Category Archives: 408(b)(2)

Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #66

Concerns About 408(b)(2) Disclosures

This is my 66th article about interesting observations concerning the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule and exemptions. These articles also cover the DOL’s FAQs interpreting the regulation and exemptions and related developments in the securities laws.

Because of the change in the definition of fiduciary advice (which applied on June 9, 2017), all advisors to retirement plans need to review their prior 408(b)(2) disclosures to see if changes are necessary. That particularly applies to broker-dealers and life insurance brokers and agents.

The first level of review should be to determine whether their prior 408(b)(2) disclosures to ERISA retirement plans affirmatively stated that they were not fiduciaries to the plans that they served. If so, those broker-dealers, insurance brokers and agents need to send out new 408(b)(2) disclosures that affirmatively disclose their new-found fiduciary status (assuming that their advisors became fiduciaries under the new rule, which would ordinarily be the case). However, if the old disclosures were silent about fiduciary status or non-status, the prior disclosures would only need to be reviewed to determine if they adequately describe the services that would be considered to be fiduciary advice. Those services would include, for example, making investment recommendations, referring to other investment advisors or managers, or providing selective lists of investments. (Actually, the definition is much broader, and also includes suggestions of investments, investment policies, or investment strategies.)

Also, the review should include consideration of whether the 408(b)(2) statements adequately disclose compensation. I have been reviewing 408(b)(2) disclosures for a number of broker-dealers. As a part of that, I noticed that compensation was often described in ranges, sometimes very broad ranges. That reminded me of the language in the preamble to the 408(b)(2) regulation, which said:

“A few commenters also asked whether compensation or costs may be disclosed in ranges, for example by a range of possible basis points. The Department believes that disclosure of expected compensation in the form of known ranges can be a ‘‘reasonable’’ method for purposes of the final rule. However, such ranges must be reasonable under the circumstances surrounding the service and compensation arrangement at issue. To ensure that covered service providers communicate meaningful and understandable compensation information to responsible plan fiduciaries whenever possible, the Department cautions that more specific, rather than less specific, compensation information is preferred whenever it can be furnished without undue burden.” [Emphasis added.]

I leave it to the reader to decide whether the ranges in the following types of disclosures are narrow enough. Keep in mind, though, that the purpose of the 408(b)(2) disclosures is to allow the responsible plan fiduciaries to determine (i) whether the compensation paid to the advisor and affiliates is reasonable in light of the services being rendered, and (ii) the nature and extent of the conflicts of interest. With that in mind, do you think that the following types of disclosures are narrow enough to provide information that allows the plan fiduciaries to make those determinations?

  • For mutual funds, the broker-dealer may receive between 0% to 10% front-end commissions.
  • As ongoing trailing commissions, the compensation may range from 0% to 2% per year.
  • The compensation for managed accounts will not exceed 2.5% per year.

Since the test for evaluating those statements is one of “reasonableness,” each reader can form his or her own opinions. But, keep in mind the dual purpose of the disclosures. Then, think about whether the disclosures adequately inform the responsible plan fiduciaries, so that they can make prudent decisions on behalf of their plans and their participants.

Needless to say, I am concerned that some service providers may be making disclosures that don’t satisfy the standards. As a result, I suggest that broker-dealers, RIAs, and insurance agents and brokers review their disclosures to make sure that they are comfortable that the necessary information is being provided to plan fiduciaries.

Forewarned is forearmed.

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


Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #62

Is It Possible To Be An Advisor Without Being A Fiduciary?

This is my 62nd article about interesting observations concerning the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule and exemptions. These articles also cover the DOL’s FAQs interpreting the regulation and exemptions and related developments in the securities laws.

Under the new fiduciary definition (that applied on June 9), an investment “suggestion” is fiduciary advice. That includes suggestions about a range of issues, including investments, insurance products, investment strategies, other investment advisors and managers, IRA transfers, and plan distributions.

