Multiple Employer Plans (MEPs) have garnered quite a bit of attention recently as lawmakers continue to discuss ways to provide small employers with more opportunities to offer retirement benefits for their employees. There are many benefits to Multiple Employer Plans (MEPs), especially in the small plan market. However, the question looms, are these plans right for every small business?
By Allison Brecher, General Counsel, Vestwell
The new year is a great time to take stock of your company offerings and, for plan sponsors, that should include a thorough review of your retirement plan. With fiduciary duty on the line, not taking the time to carefully review and make any changes can be a costly mistake. But how do you know when it may be time to pull the plug and switch your service provider, rather than just make tweaks to your plan? Here are some things to keep an eye out for.
Your service provider is not proactive about compliance and/or charges extra to keep your plan compliant
Tax savings is often a main driver for offering a retirement plan, but your plan can lose its tax qualified status and fiduciaries can become liable for potentially significant penalties if your service provider falls short on compliance. Is your recordkeeper proactively monitoring your plan and complying with the legal and regulatory requirements? Or does it only get involved after an issue arises, which can be years later and typically more time consuming and costly to correct? Does your provider review your plan documents for compliance with changing regulations and prepare any necessary amendments? Or do they alert you to regulatory changes and leave the rest in your hands?
Your service provider does not have adequate data security protections
Think about the kind of data your service provider has on your employees and then think about what can happen if that data gets into the wrong hands. A data breach can put your employees’ personal information at risk, create strained relationships with your workforce, and expose company fiduciaries to liability. It’s important to know how your service provider protects your employees’ information and what it will do when something goes wrong. Most importantly, your provider should:
Have information security protocols in place that have been independently tested and verified by outside experts. In particular, your provider should encrypt all of your employees’ data and store it securely at all times.
Stand behind its procedures by agreeing to pay for and handle instances when data becomes compromised.
Be willing to report any data security incidents to you within 24 hours.
Have cyber coverage to make sure your company is protected and that the amount of coverage is sufficient.
Always be able to restore employees’ data and accounts with minimal or no downtime and disruption. Especially in the current volatile market, your employees should be able to access their accounts 24/7.
Your provider’s fees are unreasonable
It is critical to dig into the details of your recordkeeper’s fees, especially in light of the numerous class actions where plan sponsors and fiduciaries are being sued for operating a plan with allegedly excessive fees. You do not need to select the least expensive provider, but you do need to make sure the fees are reasonable for the services provided. Some things to look out for include:
Fees that are disguised by being included with mutual fund expenses – – sometimes in the proprietary funds offered by affiliates of your recordkeeper – – that are then kicked back to the recordkeeper. Make sure your provider has disclosed all such conflicts of interest.
Services that cost extra, since some providers will charge sponsors for things such as compliance activities and plan document reviews.
Fees that are reasonable in comparison with others. However, you cannot know for sure whether a service provider’s fees are reasonable until you ask and shop around. You can do that by getting proposals from other providers or benchmarking their fees. If you determine that your provider’s fees are excessive, you have no choice but to get them reduced and, if your provider refuses, you must terminate them in order to avoid violating your fiduciary duties.
Advisors have a golden opportunity to help sponsor clients understand what they’re getting and the reasonableness of the charges. While some plan sponsors may want to avoid change due to the change management associated with switching providers, the implications of staying with the wrong provider are far greater.
Bank of New York Mellon and Vestwell are entering a partnership that will give the bank a technological boost as it embarks on a foray into service offerings for state-sponsored retirement plans. The bank signed Vestwell as an affiliate, meaning several of the banking behemoth’s units, including BNY Mellon Custody, Pershing brokerage services, Lockwood asset management and retirement plan management solution, Sumday, will all have access to the newly signed firms’ homegrown retirement plan-focused interface.
