COLLECTED WISDOM™ on Self Directed Brokerage Accounts
Self Directed Brokerage Accounts were very popular during the bull market of the 1990's, but today only about one in five employers offer them. As a result, you don't find them being discussed much in the press or in retirement industry publications.
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.
The Department of Labor isn't backing down on its cryptocurrency concerns, but a written response to U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville includes some comments concerning its application to self-directed brokerage windows. The DOL's April 30 response to Tuberville's letter to Labor Secretary Marty Walsh from Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor Ali Khawar regarding the Compliance Assistance Release on cryptocurrency reiterates the motivation for the release.
Source: Napa-net.org, April 2022
Recently, the DOL issued new guidance regarding the holding or investing in cryptocurrency by 401k retirement plans. This new guidance specifically impacts retirement plans that permit participants to use self-directed brokerage accounts to trade individual stocks on their own. Under the new guidance, employers could have fiduciary responsible for participant cryptocurrency trades made through their self-directed accounts.
Source: Graydon.law, April 2022
Fiduciaries of 401k plans and other retirement plans know that they must prudently monitor the investment options available to participants in the plan, but are they monitoring participants' investments made through a plan's brokerage window? Recent commentary from the DOL on cryptocurrency investments suggests maybe fiduciaries should be and that the DOL may check in on that soon.
Source: Employeebenefitslawblog.com, April 2022
New cryptocurrency guidance from the DOL threatens to upend the way regulators treat workplace retirement plans that allow participants to trade individual stocks and bonds on their own. Brokerage windows historically have been mostly off-limits to DOL regulators. That could change with the Labor Department's new playbook for cryptocurrency in 401ks.
Source: Bloomberglaw.com, April 2022
Self-directed brokerage accounts allow plan sponsors to keep their menu streamlined, while also alleviating specific investment demands from some participants. They can also help keep participants in the plan and be an avenue for offering not-so-standard investment options, but they're not right for every plan.
Source: Plansponsor.com, March 2022
The ERISA Advisory Council released a detailed report on its recent examination of brokerage windows in DC plans, previously an area of controversy due to shifting guidance from the DOL. Though the council considered several topics, its sole recommendation is for DOL to conduct additional fact-finding on "brokerage window only" plans. The DOL-appointed council can't issue guidance, but these findings may help alleviate concerns for plan fiduciaries currently offering -- or looking to offer -- a brokerage window by making the case for DOL to preserve the status quo.
Source: Mercer.com, March 2022
According to Charles Schwab's latest SDBA Indicators Report, the average account balance across all participant accounts finished Q4 2021 at $352,764, a 6.4% increase year-over-year and a 3.4% increase from Q3 2021.
Source: Businesswire.com, March 2022
The ERISA Advisory Council has revisited the topic of brokerage windows in self-directed retirement plans in a recent report to Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. But the Council also declined to recommend additional regulations for brokerage windows in general, saying the costs outweigh the benefits.
Source: Planadviser.com, February 2022
While SDBAs provide retirement plan participants with access to numerous investment options, the resulting investments can also create potential risks to those participants and plan sponsors, according to findings from Cerulli.
Source: Asppa.org, January 2022
The current environment appears ripe for self-directed brokerage accounts as certain groups of plan participants welcome the opportunity to curate retirement investments that reflect their values and priorities. By taking a fresh look at SDBAs as an investment option for their plans, sponsors will be able to harness participant enthusiasm to increase interest in and engagement with their retirement plan, according to the latest Cerulli Edge -- U.S. Retirement Edition.
Source: Cerulli.com, December 2021
According to Charles Schwab's SDBA Indicators Report, a benchmark on retirement plan participant investment activity within self-directed brokerage accounts, the average account balance across all participant accounts finished Q3 2021 at $341,068, a 12.8% increase year-over-year and a 2.0% decrease from Q2 2021. The third quarter SDBA report overall showed steady investing behavior among participants.
Source: Businesswire.com, November 2021
Self-directed brokerage windows allow participants to establish a personal brokerage account within their employer's defined contribution plan. There are usually more investment options in brokerage windows than in the plan menu. This gives participants access to a broader array of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and exchange-traded funds. This piece briefly reviews five facts about self-directed brokerage accounts.
Source: Alight.com, September 2021
According to Charles Schwab's SDBA Indicators Report, an industry-leading benchmark on retirement plan participant investment activity within self-directed brokerage accounts, the average account balance across all participant accounts finished Q2 2021 at $348,183, a nearly 22% increase year-over-year and a 4.3% increase from Q1 2021.