Because of the breadth of the definition, it is almost impossible to be an advisor to a plan without becoming a fiduciary. Under the old rules advisors would provide investment information that, at least arguably, was not fiduciary investment advice. However, under the new definition, where an advisor provides information about investments, it’s possible, perhaps even probable, that the advisor would reasonably be viewed as having suggested that the plan sponsor, participant or IRA owner choose the investments. Otherwise, why provide information about those specific investments . . . unless it was a suggestion that the retirement investor select one or more of them?

Let’s delve into that a little more deeply . . . in the context of a 401(k) plan. It is possible that for a new plan or for a plan changing recordkeepers, the recordkeeper would provide a list of investments in response to an RFI or RFP. If properly done, the list will not be fiduciary advice—because of a fiduciary exception for recordkeepers. In turn, if the advisor does not comment on the list, either favorably or unfavorably, the advisor would not be viewed as having provided fiduciary advice.

Then, at future meetings with the plan sponsor, the advisor or the recordkeeper could simply provide information about the existing investments. However, is it feasible that an advisor would not make comments about poorly performing investments which could be viewed as “suggestions” that they be removed? If those suggestions are made by an advisor, it could be fiduciary advice. Similarly, if an investment is removed, a plan sponsor needs to select a replacement investment. Who will provide the potential replacement investments to the plan sponsor? If the advisor does, that could be a suggestion, or fiduciary advice, that one of those replacement investments be used.

Alternatively, some broker-dealers may decide that their advisors can only use recordkeepers that include fiduciary advisers on their platforms. Those platform advisers would then recommend or select a plan’s investment line-up (and, in the future, would remove and replace investments, as appropriate). That might work. However, the recommendation of a third party fiduciary investment adviser or manager is also a fiduciary act. So, while the advisor would not be a fiduciary for the recommendation of investments, the advisor could be a fiduciary for “suggesting” that the plan sponsor use a fiduciary on the recordkeeper platform.

Unfortunately, these issues have not been tested in the courts or in FINRA arbitrations . . . so, it’s almost impossible to tell where the line will be drawn. As a result, broker-dealers and RIAs need to decide whether they will take the position that they are not fiduciaries—and be subject to risk, or whether they will take a conservative position and clearly be compliant.

While these rules apply to both ERISA retirement plans and IRAs, the issue is particularly acute for plans. That is because a service provider to plans must state, in its 408(b)(2) disclosures, whether it is serving as an ERISA fiduciary. If it is not, then it can remain silent on the issue. However, if the firm and its advisors will be acting as ERISA fiduciaries, that must be affirmatively stated in the 408(b)(2) disclosures. (Note that, during the transition period, recent DOL guidance permits the firm to describe its fiduciary services in the 408(b)(2) disclosures, but does not require that the firm specifically state that it is an ERISA fiduciary . . . with one exception. If a firm has previously said in its 408(b)(2) disclosures, that it was not acting as a fiduciary, that must be corrected by affirmatively saying that it is now acting as a fiduciary.)

The new rules have a number of unforeseen applications. With the likely delay of the applicability dates of the exemptions, including of the full and final Best Interest Contract Exemption, this is a good time to think about how these rules apply and what changes need to be made.

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


Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #58

Recommendations to Contribute to a Plan or IRA

This is my 58th article about interesting observations concerning the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule and exemptions. These articles also cover the DOL’s FAQs interpreting the regulation and exemptions and related developments in the securities laws.

In Angles article #56, I discussed the DOL’s position that recommendations of contributions to plans and IRAs were fiduciary advice. However, a week after that article was posted on my blog, the DOL reversed its position. The new guidance is found in the DOL’s “Conflict of Interest FAQs (408b-2 Disclosure Transition Period, Recommendations to Increase Contributions and Plan Participation).”

In the newly issued FAQs, the DOL posed the following question:

Q2. Plans and their service providers often encourage plan participants to make contributions to the plan at levels that maximize the value of employer matching contributions or to otherwise increase participants’ contributions or savings to meet objective financial retirement milestones, goals, or parameters based upon the participant’s age, time to retirement or other similar measures, without recommending any particular investment or investment strategy. Would it be fiduciary investment advice under the Fiduciary Rule to encourage additional savings or contributions to a plan or IRA in this manner?

The DOL then reversed its prior position by responding that those recommendations would not be fiduciary advice.

