Category Archives: 404a-5

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


Plans With Only Brokerage Accounts

On July 30, the DOL reissued its Field Assistant Bulletin (FAB) concerning participant disclosures. The FAB was reissued because of the controversy about the DOL’s position on individual brokerage accounts.

The new FAB deletes the old, and controversial, Q&A 30 and replaces it with a new Q&A 39.

While some of the controversial provisions were removed, some remain. For example, the DOL states:

“…in the case of a 401(k) or other individual account plan covered under the regulation, a plan fiduciary’s failure to designate investment alternatives, for example, to avoid investment disclosures under the regulation, raising questions under ERISA section 404(a)’s general statutory fiduciary duties of prudence and loyalty.”

Continue reading Plans With Only Brokerage Accounts


Participant Disclosures about Brokerage Accounts

The DOL’s 404a-5 regulation places a fiduciary obligation on plan sponsors—in their roles as ERISA plan administrators—to make certain disclosures to participants. In the rush to comply with the 408(b)(2) disclosures, some broker-dealers may have overlooked the participant disclosure guidance about brokerage accounts in Field Assistance Bulletin (FAB) 2012-02.

While the legal obligation is imposed on plan sponsors, the obligation will, as a practical matter, be on broker-dealers, since plan sponsors do not have the information or capability of making these disclosures. As a result, they will turn to their broker-dealers to satisfy the compliance requirements.  Continue reading Participant Disclosures about Brokerage Accounts


Disclosures for Individual Brokerage Accounts

In DOL Field Assistance Bulletin (FAB) 2012-02R, the Department of Labor explained the disclosures for individual brokerage accounts in participant-directed plans. I am concerned that many broker-dealers have not focused on these new “requirements.” That is true for several reasons, including:

  • So much money and energy have been devoted to complying with the plan disclosure requirements, that is, the 408(b)(2) disclosures.
  • The 404a-5, or participant, disclosure requirements are imposed on plan sponsors, in their fiduciary capacity. Stating this slightly differently, the participant disclosures for brokerage accounts are not imposed on broker-dealers, but instead are placed on the shoulders of the plan sponsors. Since it is not a legal responsibility for broker-dealers, it has not received the same attention as the 408(b)(2) disclosures. However, as a practical matter, plan sponsors will turn to the broker-dealers and insist that they satisfy those disclosure requirements. That seems like a reasonable position, since the information is in the control of the broker-dealers.

The FAB provides detailed information about the requirements. To name a few, there is a requirement for a written description of the brokerage account; there must also be an explanation of any fees and expenses that are likely to be incurred in the brokerage account; and, participants must be provided with statements, at least quarterly, describing the fees and charges, both as dollar amounts and in a narrative form.

My sense is that few broker-dealers are prepared to offer assistance at that level of detail. However, I expect that will change now that the work on the 408(b)(2) disclosures is behind us.


Asset Allocation Models

Based on the DOL guidance in FAB 2012-02, many advisers have concluded that asset allocation models (AAMs) can be offered to plans without the need to treat them as designated investment alternatives (DIAs) and, therefore, without the need to report the performance history, expense ratios, etc., of the AAMs.

Unfortunately, that is an oversimplification and may inadvertently lead to problems under both the 408(b)(2) and 404a-5 regulations.  Continue reading Asset Allocation Models


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?


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:

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.


Plan Brokerage Account

This is another in a series of articles about interesting issues related to plan and participant disclosures.

The DOL disclosure regulations for both plan sponsor and participant disclosures are not clear about the treatment of brokerage accounts for a plan (for example, a small profit sharing plan) or for a participant-directed plan (for example, a self-directed brokerage account in a 401(k) plan).

For participant disclosures, the DOL has given informal guidance about the disclosures that must be made to participants . . . and those disclosures are minimal.

However, where a 401(k) plan consists exclusively of individual brokerage accounts, there are practical issues about how to comply with the 404a-5 disclosures generally. Since the brokerage accounts are not “designated investment options,” there are only minimal disclosures which must be made concerning the brokerage accounts. However, where only brokerage accounts are offered, the structure will not ordinarily include a recordkeeper. As a result, the plan sponsor (perhaps in conjunction with a compliance-only third party administrator) must make the non-investment participant disclosures, which includes the general disclosures, the administrative expense disclosures, and the individual expense disclosures – as well as the quarterly statements.

Based on our discussions with broker-dealers, there is a lack of awareness of the requirements for the non-investment disclosures under the 404a-5 participant disclosure regulation. As a result, there will be compliance issues in this scenario.