Source: Businesswire.com, August 2021
Witnesses testifying before the ERISA Advisory Council largely panned the idea for additional fiduciary or disclosure obligations on DC plans that contain brokerage windows. During the two-day hearing held June 24-25, witnesses representing private companies, law firms, industry groups and other retirement plan stakeholders echoed similar themes throughout their testimony, noting, among other things, that participants who use brokerage windows are sophisticated investors familiar with the risks and that existing disclosures already inform participants.
Source: Asppa.org, July 2021
This 4-page paper examines the self-directed brokerage feature in DC plans at Vanguard. Larger plans were somewhat more likely to offer the feature, and one-third of Vanguard plan participants had access to the option. Interestingly, 21% percent of plans with a brokerage option were law firms and on average, 6% of law firm plan assets were invested in brokerage.
Source: Vanguard.com, September 2021
As more participants engage with their investments and take a more hands-on approach, sources say self-directed brokerage accounts are becoming increasingly popular. But there are pros and cons of allowing retirement plan participants to use them.
Source: Plansponsor.com, April 2021
Participant Directed Investments Through Brokerage Windows: The Last Frontier or a Trap for the Unwary?
What should fiduciaries of participant-directed plans consider in deciding whether to allow participants to direct their investments using arrangements loosely referred to as "brokerage windows"? The realm of ERISA plan investments through these arrangements remains largely uncharted territory. Fiduciaries operate under the broad understanding that ERISA Section 404(a) fiduciary duties of prudence and loyalty apply, but with little guidance on how.
Source: Wagnerlawgroup.com, April 2021
Self-directed participants who stood pat in the face of volatility and early 2020 market lows were rewarded with solid gains, according to the latest findings from Charles Schwab's SDBA Indicators Report.
Source: Asppa.org, March 2021
According to Charles Schwab's SDBA Indicators Report, an industry-leading benchmark on retirement plan participant investment activity within self-directed brokerage accounts, the average account balance across all participant accounts finished Q4 2020 at $331,664, a 13% increase year-over-year and a 10% increase from Q3 2020.
Source: Aboutschwab.com, March 2021
More than 20% of workplace savings plans offer an SDBA along with their other benefits, according to Fidelity internal data. The number of employers that offer self-directed brokerage accounts is up three times over 2010, the company said.
Source: 401kspecialistmag.com, January 2021
Heading into the fourth quarter, there are both encouraging signs and cause for caution, as markets have been walking a fine line, according to the latest findings from Charles Schwab. In looking at the retirement plan participant investment activity within self-directed brokerage accounts, the report found that the average SDBA balance across all participant accounts finished the third quarter of 2020 at $302,256, a 9% increase year-over-year and a 6% increase from the second quarter.
Source: Napa-net.org, November 2020
A 3.3% year-over-year increase and a 13% increase from the end of the first quarter of 2020? Not bad for self-directed 401k balances considering the havoc wrought by the pandemic in the first half of 2020. According to Charles Schwab's latest SDBA Indicators Report, the average account balance across all participant accounts finished Q2 2020 at $285,616, reflecting that 3.3% increase from 2019 and 13% increase from Q1 2020.
Source: 401kspecialistmag.com, August 2020
This article reviews two recent cases that considered claims by participants in 401k participant-directed investment plans that plan fiduciaries failed to prudently monitor investments in what fiduciaries claimed were brokerage windows or "similar plan arrangements." The article starts with a summary of what we know and what we don’t know about the legal status of brokerage windows and similar plan arrangements.
Source: Octoberthree.com, June 2020
Compared to their older counterparts, Millennials who invest through self-directed brokerage accounts may be investing more conservatively than they should be at that age, based on the results of an industry-leading benchmarking report.
Source: Napa-net.org, December 2019
A recent report from Charles Schwab might give retirement plan sponsors reason to think about offering their participants a self-directed brokerage account, particularly one that offers the participants the service of an adviser. For example, Schwab found that while only 20% of participants in a brokerage window worked with an adviser as of the second quarter, their average balance of $448,515 was nearly twice as much as the $234,673 held by non-advised participants.
Source: Plansponsor.com, September 2019
According to Charles Schwab's SDBA Indicators Report, the market correction that occurred during the fourth quarter of 2018 weighed on participant accounts, as the average SDBA balance fell to $246,153, a decline of 10.6 percent from 3Q 2018 and 6.3 percent year-over-year. According to the Schwab data, mutual funds continued to hold the highest percentage of participant assets at approximately 37 percent, the same as Q4 2017. Allocations to equities remained at 28 percent, and exchange-traded funds (17%), cash (15%), and fixed income (3%) rounded out participants' portfolios.
