According to Groom Law Group, since 2007 there have been nearly 40 lawsuits about fees and expenses paid by employees in 401(k) plans. Of the 40 fee and expense lawsuits filed since 2007, a few have actually been adjudicated through the courts, some have been dismissed and several have been settled out of court. For the lawsuits that have been settled or adjudicated, the amounts have been in the tens of millions, not to mention the legal fees that are incurred.
What should companies do?
Below are items that we believe are prudent processes that plan sponsors should follow:
- There should be a clear governance structure that delineates who appoints retirement plan committee members and also a process to monitor the plan’s fiduciary committee.
- Fiduciaries should look, at least annually, for lower cost investment options for the plan. The same investment option may have several ways it can charge fees which come with different requirements that can change over time. This makes the process of conducting a regular review so very important.
- A review of service providers on a regular basis helps keep costs and services in line with industry changes.
a. Service provider fees should be benchmarked on a regular basis.
b. Requests for Proposals should be conducted at least every five years to make sure that fees and services are in line with industry standards.
c. Service providers should be skilled and have adequate experience in providing the needed services.
d. Service providers would include (but are not limited to) record keepers, advisors, trustees, custodians, and plan auditors.
- A regular review of the investment options and categories offered to participants should be conducted.
A 401(k) plan is a great vehicle to help employees prepare for retirement and, for most employees, it is one of the only vehicles available to them (other than social security). In my opinion, the 401(k) is one of the most successful wealth accumulation vehicles created in history. Americans have accumulated trillions of dollars toward retirement simply by taking money from their paychecks on a regular basis and putting it away for their retirement years.
Douglas G. Prince is CEO and a principal at ProCourse Fiduciary Advisors, LLC.