Category Archives: fiduciary

Best Practices for Plan Sponsors #12

Lessons Learned from Litigation (#5)—The Johns Hopkins Case

This is the twelfth in a series of articles about Best Practices for Plan Sponsors. To be clear, “best practices” are not the same as legal requirements. Instead, they are about better ways to manage retirement plans. In many cases, though, “best practices” also are good risk management tools because they should exceed legal standards, address areas of concern, or anticipate future developments as retirement plans and expectations evolve.

Plan sponsors should be aware of the latest trends in fiduciary litigation to help manage the risk of being sued and, if sued, the risk of being liable. In my past four plan sponsor posts, Best Practices for Plan Sponsors #8, #9, #10 and #11, I discussed the lessons learned from the conditions in the settlement agreements for the Anthem, Vanderbilt, BB&T and ABB cases. This article—about the Johns Hopkins settlement agreement—is another example of the importance of using appropriate share classes and the monitoring of compensation of service providers . . . and more.

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Best Practices for Plan Sponsors #11

Lessons Learned from Litigation (#4)—The ABB Case

This is the eleventh in a series of articles about Best Practices for Plan Sponsors. To be clear, “best practices” are not the same as legal requirements. Instead, they are about better ways to manage retirement plans. In many cases, though, “best practices” also are good risk management tools because they should exceed legal standards, address areas of concern, or anticipate future developments as retirement plans and expectations evolve.

Plan sponsors should be aware of the latest trends in fiduciary litigation to help manage the risk of being sued and, if sued, the risk of being liable. In my past three plan sponsor posts, Best Practices for Plan Sponsors #8, #9, and #10, I discussed the lessons learned from the conditions in the settlement agreements for the Anthem, Vanderbilt and BB&T cases. This article—about the ABB settlement agreement—is another example of the importance of using appropriate share classes and the  monitoring of compensation of service providers . . . and more.

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The SECURE Act and Guaranteed Retirement Income in Plans

By now you have probably seen a number of articles about the SECURE Act (Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2019) and its safe harbor for guaranteed retirement income in 401(k) plans. Some have favored the safe harbor, while others have criticized it. In either case, the authors appear to contemplate that participants will be buying individual annuities at retail prices.

In my opinion, those articles—on both sides of the fight—are at best misleading and in some cases just plain wrong. I am writing this article to give you my views.

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Best Practices for Plan Sponsors #9

Lessons Learned from Litigation (#2)—the Vanderbilt Case

This is the ninth of the series about Best Practices for Plan Sponsors.

Plan sponsors should be aware of the latest trends in fiduciary litigation in order to manage the risk of being sued and, if sued, of being liable. In my post, Best Practices for Plan Sponsors #8, I discussed the lessons from the settlement of the Anthem case. The Vanderbilt settlement is another example of the importance of using appropriate share classes and of a good process for selecting investments and monitoring service providers. This article discusses the Vanderbilt lawsuit and the conditions in the settlement agreement.

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Best Practices for Plan Sponsors #8

Lessons Learned from Litigation #1—the Anthem Case

This is the eighth of the series about Best Practices for Plan Sponsors.

Plan sponsors should be aware of the latest trends in fiduciary litigation in order to develop practices to manage the risk of being sued and, if sued, of being liable. The recent settlement of the Anthem case is a good example of the importance of using appropriate share classes and of other practices in selecting investments and monitoring service providers. This article discusses the complaint, the settlement and risk management for plan sponsors and their fiduciary committees.

To start at the beginning, Anthem and its fiduciary plan committee were sued based on allegations that they selected overly expensive share classes (considering what was available to a multi-billion dollar plan); that they overpaid the recordkeeper; and that they offered a money market fund rather than a stable value fund.

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Best Practices for Plan Sponsors #7

Plan Success by the Numbers (Part 1)

This is the seventh of the series about Best Practices for Plan Sponsors.

Most companies have budgets for their business operations . . . and then regularly compare budget-to-actual. In other words, they compare their actual expenses to the budgeted amounts to see if they are on track to accomplish their financial goals. That’s pretty standard, and there is nothing remarkable about it. But, why don’t plan sponsors and fiduciaries, for example, plan committees, use that same approach for their 401(k) plans? I have a theory about that. But, before I explain my theory, let me say that I believe that plan committees should have budgets, or goals, and should measure their success in reaching those goals.

