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.

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The views expressed in this article are the views of Fred Reish, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Faegre Drinker.