So, recordkeepers and advisers can unconditionally recommend contributions to plans and IRAs, right? Not so fast. A close reading of the guidance suggests otherwise. In other words, there may be traps for the unwary.

First, the recommended increase must be “objective.” For example, a non-fiduciary recommendation could be made to increase contributions to obtain the full benefit of an employer’s matching contributions. Also, a non-fiduciary recommendation for increased contributions could be “to meet objective financial retirement milestones, goals, or parameters based upon the participant’s age, time to retirement or other similar measures.” For example, a recommendation to increase contributions could be made based on calculations of the amounts needed for adequate retirement (for example, a 75% income replacement ratio in retirement). Another example is that, as a general rule of thumb, the combined employee-employer contributions should be 15% of pay in order to reasonably accumulate enough for a secure retirement.

Second, a recommendation to increase contributions is non-fiduciary advice where it is made “without recommending any particular investment or investment strategy.” So, for example, if the recommendation to increase contributions to a plan or IRA is made during a conversation that also includes a discussion of the investments, that could cause the recommendation to be fiduciary advice.

As a result, the “rules of the road” for recommending increased contributions to plans or IRAs, while avoiding fiduciary status, is to (1) make the recommendation based on an objective measurement, and (2) avoid a concurrent discussion of investments or investment strategies for the plan or IRA.

Even though there are traps in this guidance, the DOL’s position is a significant improvement.

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




Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #57

DOL FAQs on 408(b)(2) Fiduciary Disclosures

This is my 57th article about interesting observations concerning the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule and exemptions. These articles also cover the DOL’s FAQs interpreting the regulation and exemptions and related developments in the securities laws.

The Department of Labor has issued a new set of “Conflict of Interest FAQs (408(b)(2) Disclosure Transition Period, Recommendations to Increase Contributions and Plan Participation).”

This article discusses the DOL’s relief from the 408(b)(2) requirement that a “change” notice be given for advisers who became fiduciaries to ERISA-governed retirement plans because of the June 9th expansion of the definition of fiduciary advice.

Before getting into the details of the relief, let’s look at what the DOL’s FAQs did not do. If an adviser (or his or her supervisory entity) was a fiduciary, functional or acknowledged, before June 9th, but did not give a 408(b)(2) notice of fiduciary status, that is not covered. In other words, it is a violation that is not remedied by the Department of Labor’s guidance. If the adviser’s prior 408(b)(2) disclosures, or agreement, stated that the adviser (and his or her supervisory entity) is not a fiduciary, then relief is not provided and a disclosure must be given.

So, what does that leave?

The DOL’s relief applies where an adviser became a fiduciary solely because of the change of definition. But, the relief from disclosing the new fiduciary status only applies if “the covered service provider furnishes an accurate and complete description of the services that will be performed under the contract or arrangement with the plan, including the services that would make the covered service provider an investment fiduciary under the currently applicable Fiduciary Rule.”

In other words, the covered service provider (for example, a broker-dealer) must provide an accurate and complete description of its fiduciary services. For example, those services could be recommendations about the selection and monitoring of the investments in a 401(k) plan. My experience is that, few—if any—broker-dealers made that representation in their previous 408(b)(2) disclosures (since it would have resulted in fiduciary status under the old rules). As a result, it is likely that advisers, and their supervisory entities, will need, at the least, to give more detailed descriptions of their services in order to take advantage of the 408(b)(2) relief. Needless to say, that should be done as soon as possible. (Technically, the DOL FAQs say that these disclosures should be made “as soon as practicable after June 9, 2017, even if more than 60 days after June 9, 2017.”)

Even if those conditions are satisfied and, therefore, the relief is available, the requirement for the 408(b)(2) fiduciary notice is only delayed until the applicability date of the final exemptions (that is, the Best Interest Contract Exemption (BICE) and the Principal Transactions Exemption). If the fiduciary definition remains the same, or substantially similar, the pre-June 9th 408(b)(2) disclosures will need to be updated at that time to declare fiduciary status. However, there is at least an outside chance that the regulation will be modified to define some sales practices as non-fiduciary. Obviously, if that change is made, there would not be a need to disclose fiduciary status for those non-fiduciary sales practices.

