their services and fees is one of the most important duties of a fiduciary. Periodic benchmarking can help keep a plan's fees in line with the marketplace but is not a replacement for a full vendor search process, especially in light of the recent findings in the Banner Health case. This webinar covers the benefits of running a vendor search, the timeline for running a search, and best practices.
At year-end 2019, 401k plan assets totaled $6.4 trillion, with 37 percent invested in equity mutual funds. In 2019, the average expense ratio for equity mutual funds offered in the United States was 1.24 percent. 401k plan participants who invested in equity mutual funds, however, paid about one-third of that amount -- 0.39 percent -- on average. The expense ratios that 401k plan participants incur for investing in mutual funds have declined substantially since 2000. This is a 32-page report.
Until recently, it appeared that plaintiffs' firms had taken a hiatus from excessive fee litigation targeted at large companies. Now there has been an uptick in fiduciary litigation involving 401k and 403b plans of private employers. Last month, at least three new excessive fee cases were filed in Wisconsin and at least seven additional excessive fee cases were filed in other jurisdictions.
Several key recordkeeping fee decisions are important for prudent plan fiduciaries to analyze carefully. More often than in the past, when plan sponsors benchmark their plan fees, they often use the opportunity to evaluate the way fees are allocated to participants and to make changes to the way fees are paid. Three key recordkeeping fee decisions that go directly to the heart of the question of how fees should be allocated across participants are discussed in this article. First is the decision as to the type of recordkeeping fee structure. Second is the decision around using a lowest-cost share class strategy for the investment menu versus a revenue-sharing model. Last is the decision of how to apply revenue sharing when there is an active decision to use that model or when it is unavoidable.
Almost every employer that sponsors a retirement plan should be concerned about potential liability for a type of exposure known as excessive fee claims. Historically filed against only the largest organizations, an increasing number of smaller retirement plans have faced excessive fee litigation over the past couple of years. With this surge in litigation, it's important that all fiduciaries, regardless of plan size, understand the history and recent trends relating to excessive fee claims, the plan features that may make it a target of litigation, and steps fiduciaries can take that may reduce exposure to excessive fee claims.
Fee compression is also being driven by forces outside the market, specifically the rash of fee litigation and settlements that have forced plan sponsors and fiduciaries to consider lower-cost investment options. Complicating the question of asset management fees is the increasing pressure on recordkeepers to drive down administrative costs to plans, or potentially drive more suits.
The events of the past few months have had a dramatic impact on nearly every business. Now, more than ever is a time to review expenses and cut back where possible. One possible area to explore cost savings is in your 401k or other related retirement savings plan. Plan sponsors might start here for a variety of reasons. Here are some insights.
Companies are becoming more open and willing to pay retirement plan servicing fees. This article focuses on Non-Settlor fees which typically include the following service providers: Third-Party administration services, investment advisory services, recordkeeping platform services, and employee benefit audit services. There are some compelling benefits for a company to pay these plan fees.
401k provider services and investments can vary dramatically in terms of breadth, depth, and price. Benchmarking 401k fees on an all-in basis helps normalize these differences, putting the onus on a 401k provider to justify higher fees. This article provides a 3-step process you can use to compare fees, including where to find the administration and investment fees for ten leading 401k providers. In short, a "Rosetta Stone" for finding 401k fees.
In a lawsuit targeting the Pharmaceutical Product Development Retirement Savings Plan, the plaintiffs allege that fiduciaries of the plan violated their duties under ERISA. They say the plan fiduciaries failed to objectively and adequately review the plan's investment portfolio to ensure each investment option was prudent in terms of cost and maintained certain funds in the plan despite the availability of identical or similar investment options with lower costs and/or better performance histories.
Liberty Mutual is facing a class-action lawsuit brought by its 401k participants, who allege the plan's recordkeeping fees were out of control and the insurance giant allegedly violated ERISA by failing to rein them in.
Source: Investmentnews.com (registration may be required), April 2020
A federal judge has found that a provider breached its fiduciary duty of overseeing its own 401k by failing to monitor proprietary funds and its recordkeeping expenses, though it was not obligated to consider options other than mutual funds.
Plan sponsors have heard -- and many excessive fee lawsuits state --that larger defined contribution plans, in terms of assets, pay lower fees. But do they? Determining whether fees are reasonable for participants requires an additional layer of calculation, and some fee elements and allocations make it more complicated than it should be.
More good news about fees and fee compression as plan sponsors and participants increasingly realize the long-term implications they can have on retirement. Both large and small plans saw cheaper prices for investment and administration, regardless of the situation and scenario.
Today, the landscape is rapidly shifting, and it definitely seems to be the case that per-participant recordkeeping fees are becoming the expected best practice, no matter what size the plan. Plaintiffs' attorneys and progressive plan sponsors are driving this trend. Their argument is simply that, with today's digital recordkeeping technology, it is no more work for the plan provider to administer an account with $1,000,000 versus an account with $100. Thus, the argument goes, it is not reasonable under ERISA for the fee to grow while the service being provided remains the same.
Thanks to innovation and a competitive market, 401k mutual fund fees keep falling. ICI has a window into this information through our study of the cost of providing 401ks, in which they take a close look at the expenses and fees of mutual funds incurred by 401k plan investors, and in related research on fund fees through a collaborative research effort between ICI and BrightScope.
Fiduciaries often are aware of administrative and disclosure requirements, but sometimes become negligent when choosing funds with reasonable fees. Even those who are aware can inadvertently fail to select the best mutual fund. While 401k fees have decreased in recent years because of litigation and various DOL regulations, mutual funds can still charge indirect fees that DOL would deem unreasonable. Unfortunately, fiduciaries with little knowledge regarding fee structures may authorize a plan to charge fees, decreasing participant balances.
Investment advisor and recordkeeper searches are a very important aspect of the fiduciary duty of "procedural prudence," i.e., setting up and carrying out prudent processes that are intended to render beneficial results for participants. They provide 401k and 403b plan fiduciaries the opportunity to ensure not only that fees are reasonable, but also that the appropriate services, technology and education are being provided to the plan participants.
When employees file complaints against their employers with the U.S. Department of Labor, fees for their retirement plan services is a very common reason. A burgeoning era of employee activism is underway in which plaintiff lawyers are finding fertile ground for litigation opportunities, catching many employers unprepared. Many other employers are ready, however, using an approach that offers a legally defensible result.
Source: Rolandcriss.com, August 2019
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