The Frugal Fiduciary Small Business 401(k) Blog
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Employers have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure the fees paid by their 401(k) plan are “reasonable” – so excessive fees do not reduce the investment returns of plan participants needlessly. To do that job, employers should ”benchmark” their 401(k) fees periodically by comparing them to industry averages and/or the fees charged by competing 401(k) providers. Sounds straightforward, but this information is hard to find and often harder to compare on an apples-to apples basis.
Tens of thousands of dollars are on the line. This might sound a bit sensational, but when it comes to choosing the right type of 401(k) plan, this is true a lot more often than many small business owners realize.
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When an employer is looking to hire a financial advisor for their 401(k) plan, my advice to them is always the same – only consider financial advisors subject to a fiduciary standard of care. My reason is simple - only fiduciary-grade advisors are obligated by law to give impartial advice. In contrast, non-fiduciary advisors can give conflicted advice that favors investments with high commissions – making it harder for employers to keep their 401(k) fees in check. Generally, investment advisers are subject to a fiduciary standard of care, while brokers and insurance agents are not.
Small business owners can have dramatically different goals for their 401(k) plan. While some want to maximize key employee contributions, others want to incentivize plan participation by all employees. Business owners have nearly endless options for meeting these goals – many with very different expenses. The process of matching 401(k) goals to available options is called 401(k) plan design.
Last year, we studied the plan designs of 2,767 small business 401(k) plans that averaged approximately 25 participants and $1M in assets. We found only 8.71% of these plans automatically enroll eligible employees who fail to make their own affirmative enrollment election. In contrast, a 2014 Willis Towers Watson study found 68% of 457 larger 401(k) plans include an automatic enrollment feature.
According to AARP, Americans are 15 times more likely to save for retirement when they can do so by payroll deduction through a 401(k) or other employer-sponsored retirement plan. However, while most large businesses – companies with more than 100 employees – sponsor a retirement plan, 51 to 71 percent of small businesses don’t. Because workplace retirement plans make savings – and in turn, a comfortable retirement – dramatically more likely for workers, increasing this percentage is essential.