Source: Schwab.com, March 2019
One might think that there is a lower level of liability risk for plan fiduciaries where a brokerage window is available, particularly where the window supplements a menu of selected investment options, because it gives plan participants greater choice without any expectation that the fiduciaries are responsible for each investment available through the window. However, there can still be fiduciary obligations related to offering the brokerage window that, if not met, could trigger liability.
Source: Morganlewis.com, August 2018
More 401k and 403b plan sponsors are offering an investment option called a brokerage window. However, more choice isn't always better when it comes to the investment menu. And some sponsors have the misconception that offering a brokerage window relieves some of their fiduciary responsibilities. That is not the case, while the Department of Labor does not prohibit the use of brokerage windows in retirement plans, it has shown increased interest in them in recent years.
Source: 401ktv.com, October 2017
A recent article published by the Wall Street Journal suggests more plan sponsors are adding self-directed brokerage accounts to their corporate retirement plans. But what exactly is a self-directed brokerage account, and is adding one to your plan a good idea?
Source: Francisinvco.com, December 2016
On September 22, 2016, the SEC released a Compliance and Disclosure Interpretation addressing the application of the registration requirements to offers and sales of employer securities under 401k plans that (i) do not include a company securities fund but (ii) do allow participants to select investments through a self-directed brokerage window. Open brokerage windows typically allow plan participants to invest their 401k accounts in publicly traded securities, including, in the case of a public company employer, company stock.
Source: Benefitsbryancave.com, November 2016
403b plans, with their wide variety of investments which are subject only to the control of the participants, are essentially structured in the same manner as SBDAs in 401k plans. Should the plaintiffs succeed in their calms that it was imprudent to permit employees the ability to invest in a wide range of securities without fiduciary oversight, it may well be the death knell of SBDAs.
Source: Businessofbenefits.com, November 2016
The SEC recently published a new interpretation discussing the requirements for registering an offering of employer stock on a Form S-8. Question 139.33 discusses whether an employer must file a Form S-8 registration statement for employer stock if the stock may be purchased by 401k plan participants through a brokerage account window.
Source: Wifilawgroup.com, October 2016
Companies that allow employees to purchase employer stock through their 401k plans are already well aware of the securities law requirements and restrictions related to that plan feature. However, what if a plan with no employer stock investment alternative is modified to include a brokerage window that does not prohibit employee contributions from being invested in employer stock? Could this constitute an offer of employer stock requiring Securities Act registration?
Source: Jdsupra.com, September 2016
The SEC recently weighed in on whether offering a brokerage window in a 401k through which investments in employer securities can be made involves an offer of employer securities requiring Securities Act registration.
Source: Planadviser.com, September 2016
A recently filed lawsuit rekindled some old concerns about self-directed brokerage accounts. The lawsuit in question is Fleming v Fidelity Management Trust Company which was filed by a group of participants in the Delta Airlines retirement plan against Fidelity alleging breach of fiduciary responsibility for excessive fees charged to their brokerage accounts.
Source: Retirementplanblog.com, June 2016
Some retirement plans are utilizing Self-Directed Brokerage Accounts as the primary investment vehicle for plan participants, but using this element instead of a recordkeeping platform is potentially formulating undesired results. There are numerous fiduciary and participant related considerations that typically outweigh the investment flexibility benefit that SDBAs offer.
Source: Bpp401k.com, June 2016
A proposed class action accuses Fidelity Management Trust Co. of breaching its ERISA fiduciary duties for allegedly receiving unreasonable compensation through its brokerage window feature and a kickback scheme with an investment advice company.
Source: Bna.com, May 2016
Plan committees need to ask questions, and get answers, before offering a brokerage window. Should the committee offer one at all? If it does, what is the process for selecting and monitoring the window and its provider? This column by Fred Reish looks at these and other questions about brokerage windows in participant-directed plans.
Source: Drinkerbiddle.com, April 2016
Plan sponsor, with self-directed brokerage accounts in their plans, may unknowingly expose themselves to liability. This article is about the hidden dangers of 401k plans in offering self-directed brokerage accounts to plan participants.
Source: Jdsupra.com, November 2015
This paper examines the self-directed brokerage feature in defined contribution plans at Vanguard where 16% of DC plans offered a self-directed brokerage option. Larger plans were somewhat more likely to offer the feature and 28% of plan participants had access to the option. Twenty-two percent of plans with a brokerage option were law firms, and on average 7% of law firm plan assets were invested in brokerage.