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


Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #49

The Requirement to Disclose Fiduciary Status

This is my 49th article about interesting observations concerning the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule and exemptions. These articles also cover the DOL’s FAQs interpreting the regulation and exemptions and related developments in the securities laws.

When the new fiduciary rule applies on June 9, it will convert most non-fiduciary advisers into fiduciaries.

While there is not a disclosure requirement for new fiduciary advisers to IRAs, there is for these newly minted fiduciary advisers to plans. But it’s not part of the new regulation. Instead the requirement is found in the 408(b)(2) regulation which was effective in 2012.

As background, that regulation required that service providers to ERISA-governed retirement plans, including advisers, make written disclosures to plan fiduciaries of their services, compensation and “status.” The status requirement was that service providers disclose if they were fiduciaries under ERISA and/or the securities laws (e.g., RIAs). The regulation describes the status disclosure as follows:

If applicable, a statement that the covered service provider, an affiliate, or a subcontractor will provide, or reasonably expects to provide, services pursuant to the contract or arrangement directly to the covered plan…as a fiduciary…; and, if applicable, a statement that the covered service provider, an affiliate, or a subcontractor will provide, or reasonably expects to provide, services pursuant to the contract or arrangement directly to the covered plan as an investment adviser registered under either the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 or any State law.

(The reference to “subcontractor” includes representatives of broker dealers who are independent contractors.)

For the most part, broker-dealers, and insurance agents and brokers, have taken the position that they were not fiduciaries and therefore did not make the fiduciary disclosure. And, if they were not in fact fiduciaries, those disclosures worked from July 1, 2012 until June 9, 2017, when the new definition will make them fiduciaries.

Technically, that last sentence is not absolutely correct. Let me explain. First, the new regulation requires that, to be considered a fiduciary, the adviser (and the supervisory entity) must make an investment recommendation. And, until the first investment recommendation is made, the adviser and entity are not fiduciaries. However, the definition of investment recommendation is so broad that it may be best to treat June 9 as the day they became fiduciaries. For example, a recommendation is a “suggestion” that the plan fiduciaries select, hold or remove investments; that the fiduciaries use a fiduciary adviser to give advice on investments or to help participants with investments; that the fiduciaries include certain specified policies in the IPS; and so on.

In other words, under the new rules it’s hard for an adviser to work with a plan without being a fiduciary.

So, accepting that virtually all advisers to plans become fiduciaries on June 9, what does that mean for disclosure of fiduciary status?

The 408(b)(2) regulation generally provides that, after the initial notice is provided, no subsequent disclosures are required until there is a change in the information initially provided. But, of course, where the first notice was silent about fiduciary status, the transition to fiduciary status is a change. Here’s what the regulation says about changes:

A covered service provider must disclose a change to the information…as soon as practicable, but not later than 60 days from the date on which the covered service provider is informed of such change, unless such disclosure is precluded due to extraordinary circumstances beyond the covered service provider’s control, in which case the information must be disclosed as soon as practicable.

In other words, the service provider (e.g., the broker dealer and adviser) must make a written disclosure of the change to fiduciary status to the “responsible plan fiduciary” within “60 days from the date on which the [broker dealer/adviser] is informed of such change.” Unfortunately, there isn’t any guidance on when a service provider is “informed” of the change to fiduciary status under these circumstances. For example, was it the day that it was finally determined that the fiduciary regulation would be applicable on June 9? Or, will it be on June 9? Or, will it be the first day that the adviser makes the first post-June 9 recommendation?

In the absence of clear guidance, a conservative approach may be advisable. So, my suggestion is that the change notice be sent in June. That’s not my conclusion about the outer limit; instead, it’s a conservative position.

The consequence of the failure to make 408(b)(2) disclosures is that compensation paid the broker-dealer and the adviser is prohibited.

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


Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #27

The Definition of Compensation

This is my twenty-seventh article about interesting observations concerning the fiduciary rule and exemptions.

