Dec 09, 2021
As fiduciaries, plan sponsors must follow ERISA’s high standards of conduct as they manage the plan and safeguard participants’ assets. This includes making decisions with the insight of an expert in the matter at hand and in the sole interests of the participants, as well as following the terms of the plan document and ensuring that only reasonable plan expenses are paid from plan assets. To manage these responsibilities, plan sponsors should develop procedures that facilitate prudent decision-making and demonstrate that the plan sponsor is disciplined about following those procedures.
How You Can Help
You can add value to your retirement plan support services by helping plan sponsors develop a strategy for satisfying their fiduciary responsibilities under ERISA.
A good starting point is to develop written procedures for overseeing each aspect of plan management, including the criteria to be examined and used to make decisions, such as when to replace a plan investment alternative or conduct a service provider search. Assigning specific plan governance topics to fiduciary meetings throughout the calendar year is one way plan sponsors can make certain their fiduciary oversight practices are comprehensive, consistent from year to year, and documented. If you’re meeting with plan sponsor clients periodically to monitor plan investment performance, you’ve already built the necessary framework to help them with this strategy.
Educate your plan sponsor clients about:
- The importance of setting a schedule to complete fiduciary tasks
- Creating a list of topics to address
- Whom to invite to their meetings
As part of a written fiduciary compliance framework, plan sponsors should determine whether they want a plan committee to have fiduciary oversight for the plan, or if the business owner(s) will fill this role. Some plan sponsors, particularly those with large plans, will create a plan committee to oversee plan governance. If a committee is created, it’s important for the members to understand that they will typically be considered co-fiduciaries under ERISA based on the decision-making authority granted to the committee. Other meeting attendees, however, will not necessarily be fiduciaries to the plan even though they share their expertise to assist the plan sponsor in addressing a certain topic. This includes a representative of the plan’s recordkeeper and you, as the financial advisor, unless you are an investment fiduciary to the plan under ERISA. While you do not have to attend every meeting, you can be a valuable resource for industry updates, benchmarking information, and service provider contacts.
Plan sponsors should apply a consistent and disciplined approach to ensure their meetings are effective. This includes drafting and following an agenda for each meeting. The agenda can be repeatable by using a structure that includes essential topics for each meeting, such as attendance, review and approval of prior meeting minutes and investment performance review.
The agenda should also include new topics for review or discussion and an objective related to that topic (e.g., new regulations that affect plan operations). Attendees should have advance notice of the meeting date and have access to any relevant reports or other documentation, so they can prepare for the meeting. The agenda should be followed during the meeting to keep discussions on track and make sure the objectives are addressed. It’s also critical to assign a member of the meeting to draft written minutes to document any decisions made and to identify any further actions needed.
By assigning certain topics to specific meetings in a calendar year, plan sponsors can make certain there is enough time allotted to address all topics each year. Many plan sponsors find it beneficial to divide fiduciary tasks into items that should be addressed quarterly and items that should be completed annually.
Quarterly meeting topics:
Retirement plan industry updates
- New laws or regulations affecting plan administration
- Litigation trends involving retirement plans
- Economic and market conditions affecting investments or employees
- Performance of each plan investment compared with criteria in an Investment Policy Statement (IPS) or other selection criteria
- Benchmark plan investment performance against comparable investments
Service provider issues and performance
- Plan operations issues (e.g., processing mistakes or delays, website performance issues)
- Communications and requests from service providers (e.g., participant data for compliance testing)
- Participant complaints
Timely deposits of all employee contributions and loan repayments
- Corrective contributions if late deposits
- Actions needed to prevent late contributions in the future
Upcoming compliance deadlines
- Participant notices and disclosures
- Required minimum distributions
- Compliance testing
- Form 5500 and plan audits
Annual Meeting Topics:
Plan objectives and plan design features
- Any significant changes in the business or employee demographics that warrant changes in the objectives for the plan or plan design features
- Plan metrics compared with objectives for the plan (e.g., participation rate, contribution rate, average plan balance)
- Benchmarks of plan performance metrics for plans of a similar size
- Plan design changes that would improve plan performance
- Ongoing participant education needs
- Benchmarks of fees to make certain they are reasonable
- Whether the plan investments continue to be appropriate for the plan according to the plan’s Investment Policy Statement (IPS)
- Whether the IPS continues to be aligned with the plan’s investment objectives
Administrative service provider fees
- Benchmarks of fees paid by plans of a similar size for similar services
- Service provider performance compared to service agreement standards
Plan document review
- Plan operations consistent with plan document elections and terms (e.g., definition of compensation used for contributions)
- Plan amendments required by law change or for discretionary changes in plan operations during the past year
Fidelity bond amount
- Coverage for each plan official who handles plan assets in an amount of at least 10% of plan assets
- Annual Form 5500 filing is accurate and on time, and includes audit, if required
- Compliance with contribution limits, or timely corrective action
- Passing all nondiscrimination testing, or timely corrective action
- Timely delivery of required notices and disclosures to participants (and beneficiaries)
The Department of Labor (DOL) has confirmed that ERISA does not require plan sponsor decisions to always result in the best possible outcome but rather that decisions are made after engaging in a prudent process. Financial advisors can help plan sponsors develop a prudent process for managing their fiduciary responsibilities by building a calendar of fiduciary meetings and agenda topics.
Want to learn more? You can get in touch with Newport here.
Newport Group, Inc. and its affiliates provide recordkeeping, plan administration, trust and custody, consulting, fiduciary consulting, insurance and brokerage services. For Institutional Use Only.
This material has been prepared for informational purposes only. It is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. Consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before making any decisions. Newport and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal or accounting advice.