Source: Vanguard.com, June 2015
If the DOL does issue further guidance with respect to brokerage windows, such regulations or guidance could have a wide-ranging effect. This article reviews the regulator history and the effect of brokerage windows on fiduciary duties.
Source: Lawjournalnewsletters.com, March 2015
Responding to a request for information from the DOL, most industry groups said they believe no further regulation is necessary to govern use of brokerage windows in retirement plans.
Source: Plansponsor.com, December 2014
The DOL recently released a request for information concerning brokerage windows in 401k plans. The RFI includes 39 questions covering definitional issues, plan offerings, participation, selection, information available to fiduciaries, costs, disclosure, the role of advisors, fiduciary duties and reporting. This article begins by reviewing the brokerage window issue and then discusses the DOL's RFI.
Source: Octoberthree.com, October 2014
Author writes, "I know the argument for brokerage accounts in retirement plans. Sophisticated investors want the choice to invest in whatever they want, whenever they want. By eliminating the brokerage option we are punishing the knowledgeable investor. Good philosophy, but poor logic. Allow me to retort."
Source: Employeefiduciary.com, September 2014
On August 20, 2014, the DOL published a request for information on the use of these brokerage windows 401k plans. The DOL's goal in issuing the request for information is to assist the DOL in determining whether, and to what extent, regulatory standards or other guidance concerning the use of brokerage windows may be necessary to protect plan participants.
Source: Winston.com, August 2014
Recently the Department of Labor indicated they intend to provide additional guidance on the use of brokerage account windows. Experts believe it is likely to be unfavorable for brokerage window proponents.
Source: Lawtonrpc.com, March 2014
Choosing to offer an SDBA option should not be a scary ordeal. However, plan sponsors need to be aware of their fiduciary obligations. Do not fall victim to claims that offering an SDBA shifts more liability away from the plan sponsor as opposed to a traditional 404(c) plan. Article lays out issues to consider before implementing an SDBA.
Source: Ifebp.org, December 2013
401k plans with self-directed brokerage accounts that allows participants to choose almost any type of investment is another form of gambling and a plan sponsor may unknowingly expose themselves to liability by offering this feature. This article is about the hidden dangers of 401k plans in offering self-directed brokerage accounts to plan participants.
Source: Jdsupra.com, December 2013
Offering a brokerage window investment option in a defined contribution (DC) retirement plan allows plan participants to set up retail accounts with investment brokers of their choice and they can access a wide variety of investment vehicles. The idea is to give plan participants ultimate investment control. Concerns have arisen though, because, under ERISA, all retirement plan investment options must be monitored and evaluated. Therefore, how do plan fiduciaries monitor and evaluate all the investments selected by participants who use these accounts?
Source: Plansponsor.com, December 2013
Brokerage windows on 401k plans really give investors unlimited investment choice. But the verdict is still out on whether a plan sponsor is fulfilling their fiduciary duty with a brokerage window: it gives them cover because the plan is not limited to two dozen pre-selected assets, but opens them up to exposure if their participants are buying risky assets.
Source: Fiduciarynews.com, June 2013
It may be easy to assume that a plan's providers will automatically make proper fee disclosures in self directed brokerage arrangements. However, the Participant Disclosure Regulation places the legal burden squarely on the shoulders of the plan fiduciaries and some broker-dealers providing brokerage accounts say they are unable to provide the information. While fiduciaries can rely -- to a degree -- on qualified providers, they should at least take the steps to form a reasonable belief that the requirements are being satisfied.
Source: Drinkerbiddle.com, January 2013
White paper discusses the fiduciary process for deciding whether to offer a brokerage window and selecting the provider of the window; the requirements under the new participant disclosure rules; and the implications of the fiduciaries or a participant selecting an RIA to serve as an investment manager or advisor for a participant's individual brokerage window.
Source: TDAinstitutional.com, November 2012
Many small self-directed retirement plans provide each participant with his/her own self-directed brokerage account (SDBA) rather than a platform of funds from which to choose. The approach is particularly popular in small professional practices. This article addresses the specific issues that apply to a plan that provides the SDBA as the only investment option.
Source: Sungard/Relius, October 2012
The reasons for the confusion are manifold as practitioners are struggling to absorb and understand two difficult sets of fee disclosure regulations and a complicated Form 5500, Schedule C. In this Technical Update, Sungard will address how the participant fee disclosure regulations apply to a plan with self-directed brokerage accounts.