My theory is that 401(k) plans don’t set goals for plan success because 401(k) plans were originally viewed as the “employees’ plan.” The idea was that employees could do what they wanted to do, since the plan was a supplemental savings plan. That approach made sense when pension plans were more popular. However, now that 401(k) plans have become the primary retirement plan for most employers and employees, it seems fairly obvious that the burden of success of 401(k) plans needs to fall primarily on employers and fiduciaries.

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Best Practices for Plan Sponsors #6

Why Wait Until After You are Sued?

This is the sixth of the series about Best Practices for Plan Sponsors.

I am surprised that, after all of the fiduciary litigation against 401(k) plan sponsors, many plan sponsors and their committees have not taken the basic steps to minimize the risk of being sued, or if sued, of being liable. In most of the settled cases, the plaintiffs’ class action attorneys require that certain conditions—or “best practices”—be adopted by the plan fiduciaries. And, in settlement after settlement, those conditions are, by and large, the same. That raises the obvious question, why haven’t plan committees reviewed these cases and instituted the practices required by the settlement agreements?

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Best Interest Standard of Care for Advisors #7

What Does Best Interest Mean . . . In the Real World? (Part 4)

I am writing two series of articles that together are called “The Bests.” One is about Best Practices for plan sponsors, while the other is about the Best Interest Standard of Care for advisors. Each series is numbered separately to make it easier to identify the subject that is most relevant to you.

This is the seventh of the series about the Best Interest Standard of Care.

In my last three posts (Best Interest Standard of Care for Advisors #4 and #5 and #6), I discuss the Best Interest standard of care and its practical application. This article discusses a novel approach for compliance with the fiduciary standard for the selection of investments for 401(k) plans. All the more interesting, the approach was part of an opinion of the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals.

In October 2018, the First Circuit considered an appeal of a 401(k) case where Putnam Investments, and its fiduciaries, were the defendants. At one point, the defendants argued that, if the court found fiduciary liability under the facts of the case, it would discourage employers from adopting 401(k) plans. The Court of Appeals responded by saying:

“While Putnam warns of putative ERISA plans foregone for fear of litigation risk, it points to no evidence that employers in, for example, the Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Circuits [which found that similar facts could result in liability], are less likely to adopt ERISA plans.” Continue reading Best Interest Standard of Care for Advisors #7

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Best Interest Standard of Care for Advisors #6

What Does Best Interest Mean . . . In the Real World? (Part 3)

I am writing two series of articles that together are called “The Bests.” One is about Best Practices for plan sponsors, while the other is about the Best Interest Standard of Care for advisors. Each series is numbered separately to make it easier to identify the subject that is most relevant to you.

This is the sixth of the series about the Best Interest Standard of Care.

In my last two posts (Best Interest Standard of Care for Advisors #4 and #5), I discussed the definition of the Best Interest standard of care, with a particular focus on the duty to exercise care, skill, prudence and diligence in developing recommendations for investors. Those articles commented on the consistency in the Best Interest and fiduciary standards being developed by the SEC and several states (including New York), as well ERISA’s duty of care and duty of loyalty.

Bests #9 discussed the similarities of the standards of care and Bests #10 talked about the consideration of costs. This article focuses on considerations of the quality of the products and services and on portfolio investing.

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Best Practices for Plan Sponsors #5

Fiduciary Training: The Need for Basics

This is the fifth of the series about Best Practices for Plan Sponsors.

In three earlier posts—Best Practices for Plan Sponsors #2, #3, and #4—about the Sacerdote v. New York University decision, I discussed the good and the bad of the NYU plan committee and made several suggestions about best practices for improving committee performance. This article focuses on one of those suggestions—fiduciary education for committee members.

As a starting point, there is not a legal requirement that committee members receive fiduciary training. Instead, it’s a best practice and good risk management.

But, what should the fiduciary education cover? Based on my analysis of court decisions on fiduciary responsibility, I am worried that fiduciaries may not be adequately educated about their basic responsibilities and particularly their administrative oversight duties. If you look at decisions, such as the NYU case, the issues are basic. For example, one of the defendants did not know if he was still a member of the committee. Another committee member didn’t believe that she was a fiduciary or that she had legal responsibility for the decisions made by the committee. Instead, she thought her role was ministerial, in terms of setting up the meetings and distributing information.

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