Because we’re passionate about staying at the forefront of industry trends and regulations, Shepherd Financial recently sent a team to the National Association of Plan Advisors (NAPA) 401(k) Summit. This national conference allows industry experts to interact and share relevant, best-practice strategies for serving retirement plans. Our team highlighted the following topics as key difference makers in the retirement industry, plan administration, benefits collaboration, and plan participant financial wellness:
Industry News: Plan Litigation
The news continues to swirl with lawsuits against corporations, alleging their 401(k) plans have high fees harming employees. Such litigation has brought greater awareness to the fees being charged in plans, as well as a sense of urgency for retirement plan committees to take their fiduciary duties seriously. For example, the duty of exclusive benefit means fiduciaries must be aware of and fully understand all expenses paid from the plan – but it doesn’t end there. Expenses must also be deemed reasonable for the services provided. There is no obligation to choose providers or investments with the lowest costs; the best choice for a plan is unique to the plan’s objectives and characteristics. The most important elements for avoiding litigation over fees come in the form of a consistent process and thorough documentation.
Plan Administration: Committee Relationships
It can be beneficial to establish a committee to assist plan sponsors in the development of prudent processes for plan governance. It’s considered best practice to select a committee chair and establish a committee charter. Utilizing a committee charter to formally authorize the purpose and scope of the committee defines how committee members are selected or appointed, how often meetings occur, and the roles of any outside consultants. Understanding each party’s role, financial liability, fiduciary responsibility, and signing authority can help ease the administrative burden.
Benefits Collaboration: Health Savings Accounts
The buzz continues around health savings accounts (HSAs): they’re the link between health care and finance, but many employees still don’t understand their unique benefits. These savings vehicles provide triple tax-advantaged opportunities (tax-deductible contributions, tax-free earnings, and tax-free distributions), but few are taking advantage. Often confused with flexible savings accounts (FSAs) or health reimbursement accounts (HRAs) and their ‘use it or lose it’ rule, unused HSA funds from the current year roll over to the next year, so participants don’t have to worry about forfeiting their savings. Additionally, employees are often not saving enough to fully utilize the investing capabilities of the HSA – savings can be invested in mutual funds, stocks, or other investment vehicles to help achieve more growth in the account. Clearer education is needed to enable participants to fully engage in their whole suite of benefits.
Plan Participants: Watch Your Language!
The retirement plan experience can be extremely intimidating for participants, and language choices from both plan sponsors and advisors are important. Communication needs to be positive, reasonable, clear, and personal. Participants respond well to a process that is readily accessible, but they first need to hear why they’d want to participate. Using phrases like ‘a comfortable and enjoyable retirement’ and ‘an easy, cost-efficient, and satisfying path to retirement’ resonated well with employees. Each company has unique demographics, so plan sponsors should work closely with their advisor to determine the best language fit for their participants.
This list doesn’t need to be overwhelming – navigate each of these areas by working with your advisor to create a retirement plan strategy every year. Incorporate a formal process that includes regular plan cost benchmarking, a thoughtful examination of plan design, thorough documentation of committee policies and procedures, and honest conversations about how to better equip participants to retire well.
Did you know Department of Labor investigations consistently find failures in over 70% of retirement plan audits? These findings could be anything from failing to monitor the plan to defects in plan administration to misinterpreting plan provisions. Since spring is now officially upon us, consider a few suggestions for cleaning up your retirement plan.
Review your plan documents
First of all, it’s pretty helpful to know where they are – an auditor would certainly want to. Plan documents include the adoption agreement, amendments, summary plan description, investment policy statement, and so on. If you don’t have a fiduciary file or secure online vault in which to store these documents, start one today. Request any missing documents from the appropriate parties. Next, verify your plan documents are compliant with laws and regulations; amend them as required. Most importantly, though, ensure you are adhering to them!
Know your roles
To be compliant, the people running your day-to-day operations need to understand both the plan documents and their fiduciary duties. Define roles and clarify responsibilities. Don’t forget to document these assignments, as well as the processes to implement them – it may be beneficial to utilize a committee charter, fiduciary acceptance and acknowledgement letters, or a retirement plan internal controls policy. It’s important to be aware of all the fiduciaries serving your plan, because you have potential liability for their actions. And even if you have delegated certain fiduciary duties to others, you still retain fiduciary responsibility for prudently monitoring their performance.
Monitor the contribution process
The most common ERISA violation is making delinquent contributions and loan repayments. No matter who is responsible for remitting contributions, you must know your plan’s reasonable standard and understand the overall remittance process. Take care to monitor the responsible parties so you are attuned to issues as they arise; if they do, work with an advisor to determine how you should correct late payments, as well as report delinquent payments on your Form 5500.
Schedule your audit
If you haven’t done so already, schedule your plan’s required audit. Take care as you select your auditor: an auditor plays an important role in the health of your plan, so be sure to ask clarifying questions regarding their capabilities, workload, credentials, etc. Exhibit due diligence by documenting your selection process.
Clear the clutter
You also have a fiduciary responsibility to monitor the assets held in your plan and prudently act on your participants’ behalf. This includes terminated participants with account balances in the plan. And that’s not all. Those terminated participants are also required to receive benefit statements and plan disclosures. Depending on your service agreements, you may be paying a per-participant fee to maintain these terminated account balances. Discuss with your advisor if it would be beneficial to initiate a force-out campaign – following the terms of your plan document, of course!
You have three quarters left to achieve the goals initially set for 2018. Preparing participants for retirement might be high on the list (we sure hope so!), but have you put plans in place to make it happen? Pull out your calendar and prioritize time for your employees – schedule enrollment and engagement meetings to increase their financial wellness. Equip them with the tools they need to succeed. Determine the metrics you’ll use to track their progress, then decide next steps based on that data.
Being a plan fiduciary is not a duty to take lightly – there are many administrative and compliance-related tasks to perform. But we do believe you should take pride in being a good steward of your company’s retirement plan assets, because it means you are better equipping your employees for retirement. After all, the primary purpose of a retirement plan is to provide benefits for plan participants and beneficiaries. So roll up your sleeves and take time to polish your plan.