It is worth now considering of the impact of 2008 MOU between the SEC and the DOL on fiduciary enforcement, with the publication of the SEC’s new Reg IB on fiduciary duties and the suggestions from EBSA that a a new fiduciary rule will be closely related to that of the SEC. What will happen where you have two broadly empowered federal agencies working from what may be the same playbook (or at least very similar ones), where you already have a well established, coordinated cross-enforcement structure in place?

Continue Reading

One of the key  EBSA National Enforcement Projects is the “Plan Investment Conflicts Project” or PIC project. It is the “next generation” of fiduciary compliance programs that the DOL has developed over the years, with this one building on those past programs which had looked at compensation conflicts, 408(b)(2)  compliance and 404(a)-5 disclosures. It appears to be using standard, plan level investigations to instigate reviews of selected practices of large financial service companies, as opposed to having to open large service provider investigations to get to the answers being sought.  
Continue Reading

The SEC proposed Rule 30e-3 3 this past June which will fundamentally rework the manner in which mutual fund prospectuses and other fund reports are delivered to shareholders. This proposed rule, if made final, would effectively make electronic delivery of these reports the default-much in the same way as currently being proposed for the electronic delivery for required ERISA notices.This impacts 403(b) and 401(a) operations, as well as efforts to make ERISA e-delivery a default.
Continue Reading

Effective January 1 of this year was the right of participants to an extended period to rollover their defaulted loan amount, if the default arose following unemployment or the termination of a plan. The statue has a fundamental flaw: it confuses the rules related to the taxation of the loan with the distribution rules related to defaulted loans. The practical effect of this confusion is that it is virtually impossible to effectively use.
Continue Reading

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act’s participant loan changes (which delays the account offset on loan defaults related to unemployment or plan termination) triggers something we would all rather not look at:  the “uncomfortable” manner in which ERISA’s fiduciary rules apply to loans and their administration.These changes should cause plan sponsors and recordkeepers to consider new choices about their handling of loan defaults, something they haven’t had to do in nearly 18 years. This matters because changing a plan’s loan rules is not a minor technical act. Loans are investments subject to the same ERISA prudence rules as any other plan investment, and changes to loan procedures impacts the investment.
Continue Reading

The complex nature of handling 403(b) plans-and, in particular, the unique manner in which the fiduciary rules apply to them-make these plans uniquely suited to customized fiduciary services. It is well beyond the skill set of many 501(c)(3) organizations to make sense of their often complicated 403(b) programs, and to put them into some kind of sensical order. This must be done all the while applying a number of rules intended for the 401(k) market (with their centralized recordkeeping systems) in a plan which may have significant assets held by multiple vendors under a variety of contracts with differing terms.
Continue Reading

It is easy to forget that the fiduciary’s exclusive obligation is to provide retirement income from these plans. ERISA is pretty clear that even 401(k) plans and 403(b) plans are actually meant to provide retirement income. They are “employee pension benefit plans” under ERISA Section 3(2)(A) which each “provides retirement income to employees, or results in a deferral of income by employees for periods extending to the termination of covered employment or beyond.” In the day to day operation of a plan loan program, this raises a troubling issue- particularly when a plan design forces an loan default offset of a participants accrued benefit following an involuntary employment (such as a layoff, death or disability), where the retirement benefit is lost under difficult circumstances where there is little chance to recover.
Continue Reading

There is a potential impact of the 403(b) University Lawsuits on the ability of 401(k) plans to maintain self-directed brokerage accounts. These 403(b) plans, with their wide variety of investments which are subject only to the control of the participants, are essentially structured in the same manner as SBDAs (without many of the security law protections that are given 403(b) participants). Should the plaintiffs succeed in their calms that it was imprudent to permit employees the ability to invest in a wide range of securities without fiduciary oversight, this may well be the death knell of SBDAs.
Continue Reading

As in all things 403(b), it seems, retirement rules of generally applicability take unusual twists when applied to 403(b)plans. The DOL’s fiduciary rule is not saved from that same problem. A close look reveals interesting twists in the manner in which the rule affects (or doesn’t at all!) 403(b) plans, which simply do not apply to other participant directed defined contribution plans.
Continue Reading