As the readers of these articles know, one impact of the new fiduciary rule is that compensation paid to Financial Institutions and advisers must be reasonable. Reasonable, in turn, is a function of a transparent and competitive marketplace. However, where the competitive market does not work (for example, where compensation is not transparent), customary compensation may not be reasonable.

But, this article is not about reasonable compensation. Instead, the question is, what is “compensation?”

The Department of Labor partially answered that question in the fiduciary regulation:

“The term ‘fee or other compensation, direct or indirect’ means . . . any explicit fee or compensation for the advice received by the person (or by an affiliate) from any source, and any other fee or compensation received from any source in connection with or as a result of the purchase or sale of a security or the provision of investment advice services, including, though not limited to, commissions, loads, finder’s fees, revenue sharing payments, shareholder servicing fees, marketing or distribution fees, underwriting compensation, payments to brokerage firms in return for shelf space, recruitment compensation paid in connection with transfers of accounts to a registered representative’s new broker-dealer firm, gifts and gratuities, and expense reimbursements.

A fee or compensation is paid ‘in connection with or as a result of’ such transaction or service if the fee or compensation would not have been paid but for the transaction or service or if eligibility for or the amount of the fee or compensation is based in whole or in part on the transaction or service.”

Without getting into the details of that definition, suffice it to say that, if an adviser makes a recommendation and receives money (or credits toward compensation, e.g., a bonus or a grid), that would be considered to be compensation. This concept is referred to as the “but for” test. That is, “but for” the recommendation, would the adviser have received the compensation or have been entitled to greater compensation? The “but for” method is a long-standing approach used by the Department of Labor in evaluating whether a payment is compensatory.

But, what if the payment is not monetary? What if it is non-cash, for example, gifts or trips or conference sponsorships or services? In addition to the quoted language above, the question was clearly answered in the 408(b)(2) regulation. That regulation defined compensation as:

“Compensation is anything of monetary value (for example, money, gifts, awards, and trips), . . .”

In addition, the Best Interest Contract Exemption defines third party payments as including “fees for seminars and educational programs; and any other compensation, consideration or financial benefit.”

In other words, the definition of “compensation” is not limited to cash or similar payments. Instead, it includes any item of monetary value that directly or indirectly, partially or entirely, results from recommendations of investments or insurance or that is payment for advice.

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


What’s Hot . . . in the First Quarter of 2015?

Over the last few months, the most common questions asked by clients . . . and most of my work . . . have been about three issues:

  • The DOL’s new fiduciary proposal . . . not surprising.
  • Capturing rollovers from retirement plans. Again, not surprising because of the large amount of money coming out of plans and in light of the attention being given to rollovers by the SEC, FINRA, DOL and GAO.
  • The use and allocation of revenue sharing in 401(k) plans.

I will be writing about the first two points in the future, so let’s focus on the third one now.

For about 20 years, mutual funds have paid revenue sharing to 401(k) recordkeepers for services provided to the mutual funds. That includes 12b-1 shareholder servicing fees, 12b-1 distribution fees, and subtransfer agency fees. The view was that the money was paid for services to the mutual funds . . . and only incidentally involved the plans. However, that is changing—at least partially because the 408(b)(2) regulation treated those payments as compensation to the recordkeeper for services to the plans. Because of that change, there is a growing perception that the revenue sharing payments belong to the plan, and not to the provider.

Regardless of those perceptions, the DOL’s position, and the 408(b)(2) regulation, treat the payments as compensation to recordkeepers for their services related to the plans and their investments. As a result, if the total compensation from revenue sharing exceeds the reasonable cost of recordkeeping services, the plan sponsor has a fiduciary obligation to be aware of that and to recoup the excess compensation for the benefit of the participants.

The “new news” is that some providers and some plan sponsors are allocating all of the revenue sharing back to the participants and then charging participants’ accounts for the recordkeeping costs. Why? The general answer is because it is seen as being fair. The more detailed answer is that fiduciaries have a duty to oversee the use of revenue sharing by the recordkeeper and, when they delve into the matter (in order to understand the issues and fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities), the fiduciaries often determine that the equitable allocation of revenue sharing, and then proper allocation of plan costs, produces a result that is fair and that manages the fiduciary risk.