By Allison Brecher, General Counsel, Vestwell
In order to make good investment decisions, it’s important to be informed. Yet one of the more impactful components of any retirement plan is also the area where employers and participants tend to feel least clear: plan fees. While fees are not the only consideration when creating your portfolio or selecting service providers to the plan, high fees can erode retirement savings for participants and can create fiduciary – ie: personal – liability for you, the plan sponsors.
Despite the risks, many sponsors don’t take the time to carefully examine their plan fees or, worse yet, needlessly increase their risk by overpaying service providers who may be charging “hidden” fees. What you don’t see can hurt you, but what questions should you ask to prevent these pitfalls?
First, let’s understand what services are being provided to a typical retirement plan. There are three general categories:
Investment advisory – investment advisors select the investment lineup that they believe is suitable for the plan.
Administration – recordkeepers and other service providers keep track of the transactions in your account, such as payroll deductions and employer contributions, and make sure the plan is operated in compliance with legal and regulatory requirements.
Direct charges – participants and sponsors are charged for services specifically provided to them, such as for loans, hardship withdrawals, or amending the plan.
All of these services are necessary to successfully operate a qualified retirement plan and, while there is nothing wrong with getting paid, the challenge is to understand how these service providers get paid, the reasonableness of the fee in light of the value of the services, and whether the fee has been disclosed. Unfortunately, it is often not as simple as just asking the service providers because these fees can be embedded in the expense ratios of the mutual funds offered in the investment lineup.
Given all this, how can you get to the bottom of what you’re actually paying and what you’re getting in exchange for those fees?
1. Start with the documents
You should have just received year-end fee disclosures that list all of the expenses paid by the plan. Those notices and the plan’s benefits statements will help you understand the total plan-related fees charged to their account. The plan administrator should be able to provide a list of all direct service charges. All of the expenses paid by the plan or individual participants should be clearly itemized; if they are not, you should probably ask why.
2. Understand share class
Very large employers get the benefit of being able to invest in institutional share classes, which often have lower costs. Some mutual funds create a share class specifically for smaller retirement plans, called Sub-TA fees, which include the fees paid to recordkeepers, plan administrators, or other providers. In other words, the providers’ fees are aggregated with the mutual funds’ expenses and therefore make it impossible for plan sponsors to separately identify and benchmark them. However, you can ask for them to be itemized separately. If you don’t know or understand your share class, you should find out. If you are in one with a high cost, you can insist that your plan be placed in one with lower expenses.
3. Understand conflicts of interest
If your plan provider is an insurance company, there is a good chance your plan’s investments are variable annuities and not mutual funds. Variable annuities are mutual funds owned by an insurance company “wrapped” or protected by an insurance policy, thus increasing expenses with “wrap fees,” surrender charges, or sales commissions in the process. Those fees can turn a low cost mutual fund into an expensive and illiquid investment. The same could be true for plans supported by a mutual fund provider, which has a built-in incentive to use its own funds as part of the investment lineup. Conflicts of interest are not inherently wrong; they just must be disclosed so that the plan sponsor can make informed decisions.
4. Ask about revenue sharing
While the word “kickback” could make you cringe, revenue sharing is just that—a payment made by a mutual fund to compensate service providers that use their funds. Salespeople, brokers, and insurance agents may receive finders’ fees for bringing new business to the mutual funds or negotiated loyalty incentive compensation. Regardless of the type of fee, they are all revenue sharing and they increase the investment’s expenses and reduce investor returns. Sometimes these fees are disclosed as 12(b)-1 fees, but sometimes fund companies pay different levels of fees through multiple share classes. You should ask your investment advisor or read the prospectus. Don’t overlook footnotes about how your plan expenses “may notinclude any contract-level or participant recordkeeping charges. Such charges, if applicable, will reduce the value of a participant’s account.” That is likely a red flag telling you there may be hidden fees.Ask your investment advisor whether it is receiving 12(b)-1 fees, the annual value of those fees, and whether your same mutual funds can be purchased for a different share class with lower revenue sharing fees.
