Category Archives: Recordkeeper

Advisory Opinion 2013-03A

In Advisory Opinion 2013-03A, the Department of Labor said: “This letter also does not address any fiduciary issues that may arise from the allocation of revenue sharing among plan expenses or individual participant accounts . . .”

In effect, the DOL was saying that it has not issued any guidance—and is not prepared to issue guidance—concerning the allocation of revenue sharing. That is a reminder that there isn’t any explicit guidance on how to allocate revenue sharing. As a result, fiduciaries need to engage in a prudent process to make that decision.

In most cases, revenue sharing is used to pay the cost of recordkeeping. In effect, it is arguable that, when the recordkeeper keeps the money, it is a pro rata allocation among the participants’ accounts. That is because the most common way of allocating expenses (for example, recordkeeping or RIA charges) among participants’ accounts is the pro rata method. So, when a recordkeeper keeps the revenue sharing, participants benefit on a pro rata basis. (“Pro rata” means that amounts are allocated among the participant’s account balances in proportion to the value of the account balances.)

A consequence of the 408(b)(2) disclosures and the DOL’s guidance on revenue sharing is that fiduciaries need to pay more attention to revenue sharing. For example, do fiduciaries want the recordkeepers to keep the revenue sharing or do they want to allocate the revenue sharing to participants (along with the charges for recordkeeping)? Should part of the cost of recordkeeping be allocated to participants who are invested in individual brokerage accounts or who hold company stock . . . or should the participants who invest in mutual funds bear the full cost of the recordkeeping for the plan? Those are fiduciary decisions. In the past, most plan fiduciaries have simply accepted the method used by the recordkeeper. However, even then, that was a fiduciary decision. It’s just that the fiduciaries didn’t, in many cases, know that they were making it. Going forward, there undoubtedly will be greater accountability for these fiduciary “decisions”. . . since fiduciaries have been provided with information about revenue sharing as a part of the 408(b)(2) disclosures. Forewarned is forearmed.

Share

Responsible Plan Fiduciaries and Disclosure Issues

The 408(b)(2) regulation requires that its service, status and compensation disclosures be made to “responsible plan fiduciaries” or “RPFs.” In the rush to make the 408(b)(2) disclosures, most recordkeepers, broker-dealers and RIAs sent their disclosure documents to their primary contact at the plan sponsor. In at least some of those cases, the primary contact was not the RPF. As a result, we added language to our clients’ disclosures to the effect that, if the recipient was not the RPF, the written disclosure should immediately be forwarded to the RPF.

The regulation defines RPF as “a fiduciary with authority to cause the covered plan to enter into, or extend or renew, the contract or arrangement.” In other words, it is the person or committee who has the power to hire and fire the particular service provider, e.g., the broker-dealer, recordkeeper or RIA.

Because of the work involved in making mass disclosures, any inadvertent errors in properly identifying the RFPs may be excusable. However, going forward, it may not be. Because of that, all future agreements, account opening forms, and so on, with ERISA plans should specify that the person signing on behalf of the plan is the RPF. Furthermore, we recommend that service providers obtain the email address and other contact information for the RPFs (and that they contractually require plan fiduciaries to inform them of any changes of the RPFs).

We do that for two reasons. First, as covered service providers bring in new plan clients, the documents need to be executed by the RPFs and the disclosures need to be delivered to the RPFs. Second, the information is also needed for existing clients. Fiduciaries who have already received disclosures, they will need to be provided “change” disclosures in the future within 60 days of any changes. And, it is likely that more requirements will be imposed on service providers in the future and, therefore, providers will need to have an efficient and effective way of communicating with the RPFs.

Now is the time to put these new procedures in place.

Share

Mass Mailing to Plan Sponsors About Excess Fund Fees

This article was prepared by Fred Reish, Bruce Ashton and Josh Waldbeser.

A Yale law professor is sending letters to many (perhaps thousands of) 401(k) plan sponsors telling them they may have breached their fiduciary duties because they are offering a potentially high-cost plan.   For example, in one letter, he said:  “Among plans of comparable size (measured by total net assets), your plan ranked worse than 78 percent of plans.”  He then added, “We wanted to inform you that we are planning to publicize the results of our study in the Spring of 2014.  We will make our results available to newspapers (including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal), as well as disseminate the results via Twitter with a separate hashtag for your company.”

His allegation is based on a study using data compiled by BrightScope, though we understand that BrightScope did not participate in the study.  Based on what we have heard, this professor’s reliance on interpretation of the BrightScope data may have been materially mis-placed, and the study fails to take into account a number of relevant factors, such as the quantity and quality of services being provided and the complexity and design of the particular plan.

The impact of the professor’s study could be unfortunate, possibly leading to participant complaints, Congressional inquiries and even litigation.  Recordkeepers, advisors and plans sponsors should take this seriously and take appropriate action.  Recordkeepers should consider communicating with their plan clients about the issues and inadequacies of the analysis it applies to specific plans, and should be prepared to respond to inquiries from plan sponsors about the costs of their plans.   Advisors should be talking with their plan clients about these letters and the study – and should be prepared to answer questions about their fees and the costs of the investments they recommend.  And if they have not already done so, plan sponsors should obtain benchmarking data on the cost of their plans and determine if the fees and costs are reasonable relative to the services being provided.

Share

Managing Plan Costs

Many recordkeepers and bundled providers charge plans based on the number of participant accounts. Many others do not explicitly charge on a per-participant basis, but incorporate the number of accounts (and possibly the average account balances) into their pricing. It is likely that this practice will increase in the future . . . due to the new 404a-5 participant disclosures, which must be made to every eligible employee, as well as to every participant of an account balance.