Source: Sungard/Relius, October 2012
This article focuses on plans which provide participants the option to direct their investments through brokerage accounts, and do not otherwise provide a set of designated investment alternatives (DIAs) for participant selection.
Source: Sungard/Relius, August 2012
The industry had complained that the DOL had ushered in a new requirement on brokerage windows in its original Field Assistance Bulletin, but the EBSA issued a revised Field Assistance Bulletin which is a turnaround from its position in the old FAB under Q&A number 30 that plan fiduciaries have a duty to look at the investing patterns inside individual brokerage accounts and possibly designate some of the commonly held investments.
Source: Advisorone.com, August 2012
The DOL clarified that brokerage windows are not considered designated investment alternatives and that the regulation doesn't prohibit the use of these brokerage accounts. The agency said that plan fiduciaries, however, still have a duty of prudence and loyalty to participants who use the brokerage window -- including taking into account the nature and quality of services provided.
Source: Pensions & Investments, July 2012
Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2012-02R clarifies that fiduciaries of plans covered by these rules that offer brokerage windows, self-directed brokerage accounts or similar arrangements are not required to treat these arrangements as designated investment alternatives.
Source: Practicallaw.com, July 2012
If you have a plan with a brokerage window or are contemplating one, it's very important to consider Department of Labor guidance issued in May and subsequent statements that raise new questions about what is a prudent level of disclosure and monitoring for brokerage window investment alternatives.
Source: Warner Norcross & Judd LLP, July 2012
What has caught plan advisers off guard is that the DOL is appearing to take the position that plan sponsors and fiduciaries have a duty under ERISA to monitor and review the investment selections that participants are making through brokerage windows in their 401k plans-not just the investment funds offered by the plan.
Source: Smith, Gambrell & Russell LLP, June 2012
The DOL's Field Assistance Bulletin 2012-02 issued on May 7, 2012 included new participant fee disclosure requirements for brokerage windows and other self-directed brokerage arrangements. These new surprise requirements may pose a challenge for plan administrators and service providers.
Source: Kelly, Hannaford & Battles PA, June 2012.
Using the brokerage option offered through some employers' 401k plans could be a good way to maximize asset class diversification and integrate the highest quality funds into your portfolio. The brokerage window isn't for everyone, though.
Source: U.S.News & World Report, February 2012.
It appears, according to recent survey data, that self-directed brokerage accounts are being rediscovered by a whole new generation of 401k participants.
Source: Employee Benefit News, December 2010.
In its survey, Trends and Experience in 401k Plans for 2009, Hewitt Associates noted that more plan sponsors were offering employees the option of a self-directed brokerage window. But, letting 401k plan participants jump through the brokerage window is tantamount to giving the inmates run of the asylum.
Source: Workforce.com, June 2010.
Covers the pros and cons, plan sponsor fiduciary responsibilities regarding self-directed brokerage accounts, steps to take if the plan has self-directed brokerage accounts and other issues.
Source: FiduciaryX Expert Blogs, March 2010.
When the market takes a nosedive participants grow grumpy and start complaining about investment performance and the options available on their retirement plan menus. That is why now might be a good time for plan sponsors to at least consider the idea of offering their employees a self-directed brokerage account window.
Source: Plansponsor.com, December 2009.
A dividend of LaRue is that it may cause employers to step back and reconsider the current, expensive, and dangerous fad of self-direction.
Source: Theworkplace.biz, February 2008.
Self-Directed Brokerage Accounts Tend to Reduce Retirement Success and May Not Decrease Plan Sponsor Liability
Plan participants often expect that self-directed brokerage accounts offer more choices and wealthier retirement prospects than do managed model portfolios; plan sponsors might expect less liability. But the substantial under performance, restrictions, costs, and liabilities of such plans dictate that caution is in order.
Source: Unified Trust, June 2005.
Self-directed brokerage accounts can be offered to 401k plan participants without compromising protections under ERISA Section 404(c). This column explains why and how.
Source: Drinker Biddle, March 2005.
Individual directed brokerage accounts (IDAs) are increasingly popular with both plan participants and plan sponsors. However, offering IDA`s introduces numerous fiduciary issues, operational concerns and potential tax problems for plan sponsors. Fortunately, there are several practical approaches that a sponsor can adopt to more effectively manage liability, operational and cost issues. In addition, the article illustrates a transition plan for moving from a less effective to a more effective brokerage account structure. Located on: Advisorsquare.com .
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