5. Investigate transaction fees
These fees can be especially difficult to understand, yet they are one of the largest expenses that a participant can bear. Every time a mutual fund manager buys or sells the underlying securities within a mutual fund, there is a cost to the trade. Actively managed funds have higher transaction costs than passive funds, like index-based funds, and the participants’ investment returns are reduced by the cost of those trades. While transaction costs cannot be avoided entirely in actively managed funds, they can include brokerage commissions and other compensation paid to the service provider that should be scrutinized. Transaction fees can be found (often with some difficulty) in a fund’s Statement of Additional Information and annual report.
So how are the fees justified? There is nothing wrong with compensating service providers; again, they perform necessary services to successfully operate a qualified retirement plan. But sponsors must ask what services justify these fees and whether the provider yielded material results for participants and beneficiaries. In short, the question fiduciaries should be asking is: Do these fees exist to pay for reasonable, legitimate, and valuable services that benefit participants of qualified retirement plans and enhance their retirement security? Or do they exist to support the financial services industry at the expense of participants?
You can largely avoid these issues altogether by investing in lower cost mutual funds, like Exchange Traded Funds or Target Date Funds, and consider using service providers that are not financially incentivized to use certain mutual funds as plan investments. You should be asking yourself the ultimate question regularly: Have I properly investigated and paid only those fees that were appropriate and reasonable? Hopefully after addressing the questions above, your answer will be “yes”.
Vestwell, a digital retirement platform, today announced a strategic relationship with BNY Mellon, the largest custodian in the world and global leader in investment management and investment services. Together, the firms will now offer 401(k), 403(b), and employer-sponsored IRA plans to BNY Mellon clients, accessible via Vestwell’s turnkey digital interface.
Through the collaboration, Vestwell will be tightly embedded in an open-architecture construct and offered to BNY Mellon clients nationwide. Jointly, the platform will allow companies to bring modern solutions to state sponsored retirement programs as well as advisor-led 401(k), 403(b) and IRA programs.
“We couldn’t be more excited about working with one of the most respected financial institutions in the world to power state-led IRA savings programs as well as larger company sponsored retirement programs,” said Aaron Schumm, founder and CEO of Vestwell. “With BNY Mellon’s industry leadership and Vestwell’s digital solution, we’re working to ensure that all employees have practical investment vehicles in place.”
BNY Mellon’s wholly-owned entities– which include BNY Mellon Custody, Pershing brokerage services, Lockwood asset management, and Sumday – will be able to utilize Vestwell’s flexible and intuitive platform. This integrated offering will provide advisors a more comprehensive viewpoint into their plan sponsor companies and their employees’ retirement accounts.
“This collaboration with Vestwell cements our commitment to reshaping retirement account solutions for advisors, trust officers, companies, and employees alike” said Doug Magnolia, Managing Director, BNY Mellon Asset Servicing, “We’re proud to deploy such a powerful, tech-driven offering that will impact businesses nationwide and, more importantly, help set their employees up for success.”
For more information on the partnership please visit www.vestwell.com/news.
About Vestwell Holdings, Inc.
Vestwell is a digital platform that makes it easier to offer and administer 401(k) plans. Vestwell removes traditional friction points through a seamless plan design, automated onboarding, streamlined administration, and flexible investment strategies, all at competitive pricing. By acting as a single point of contact, Vestwell has modernized the retirement offering while keeping the plan sponsor’s and plan participant’s best interests in mind. Learn more at Vestwell.com and on Twitter @Vestwell.
About BNY Mellon
BNY Mellon is a global investments company dedicated to helping its clients manage and service their financial assets throughout the investment lifecycle. Whether providing financial services for institutions, corporations or individual investors, BNY Mellon delivers informed investment management and investment services in 35 countries. As of September 30, 2018, BNY Mellon had $34.5 trillion in assets under custody and/or administration, and $1.8 trillion in assets under management. BNY Mellon can act as a single point of contact for clients looking to create, trade, hold, manage, service, distribute or restructure investments. BNY Mellon is the corporate brand of The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation (NYSE: BK). Additional information is available on www.bnymellon.com. Follow us on Twitter @BNYMellon or visit our newsroom at www.bnymellon.com/newsroom for the latest company news.
