ERISA COMPLIANCE FOR YOUR 401k PLAN...
401k Investing Help
education and investment advice for plan participants
Providing 401k Plan Participants With Information About Retirement Investing Guidance Services Helps Your Company Meet Its ERISA 404c Compliance Responsibilities
ERISA Section 404c says companies that sponsor a 401k plan need to, among other things, provide their employees with adequate information about 401k investing, their plans' particular 401k investments, as well as related matters.
401k Easy Online includes substantial investment and investing information as well as links to external sources that your employees can choose to access as they see fit:
Please note that the auxilliary investment advice services are NOT inclusive to 401k Easy Online; they can, however, be paid for by the plan participants who choose to use them (see topic 3, below), and they offer benefit to your 401k plan just in being mentioned.
Investing Guidance Services Can Help Boost Your 401k Plan's Participation and Allocation Rates
Individual retirement investment guidance services help your plan participants decide how much to defer into your 401k plan and how to invest those deferrals. The services are geared toward people who are at least a few years or more away from retirement (versus the ready-to-retire or already retired).
Advice received from investing guidance services often boosts participation in 401k plans:
The information and services help individuals answer three important questions:
Investing Guidance Services Can Be Paid For By the Individual 401k Participants Using Them or By Your Company
Most personal retirement investing services allow for either the employer to pay for the service or for the individual employees using the service to pay.
Listing of Personalized Retirement Planning, 401k Investing Advice Services Available Online to 401k Participants
Below are the industry leaders in online retirement advice (listed in alphabetical order). Informing 401k participants and prospective participants about more than one service gives the participants the freedom to choose the service best-suited to individual needs.
Other services include Directadvice.com. The Wall Street Journal favors FinancialEngines services to Directadvice's for being simpler and easier to understand, and for more useful projections about investments actually meeting your retirement goals (Thursday, August 12, 1999) -- but your 401k plan participants might find it valuable to know Directadvice.com is out there, too!
GuidedChoice (www.guidedchoice.com) offers Internet-based financial analysis of 401(k) participant accounts in a format that is easy to use for even the most novice investor. GuidedChoice solutions offer participants unbiased, personalized, expert investment advice based upon mathematical formulas and algorithms.
Professional Help in Educating Plan Participants
Beyond the enrollment materials, video, and online resources included with 401(k) Easy, additional professional help in educating plan participants is available from various consultancies.
Education Consultants render unbiased, factual information and guidance in all aspects of 401(k)
participation. Plan participants appreciate the "self-serve" functions of 401(k) Easy, and will also
benefit from a customized enrollment meeting conducted on-site by a knowledgeable 401(k) Education
Specialist. The Education Specialist explains the mechanics of 401(k) participation and the advantages of
Group presentations usually run about one hour and include time for questions and answers. These presentations are performed throughout the day to accommodate varying employee schedules. 401(k) Education Specialists are retained by the plan sponsor on a per diem basis, and fees are negotiated directly between the two parties. One such 401(k) Education Specialist that offers expert education and unbiased guidance through on-site enrollments is www.presentmy401k.com.
Is investment education required under the law? There is a common misperception that investment education is required under Section 404(c) to transfer investment responsibility and liability to the employees. There is no such requirement. In fact, footnote 1 to the Department of Labor Interpretive Bulletin states:
401k Easy Online Helps You Meet Your 401k Plan's 404c Requirements on Several Fronts
With 401k Easy Online, meeting ERISA 404c requirements regarding investment diversity and availability of pertinent information is easy:
404c Protection for 401k Plans That Use Self-Directed Brokerage Accounts
Because self-directed brokerage accounts do not fall under the definition of "designated investments" for 401k plans, companies have no specific sets of information, such as investment prospectuses and performance information, that they must provide to plan participants regarding self-directed brokerage account investments. What does need to be provided is:
With the exception of disclosure regarding investment through self-directed brokerage accounts, the above must also be supplied for plans using "designated" investments, such as mutual funds.
For more information about designated and nondesignated investments and their 404c compliance ramifications, please read Panel Publishers 401(k) Advisor article, "Personal Brokerage Accounts: Is 404c Protection Available?" September, 1999.
About the Required Fidelity Bond ("ERISA Bond" or "Fiduciary Bond")
ERISA regulations require that all pension plans, including 401k plans, be insured by an ERISA bond that has a payout equal to 10% of plan assets or $500,000, whichever is less. The annual premiums for these special ERISA bonds (also called "fiduciary bonds") are very low, averaging approximately $200 per year or less.
ERISA bonds are not only inexpensive, but they are readily available and easy to purchase. Your business insurance agent is the best person to contact for ERISA bond coverage. Insurance companies that provide inexpensive ERISA bond coverage include:
Here are answers to a few frequently asked questions about ERISA bonds...
What's the difference between an ERISA bond, a fidelity bond, and a fiduciary bond?
How do fidelity bonds and ERISA or fiduciary bonds differ from errors & omissions insurance?
What's the difference between errors & omissions insurance and fiduciary liability insurance?
One reason to strongly consider 401k Easy Online for your company 401k plan is the tremendous array of investments your plan will be privy to. It's no secret that appealing investments inspire initial as well as ongoing 401k participation. They're arguably THE most important determinant to your 401k plan's health and success. (You'll already have nailed down convenience, accessibility, etc., with 401k Easy Online's user-friendly, 24-hour-a-day-accessible architecture.)
