I would think that it is a basic law of physics that, whenever you attempt to apply a number of different and complicated principles to a single object, that the consequences on that object will be hard to predict, or even readily ascertained.

So it is with a potential impact 408(b)(2) may have on many 501(c)(3) sponsors of ERISA 403(b) plans. It shows up when you take an 403(b) ERISA plan, impose a fundamentally new set of basic principles (by way of the 2007 403(b) tax regulations); revoke its exemptive relief  from reporting requirements (the Form 5500); while nearly simultaneously superimposing a tremendous new disclosure scheme (participant and service provider disclosures);  there are inevitably going to be some unusual results.

Take a typical example. A hospital sponsors an ERISA 403(b) plan with 10,000 current employees. Over time, it has merged with a number of different hospitals, each which had separately maintained its own 403(b) arrangements in the past with a wide number of vendors. The hospital, in anticipation of the problems with the 2007 tax regulations, consolidated all the affiliates plans into a single platform on 1/1/2009.

Over its history, though, it and its affiliated hospitals had selected and deselected a number of other vendors (no one is quite sure how many) many with whom they have long lost contact.

All of these contracts over the history of the plans have been owned by the individual participants. Though the employer did have an audit done, it did not report many of those "lost" deselected vendor contracts, as it didn’t know much about them or the vendors. They reported those old plans as merging with the 2009 Form 5500.

The deselected vendors all still have some old contracts that participants have hung onto,  even after those participants have left the employee of the hospital. The records of the vendor shows that these were ERISA contracts, and that they earn a "mortality and expense", or some other contract charge, and they are indeed "recordkeepers" for the investments in those contracts as defined by 408(b)(2). In order to prevent that compensation from being prohibited, and from the need to be prudent, the vendor decides to make the required disclosures to the hospital’s "responsible plan fiduciary-" with whom they have not had contact for many years.

Imagine that fiduciary’s surprise when it receives these "blasts from the past," the ghosts of decisions made long ago, often by folks with which they were never affiliated with at the time decisions were made. 

The hospital never knew about these contracts for which they are receiving disclosures, but can’t ignore them.  They have just completed all of their work with regard to participant fee disclosures, but now someone is telling them that there may be a dozen more companies’ investment products upon which they have to report. They also just filed their 2010 Form 5500, and didn’t report many of these contracts as assets of the plan.  

Now what? This is just one scenario, they are others which may be likely once vendors seek to comply with 408(b)(2) on their books of old ERISA contracts. Though the regulator view may be that this flushing of old contracts is a good thing, it can actually be quite a mess to sort through-including whether or not you still have relief and can exclude them from compliance responsibility under Rev Proc.2007-71, and just at a time when the IRS is beginning their 403(b) 2009 audits. I suspect that the management of the problems can only resolved by closely looking at all of the particular facts which will apply to the plan.

I leave it to your imagination as to the myriad of difficulties this may cause; as there are potentially many. I also may be wrong, and this may never happen…….