Between hiring, benefits, meetings, and day-to-day management, employers have a lot to do in addition to being fiduciaries. As several sponsors approach year end for their plans, help them prepare by sharing this simplified record retention guide.
By Peter Kennedy, Special ERISA Advisor, Vestwell
2018 continues to be a year of change – – on the regulatory and legislative fronts. From the now-abandoned DOL fiduciary rule to several other bills making their way through Congress, plan sponsors and advisors should understand how these legislative updates affect them and their qualified retirement plans.
The DOL Fiduciary Rule
Among all of the changes in the retirement industry this year, perhaps the most significant was the DOL’s Fiduciary Advice Rule (A.K.A., “the Rule”). After much debate, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the Rule in its entirety. And, at least for the time being, advisors are once again subject to the pre-existing rules as to what constitutes “investment advice” under ERISA.
What exactly are these pre-existing rules and what do they mean for advisors and their retirement business? We’re glad you asked. Many advisors under the old 5-part test for investment advice regularly helped clients with 401(k) plan design, investment menus, plan education, and other matters – all without the assumption that they were fiduciaries to the plan. The Rule was meant to alter that assumption by characterizing most types of advice to retirement plans and IRAs as “fiduciary advice.” That meant an advisor would have been subject to significant fiduciary liability, but since the Rule has been vacated, advisors are once again free to offer plan advice with less concern for legal ramifications.
Although not directly related to retirement plan assets like the Rule, the SEC recently proposed the Regulation Best Interest (a.k.a. “RBI”) which would impose a higher standard of conduct for broker/dealers and their associated persons who give securities advice to “retail customers.” RBI is not a replacement of the Rule and is generally considered less stringent. With the DOL’s recently announced plan to re-propose its Fiduciary Advice Rule in 2019, there is more coming from the regulators that will likely affect how to advise retirement plans, their participants, and investors.
Other Legislative Matters
Several other bills could change various rules under the Internal Revenue Code and ERISA. Below are some highlights:
Retirement Enhancement and Security Act (“RESA”)
Probably the most far-reaching – and recipient of the most media attention – RESA would make it easier for small employers to participate in Multiple Employer Plans (MEPs). Other features of the bill would affect rules pertaining to auto-enrollment, nonelective contributions, plan loans, certain nondiscrimination rules, and process for selecting lifetime income providers, all of which are intended to encourage small businesses to offer retirement plans to their employees.
Retirement Lost and Found Act
This act also minimizes the administrative burdens on plan sponsors by easing the requirements on them to locate former employees with small, unclaimed distributions. Locating these so-called “missing participants” can be a tedious and costly process for small businesses and the Act would require the government to create an online resource to find these individuals.
In addition to the legislative matters above, other bills have been proposed that cover a variety of topics including increasing the amount that could be distributed to a former participant without consent, simplifying the complex rules related to offering annuities in qualified retirement plans, and changing the default option for delivering plan information to electronic delivery. Stay tuned in 2019 as we continue to monitor new rules that will impact advisors and their firms…and navigate them together.
100% of polled plan sponsors are happy they switched to Vestwell – and advisors are happy, too! Take a look at our infographic to see what both advisors and sponsors are saying about their Vestwell experience.
Happy clients = happy advisors. Between admin relief, easy onboarding, and fee transparency, find out why plan sponsors are happy they chose Vestwell…and why you should too! Check out our infographic here.
When it comes to selecting a retirement plan, you can’t depend on a “one size fits all” approach. Leverage this guide to help sponsors get the right type of plan based on their unique goals and business structure.