Category Archives: Benchmarking

Is the DOL Fiduciary Rule the End of Solicitor Arrangements? – Part 2

In my last blog, I discussed why the solicitor structure has grown in popularity and why it will continue in the future but without the same benefits enjoyed in the past. In this blog post, I review how the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule will change the role and structure of the solicitor.

First and foremost, every solicitor will become a fiduciary on April 10, 2017. As a fiduciary, a financial adviser (FA) is subject to an ERISA fiduciary standard. This alone may be sufficient reason for some FAs to exit the industry, but what is more likely to happen is a flood of new fiduciaries will be marketing to retirement investors. Consider that there are approximately 700,000 retirement plans filing a 5500, but this number is dwarfed by the 40+ million homes that hold an IRA. In other words, there are approximately 60 times more IRAs than retirement plans, so it is safe to assume there are more FAs handling IRAs than retirement plans. In short, we will see a drastic increase in the number of fiduciary advisors in the market.

In addition, based on our own internal survey, IRA assets held by a Broker-Dealer (B-D) range between 40 and 80% of B-D total assets. However, many of these FAs know very little about ERISA fiduciary standard of conduct. This lack of knowledge increases B-D litigation risk as tens of thousands of misguided fiduciary missiles seek to secure new engagements or service existing clients. B-Ds will have to establish new training protocols in conjunction with compliance oversight to mitigate this risk. More on training to follow in our next blog.

Keep in mind that many of the FAs that handle IRA assets have historically avoided the retirement plan market place altogether; however, if they want to continue working and building their IRA practice they now have they have no choice but to become familiar with and adopt the ERISA fiduciary standards and obligations into their practice. As a result, we will likely see a drastic increase in FAs and Insurance Agents taking the Series 65, and I would not be surprised to see testing centers unable to accommodate FA’s date requests the longer the FA procrastinates. My advice, order the Series 65 study materials now and take the test ASAP.

After the Series 65 is passed, FAs will have to secure Fiduciary Errors & Omissions (E&O) coverage. Trust me, your competitors that live and breathe ERISA will be sure to tell your clients (their prospects) they should not deal with anyone that does not have Fiduciary E&O. Of course, this is an added cost of doing business that has not been necessary in the past for most FAs. Small B-Ds that have prohibited their registered reps from using the “f” word will find this cost difficult to swallow, whereas many of the larger B-Ds have turned this cost area into a profit center due to their bulk buying power. I suspect between this cost and the technology costs necessary to monitor the FAs business subject to the new DOL Fiduciary rule, many small B-Ds will give consideration to a merger or acquisition.

Once the FA has secured the Series 65, consideration should be given to the FA’s business model. Whether an FA decides to adopt a fee-based business model or continue exclusively in a commission-based, new agreements, contracts, policies, procedures, and website disclosures will need to be created. The cost for ERISA legal counsel to draft these documents after gathering an understanding of the business model will be a new cost for the FA, their B-D and/ RIA. Small independent RIAs will bear the full brunt of this cost whereas much larger organizations may be able to secure these documents as part of normal overhead. Either way, these new documents and disclosures represent more work and cost.

Regarding the business model, an FA currently in a solicitor arrangement will need to update their contract with the client to reflect their fiduciary status. This represents additional work and client education, but, more importantly, it changes the dynamic of the FA’s relationship with the RIA they referred. First, the FA will need to address their responsibility to monitor the RIA. Remember, recommending an RIA to a retirement investor is a fiduciary act. As a fiduciary act you must monitor the RIA to ensure they continue to meet the client’s needs and objectives. So, there is more work and risk to the FA for no additional pay. Second, since the FA is a fiduciary, the recommendation to use an RIA could be challenged as a prohibited transaction. You may recall, a fiduciary cannot use its position to increase its compensation. This is found under 29 C.F.R. 2550.408b-2(e)(1) which states:

“Thus, a fiduciary may not use the authority, control, or responsibility which makes such person a fiduciary to cause a plan to pay an additional fee to such fiduciary(or to a person in which such fiduciary has an interest which may affect the exercise of such fiduciary’s best judgment as a fiduciary) to provide a service. Nor may a fiduciary use such authority, control, or responsibility to cause a plan to enter into a transaction involving plan assets whereby such fiduciary (or a person in which such fiduciary has an interest which may affect the exercise of such fiduciary’s best judgment as a fiduciary) will receive consideration from a third party in connection with such transaction.[Emphasis added.]

I suspect this is more of a concern for the FA that provides no service other than a referral, than for the FA that was engaged to provide non-fiduciary services. However, every financial institution will need to consult with their legal counsel to determine the extent to which this issue presents a fiduciary risk.

As you can see there are numerous issues that both the Financial Institution and the FA will need to address. I am sure that some FAs will choose to leave the industry, but it seems hard to fathom a smaller number of marketing RIAs in the future. Those that choose to stay engaged will need to change their business model to align with the new DOL Fiduciary Rule. It will cost more, there will be more work, more risk, and no additional pay at this point. FAs that have never provided an investment review to monitor the investments will need to do so in the future to justify their compensation especially on complex products. Of course, there is plenty of opportunity but even the optimistic FA will need to temper their enthusiasm with a large dose of pragmatism.

As printed in the eMoney Blog.

Are These Fees Unreasonable? – Part 3 of 3 – Recordkeeping Fees

In the final post in our series entitled “Are These Fees Unreasonable?” we address Recordkeeping Fees. (For the two previous posts, see Are These Fees Unreasonable? – Part 1 of 3 – Inv. Advisory Services and Are These Fees Unreasonable? – Part 2 of 3 – Inv. Management Fees)

To recap, FRA PlanTools offers a Benchmarking Report through its web based PlanTools Risk Management System. The report benchmarks the fees paid by a retirement plan for the services rendered against other plans of similar size by plan assets or participant count using a proprietary, independent and objective database.