That raises the obvious question . . . what fiduciary risk am I talking about? The risk is that there is no guidance from the DOL on the proper use and allocation of revenue sharing. In other words, plan sponsors, advisers and ERISA attorneys are operating in a vacuum. We are making educated guesses about what will ultimately happen in terms of DOL guidance or ERISA litigation. When “walking on thin ice,” it is often preferable to take a relatively conservative position. In this case, the conservative position is to allocate the revenue sharing back to the participants.

To give you an example, think about a large plan where 50% of the participants’ money is in revenue sharing mutual funds, 40% of the participants’ money is in non-revenue sharing mutual funds, and 10% is in a company stock fund (that does not pay any revenue for recordkeeping). In this case, the 50% of the participants in the revenue sharing mutual funds are carrying the cost of the whole plan. Expressed slightly differently, half of the participants are in the plan for free, because the other half are paying the cost of recordkeeping. If we assume that the half of the participants in the revenue sharing mutual funds are paying higher expense ratios, then the problem becomes obvious. Not only are those participants paying for the plan, but they are bearing a financial burden to do that.

A similar case could occur where some of the participants (probably high-compensated ones) are in stock brokerage accounts, while the rank-and-file employees are in mutual funds that pay revenue sharing. The brokerage accounts aren’t paying anything to support the plan, while the rank-and-file employees are bearing the full cost of the plan.

The fundamental question is, how should your plan sponsor clients be positioning themselves in light of the lack of DOL guidance and the potential risk?



ERISA Issues for Solicitor’s Fees

Not much has been written about ERISA considerations for referring investment managers to retirement plans . . . and the receipt of solicitor’s fees for a referral.

However, there are a host of legal issues.

First, the person making the referral is receiving “indirect” compensation (that is, the solicitor’s payment by the investment manager), which makes that person a “covered service provider” or “CSP.” As a CSP, he must make 408(b)(2) disclosures (i.e., services, status and compensation). The failure to make timely disclosures is a prohibited transaction.

Second, the compensation cannot be more than a reasonable amount . . . as measured by the value of the services to the plan. But, what if the CSP doesn’t provide any ongoing services to the plan? Does the “compensation” become unreasonable after five years of payments? Ten years? I am not aware of any guidance on that point.

Third, the referral can result in the CSP becoming an ERISA fiduciary adviser. The DOL takes the position that a referral to a discretionary manager is the same as the recommendation of an investment. If it is individualized, based on the particular needs of the plan (or a participant), the DOL says it’s a fiduciary act. For example, in the preamble to its participant advice regulation, the DOL said:  “. . .the Department has long held the view that individualized recommendations of particular investment managers to plan fiduciaries constitutes the provision of investment advice within the meaning of section 3(21)(A)(ii) in the same manner as recommendations of particular securities or other property. The fiduciary nature of such advice does not change merely because the advice is being given to a plan participant or beneficiary.” That conclusion means that the CSP should engage in a prudent process and its compensation must be “level” (that is, cannot vary depending on which investment manager is recommended). I am not aware of any enforcement activity on these issues. However, the DOL position is clear.

While I have opinions about these unanswered questions, the purpose of this article is to alert people about the issues and risks.


DOL Proposed Guide

Several of my colleagues and I have provided comments to the DOL about its proposal to require a 408(b)(2) guide   Most other commentators have or will be addressing the policy issue — is it a good idea to require a guide or not?   We avoided the policy issues.   Instead, our comments focused on making the requirements clear and implementable — if the guide requirement is adopted.

For example, we asked that the DOL clarify the requirement to “furnish” a guide and “disclose” changes to the guide later on.   In raising this question, our concern is that the language in the proposal may not clearly express the DOL’s intent.  Without clarity on the meaning of these terms, a service provider might inadvertently violate the requirement.  Since the regulation is a prohibited transaction exemption, an unambiguous statement of the requirements is essential  for us to be able to properly advise our clients on how to comply.

There are a number of other areas on which we requested clarification if the proposal is finalized.  A copy of our comments can be accessed here:  The signers of the letter other than me were Bruce Ashton, Brad Campbell, Joan Neri and Josh Waldbeser.


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.