Of course, investments one employee finds appealing may not interest another; they may not even interest the first employee five, ten years from now.
So how do you select investments for your company 401k plan? 401k Easy Online gives you access to more than 600 mutual fund families representing more than 10,000 different mutual fund portfolios, plus access to self-directed brokerage accounts. Do you offer all the options? Not likely, unless your employees have a tremendous amount of time on their hands to read through 10,000-plus investment prospectuses. So how then do you sufficiently narrow the field without over-restricting it?
This page explains three fundamental principles to effectively choosing 401k plan investments -- not only in terms of the investments' appeal to your employees, but also in helping you meet relevant government regulations regarding diversity, etc., in the investments chosen for each 401k plan. The content has been written in terms of mutual funds but can easily be extrapolated to choosing self-directed brokerage accounts. And remember…
Principle 1: Diversification
The most common -- and detrimental -- mistake made in choosing plan (and personal) investments is to base a decision on an investment's performance history, particularly its recent performance history. Investment performance is cyclical: a mutual fund that's blazing hot today may be as cold as ice tomorrow, and vice versa. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. It should be considered as only one indicator of an investment's suitability.
A better approach is to let your objective be your primary guiding light. For choosing your company's 401k plan investments, your objective is to select a spectrum of investments that will prove appealing and satisfying to your employees' diverse investment needs. The spectrum, not fund-by-fund performance, is your quarry.
To achieve a suitable spectrum of investment options, select one, two or three mutual fund families, then choose a cross-section of funds from within each family. Mutual fund companies compete for investment dollars by trying to out-perform each other. Your employees can benefit from this competition with access to even a single reputable fund family; access to a second or third family grants added choice and flexibility. By listing a cross-section of investments within each family group, your employees will be able to find investments that suit their investing temperaments and needs, now and down the road.
At minimum, your plan needs to offer investments geared toward the following:
Principle 2: Choose Investments That Fit Your Goals and Temperament -- and Those of Your Plan's Potential Participants
Stock and bond net asset values (share prices) fluctuate. Some fluctuate more frequently and more diversely than others. While this doesn't bother certain investors -- ones, perhaps, with plenty of time before retirement, ones used to the ups and downs of investing, ones with other sources of emergency money -- many investors prefer to avoid extreme volatility. As mentioned above, "growth" funds tend to be more volatile than "income and growth" funds, which tend to be more volatile than "income" funds, which tend to be more volatile than money market funds.
Investment returns should also factor into your decision. Compare investment returns to those of direct competitors' -- not to those from a different class of funds. You can compare returns of competing investments using any of several online services, including Standard & Poor (www.ratings.standardpoor.com), Morningstar (www.morningstar.com), Personal Fund's Online Fee Calculator (www.personalfund.com ), Mutual Fund Investor's Center (www.www.mfea.com ), SmartMoney Mutual Funds Research (www.smartmoney.com).
Don't be fooled by "cumulative total returns" showing how
much an investment has grown or shrunk over several years. A large
cumulative return when translated into average annual returns may not be
large at all. For instance, a stock fund with a cumulative return of 101%
over 12 years equates to an average annual return of only 6% compounded;
such may or may not be competitive with competitors' funds or with the
Mutual funds, even no-load funds, are not free, nor, in general, are fees they charge closely regulated. The fees can vary widely from fund to fund (though competition, of course, does keep things in check to a degree). Each fund family sets its fees. The fees are spelled out within the investment prospectuses.
Mutual fund fees to look for include…
Most entities that provide and support 401k plan investments -- mutual fund managers, fund distributors, asset custodians, asset trustees, investment brokers and advisors, plan administrators and record-keepers -- earn at least a portion of their compensation from asset-based fees deducted from plan assets.
We at Pension Systems Corporation, however, are the exception to the norm: We do not earn any compensation -- directly or indirectly -- from our clients' 401k plan assets. In cases where rebates are offered on investments, we have the rebates returned to our clients or directly applied to reducing our clients' costs. Our published prices, available online for all to see, are the only net compensation we collect.
We do not accept any rebates or revenue sharing of fees deducted from our clients' plan assets unless those fees can be returned to the clients' plans or used by Pension Systems Corporation to offset plan expenses.
Asset-based fees are an unavoidable fact of life if your company uses mutual funds or self-directed brokerage accounts for its 401k. The cost of these asset-based fees should be factored in when determining the true, overall cost of your 401k -- and the cost savings of 401k Easy Online returning such fees to clients when possible should be factored into our products' affordability.
For more information on asset-based fees we recommend reading Study of 401(k) Plan Fees and Expenses by the US Department of Pension Welfare and Benefits.
Principle 3: Use a Long-Term Horizon When Selecting Your Investments Provider
401k investments are long-term investment vehicles. They're not designed (nor intended) for short-term results. Look towards fund companies that will stand up to the test of time.
The public image of the fund families you select for your company 401k plan will affect its popularity among your employees. As with other consumer products, mutual funds (and the companies that produce them) come in various shapes and sizes, with reputations and brand-name recognition to match.
Remember to consider…
We're Here To Help
The above are guidelines to help you select investments for your 401k plan that will encourage participation and effective retirement saving while ensuring that your company meets the federal mandates regarding 401k plan investment diversity.
We're here to help if you're still unsure of how to proceed with choosing investments for your 401k plan. Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (800) 595-4015 .