The Frugal Fiduciary Small Business 401(k) Blog
Get the latest industry news, deadlines and tips you need to know to help tackle your fiduciary responsibility needs.
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.
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.
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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.
This week, the DOL delayed the effective date of its Fiduciary Rule – which would define all retirement plan financial advisors as ERISA fiduciaries, effectively banning conflicted 401(k) investment advice that puts advisor profit ahead of client interests – by 60 days from April 10, 2017 to June 9, 2017. The delay was triggered by a memorandum from President Trump that directed the agency to complete a new analysis of the rule’s likely economic impact. As a critic of the Fiduciary Rule, it’s a good bet that President Trump ordered the DOL analysis to build a case for overturning it. If that happens, it would be a huge (yuge?) victory win for brokers and insurance agents – who are currently non-fiduciaries. According to a study from the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), these advisors rake in more than $17 billion in excess fees annually due to conflicted advice. If you are a supporter of the Fiduciary Rule like me, it can be easy to be upset by the Trump administration delay. However, I’m not worried about it. Even if this ban on conflicted retirement plan advice is squashed, I am confident the die is cast. Following several high-profile excessive fee lawsuits, more 401(k) plan sponsors than ever are hiring fiduciary-grade financial advisors to lower their liability. The kicker? Their impartial advice is often cheaper than potentially-conflicted, non-fiduciary advice. And I have the numbers to prove it!