With that in mind, advisers, recordkeepers and plan sponsors should consider mandatory distributions of small account balances (that is, $5,000 or less) to manage plan costs.

If a plan has the required provisions, and if the provisions have been appropriately communicated to eligible employees and beneficiaries through summary plan descriptions, plans can make distributions of account balances of $5,000 or less. If the participants don’t take those distributions, then the plans can directly roll the money over into IRAs for them. In either case, the effect of the mandatory distributions will be to improve the pricing for the plan . . . either because it reduces the number of accounts or, alternatively, because it increases the average account balance (due to the elimination of small accounts).

As you might expect, both the IRS and the DOL have issued guidance on how to do that. The combined effect of the guidance is that plan fiduciaries essentially have a safe harbor for making mandatory distributions of small accounts . . . if they follow the rules. Unfortunately, there are too many requirements for a short email like this. However, my partner, Bruce Ashton, and I have written a white paper that describes the requirements.

In writing that white paper, we took an approach that I think will be helpful to advisers and plan sponsors. The body of the white paper is a discussion of the benefits of mandatory distributions . . . in terms of plan pricing. Then, there are three appendices: the first two discuss the IRS and DOL guidance, respectively; and the third one covers adviser compensation related to a mandatory rollover program.

If this subject is interesting to you, you may want to look at the Inspira white paper. It is located at http://www.drinkerbiddle.com/resources/publications/2013/mandatory-distributions-white-paper?Section=Publications.

Share

408(b)(2) Violations and Service Provider Correction Program

The failure of a covered service provider (for example, a broker-dealer, RIA or recordkeeper) to provide adequate 408(b)(2) disclosures results in a prohibited transaction . . . for both service providers and plan sponsors. While the regulation has an exemption for plan sponsors (if they follow certain steps), there is no similar exemption for covered service providers.  Continue reading 408(b)(2) Violations and Service Provider Correction Program

Share

When are AAMs Considered DIAs?

There is an emerging issue under both the participant and plan disclosure rules concerning the information that must be provided for asset allocation models (AAMs).

It appears that some DOL officials are of the opinion that asset allocation models—at least under certain circumstances—are “designated investment alternatives” or DIAs. If AAMs are classified as DIAs, they are subject to disclosure requirements under both the plan and participant disclosure rules. As a practical matter, it may be impractical or even impossible for recordkeepers, broker-dealers and RIAs to provide that information.

Continue reading When are AAMs Considered DIAs?

Share

What the 408(b)(2) Changes Mean to RIAs

Two other Drinker Biddle attorneys (Bruce Ashton and Joan Neri) and I just released a bulletin discussing what changes in the 408(b)(2) final regulation mean to registered investment advisers (RIAs). You can obtain a copy of the bulletin at:

http://www.drinkerbiddle.com/resources/publications/2012/the-final-408b2-regulation-impact-on-rias

While the final regulation clarifies a number of issues and grants an extension of time to comply, it also raises two issues which may come as a surprise to RIAs. The first is that asset allocation models (AAMs) may be treated as designated investment alternatives (DIAs), resulting in a number of disclosure requirements (both under 408(b)(2) and the participant disclosure regulation). The second is that the DOL has interpreted “indirect compensation” very broadly in a way that could require additional disclosures from RIAs. That would apply, for example, where investment providers (like mutual funds) or service providers (like independent recordkeepers or bundled providers) provide financial assistance to RIAs. Once specific example would be a conference put on by an RIA for its plan sponsor clients. Another example would be where an investment provider or a service provider offers “free” services to RIAs for their plan sponsor clients. Both of those issues, and others, are discussed in some detail in the bulletin.

Share

More Issues Presented Under 408(b)(2) Regulations

This is another in a series of articles on interesting issues presented under the 408(b)(2) regulation and its disclosure requirements.

It has become fairly common for plans to have expense recapture accounts (which are also known as ERISA budget accounts, PERAs—plan expense recapture or reimbursement accounts, and by a variety of other names). Typically, those accounts are established within a plan when a service provider (most often the recordkeeper) receives compensation through revenue sharing in excess of its reasonable charges. For example, if a reasonable charge for the recordkeeping/TPA services was $50,000 and the recordkeeper received $60,000 in revenue sharing, the excess amount would be deposited into the expense recapture account—thereby avoiding the prohibited transaction issue of excess compensation.

However, sometimes the recordkeeper/TPA places the money in its corporate account and tells the plan sponsor that the money can be spent for the benefit of the plan . . . at the direction of the plan sponsor. While that presents a number of fiduciary and prohibited transaction issues, it also presents an interesting, and problematic, 408(b)(2) compliance issue for service providers.

For example, when an accounting firm audits a 401(k) plan, it is usually compensated by the plan or the plan sponsor . . . and in that context, the accounting firm is not a “covered” service provider for 408(b)(2) purposes. Since the accounting firm is not covered by the 408(b)(2) regulation, it is not required to make the disclosures under the regulation. However, when an accountant receives “indirect compensation” (which, generally stated, is a payment from anyone other than the plan or plan sponsor), the accounting firm becomes a “covered” service provider and thus must make the required disclosures. Since a payment from a recordkeeper/TPA is not from the plan or the plan sponsor, it is “indirect compensation,” and as a result the accounting firm has become a covered service provider and must make the 408(b)(2) disclosures. But, what happens if the accounting firm hasn’t made those disclosures? The answer is simple . . . the arrangement is a prohibited transaction and the compensation belongs to the plan and not to the accounting firm. But, what if the accounting firm didn’t realize that it was being paid from an account of the recordkeeper/TPA? Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any relief from the prohibited transaction consequences.

Similar issues exist for attorneys, actuaries, consultants and others who receive indirect payments.

Share