Anticipated DOL Guidance

The Department of Labor recently issued its agenda for regulatory guidance. Several of the projects will impact retirement plans and particularly 401(k) plans. This email focuses on a DOL project to amend the 408(b)(2) regulation to possibly require that cover service providers furnish a “guide” or similar tool, along with the disclosures. In its description of the project, the DOL states: “A guide or similar requirement may assist fiduciaries, especially fiduciaries to small and medium-sized plans, in identifying and understanding the potentially complex disclosure documents that are provided to them or if the disclosures are located in multiple documents.”

As background, the final 408(b)(2) regulation contain a sample guide. Covered service providers may want to review that part of the regulatory package in order to understand the DOL’s approach. Briefly described, though, that guide would require that, for each mandated disclosure, a covered service provider indicate the section number and page number where the particular disclosure was made. They might be viewed as a one or two page index of exactly where the required information was located. In other words, it is not a summary, but instead a “map.”

It appears that the DOL is concerned that—by using multiple disclosure documents or lengthy or complex documents—service providers may have presented the disclosures in a manner that is difficult for plan sponsors to understand. While the guide would likely benefit plan sponsors, it can impose a significant burden on providers who have used multiple documents and/or lengthy documents to make their disclosures. That would be particularly true where the paragraph numbers and/or page numbers can change from plan to plan. That would also be difficult for covered service providers who refer to other documents, such as a mutual fund prospectuses.

Unfortunately, the DOL description of the project does not indicate whether the requirement will be applied only prospectively or whether it would apply retroactively. If I had to guess, it would be that the DOL would make the application prospective…simply because of the cost and burden of the “re-disclosing” to existing plans.

In any event, the guidance will be issued in proposed form and there will be a comment period. At this point, the DOL has indicated that it is targeting a May date for release.


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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.