The Frugal Financial Small Business 401(k) Blog
Get the latest industry news, deadlines and tips you need to know to help tackle your fiduciary responsibility needs.
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!
After the death of his beloved mother, Harry Houdini was desperate to contact her from beyond the grave with the help of psychic mediums – who claimed an ability to communicate with the dead. Mediums were very popular at the time, but it didn’t take long for Harry to discover they couldn’t do what they promised. Upset, Harry became determined to expose their lies to protect unwitting customers. Like mediums, some 401(k) providers make false claims. Their lies can easily go unnoticed to 401(k) fiduciaries due to the highly-technical nature of 401(k) services. However, believing these lies – and hiring the provider that makes them – can trigger severe consequences. They often mask excessive 401(k) fees or a lack of expertise that can increase fiduciary liability. If you’re a 401(k) fiduciary, identifying 401(k) provider lies is imperative to mitigating your plan liability. The good news? Most are easily debunked with some basic facts. I’d like to channel (pun intended) Harry Houdini by exposing four of the most common lies told by 401(k) providers today.
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Happy Holidays from the Frugal Fiduciary! As 2016 comes to a close, we looked back through this year’s blogs to find the most read. It turns out our most popular blogs related to the following topics:
401k recordkeepers are like icebergs – you can only see a small fraction of the services they provide. Behind the scenes, they can process tens, if not hundreds, of transactions every day for a 401k plan related to contributions, distributions, inter-fund transfers or fee payments. This transaction volume makes 401k recordkeeping complicated, requiring specialized expertise to do it well.
In my last blog, I wrote the key virtue of the DOL’s new fiduciary rule is that it aligns 401k plan sponsor and financial advisor interests. Once the rule is effective, all advisors will be obligated to act in the sole best interest of 401k participants just like 401k sponsors. Prior to the rule, some advisors could fleece 401k plans without consequences – which often left 401k sponsors personally liable for participant losses due to excessive advisor fees.
On April 6, the Department of Labor finalized its long-awaited fiduciary rule for retirement plan investment advice. Under this rule, all financial advisors to retirement plans are required to act according to a “fiduciary” standard – in other words, they must give impartial investment advice that’s in their clients' best interest. Prior to this rule, only some advisors were subject to a fiduciary standard. Brokers and insurance agents were subject to a lesser “suitability” standard. The problem with the suitability standard is that there is practically no investment that is “unsuitable.” Hidden fees, outrageous redemption charges, lousy performance and house funds with high commission payouts – everything is suitable and anything goes. The old standard allows for certain advisors to provide financial “products” that give the appearance of unbiased advice, but in reality represent blatant conflicts of interest.