As a service to the industry for the purpose of starting or continuing the conversation about fees, we are publishing our internal data for the 95th percentile of fees entered into our system for (1) Investment Advisory Services, (2) Investment Management Fees, and (3) Recordkeeping Fees. What this means is that 95% of the retirement plans in our system pay at or less than the amounts found in the charts below. The data was pulled from our system on June 30, 2013.

I think this chart is especially relevant this week with the proposed settlement in the excessive fee case filed against International Paper. One of the allegations there was that the plan overpaid for recordkeeping by $58 million because it was paying $112 a head rather than $52. But how/why does this apply to a plan with less than $10 million in assets? Because the fiduciary duties are the same. Regardless of the size of the plan, the fiduciaries have an obligation to ensure that the fees paid from plan assets are reasonable. One of the most cost effective ways to do that is through benchmarking. Bottom line: if your plan or a plan that you service is paying anything close to the numbers below, it is time to grab the bull by the horns and figure out why.

Click here to download the infographic in PDF form: FRA PlanTools – Are These Fees Unreasonable – Part 3 – Recordkeeping Fees.

FRA PlanTools - Are These Fees Unreasonable - Part 3 - Recordkeeping Fees

 

Are These Fees Unreasonable? – Part 2 of 3 – Inv. Management Fees

This week in our continuing series entitled “Are These Fees Unreasonable?” we address Investment Management Fees. (For last week’s post, see Are These Fees Unreasonable? – Part 1 of 3 – Inv. Advisory Services)

To recap, FRA PlanTools offers a Benchmarking Report through its web based PlanTools Risk Management System. The report benchmarks the fees paid by a retirement plan for the services rendered against other plans of similar size by plan assets or participant count using a proprietary, independent and objective database.

As a service to the industry for the purpose of starting or continuing the conversation about fees, we are publishing our internal data for the 95th percentile of fees entered into our system for (1) Investment Advisory Services, (2) Investment Management Fees, and (3) Recordkeeping Fees. What this means is that 95% of the retirement plans in our system pay at or less than the amounts found in the charts below. The data was pulled from our system on June 30, 2013.

What is challenging about benchmarking Investment Management Fees, and admittedly makes a chart below by definition incomplete, is properly taking revenue sharing into consideration. Revenue sharing is addressed in different ways by different plans (i.e. no revenue sharing at all, reimbursement to participants, crediting to ERISA accounts, offsets, etc…) There is no single right answer when it comes to revenue sharing. At a minimum,  plan fiduciaries must understand the amount of revenue sharing, who is paying it, who is receiving it, and why they are receiving it. It is perfectly acceptable to have revenue sharing pay for necessary services, as long as the total compensation paid to any service provider is reasonable and the plan fiduciary actually negotiates its receipt.

What makes this an especially challenging task is that mutual fund complexes negotiate different revenue sharing amounts with different platforms. They may pay 35 bps to one, but only 25 bps to others. It is our position that it is consistent with prudent behavior by a fiduciary to engage in a process to compare the revenue sharing available from a plan’s fund lineup across different platforms. This is necessary to make sure that if a plan uses investment options with revenue sharing, it is maximizing the benefit to the plan participants.

To our knowledge, a module contained in our PlanTools Risk Management System is the only product in the industry that can perform this comparison automatically through a web based solution. To date, we have revenue sharing information from over 20 different platforms. By way of example, I used the solution to create the following chart that was included in a written fee reasonableness opinion I provided to an advisor for one of their plans based on the fund lineup:

RevSharingChart

As you can see, our data suggests that the plan may be able to increase the revenue sharing for the benefit of the plan with the same plan lineup by either changing platforms or negotiating for additional revenue sharing.

We will finish out the series next Thursday, October 3, when we publish 95th percentile charts for Recordkeeping Fees.

Click here to download the infographic in PDF form: FRA PlanTools – Are These Fees Unreasonable – Part 2 – Inv Mgmt Fees.

FRA PlanTools - Are These Fees Unreasonable - Part 2 - Inv Mgmt Fees

 

Are These Fees Unreasonable? – Part 1 of 3 – Inv. Advisory Services

What makes a fee reasonable or unreasonable? As we all know, there is no definitive guidance provided by ERISA and the Department of Labor. Instead, we are left to make the determination based upon the facts and circumstances at hand.

As many of you are aware, FRA PlanTools offers a Benchmarking Report through its web based PlanTools Risk Management System. The report benchmarks the fees paid by a retirement plan for the services rendered against other plans of similar size by plan assets or participant count using a proprietary, independent and objective database. (We also are about to roll out a new iPad APP called PLANbenchmark to be debuted at the CFDD Conference in San Antonio in October. More on that in a later post.)

As a service to the industry for the purpose of starting or continuing the conversation about fees, we are publishing our internal data for the 95th percentile of fees entered into our system for (1) Investment Advisory Services, (2) Investment Management Fees, and (3) Recordkeeping Fees. What this means is that 95% of the retirement plans in our system pay at or less than the amounts found in the charts below.

The data was pulled from our system on June 30, 2013. As a lead up to the CFDD Conference, we intend to publish Part 2 – Investment Manage Fees next Thursday, September 26, and Part 3 – Recordkeeping Fees on October 3. If we receive positive feedback, we intend to update these charts on a quarterly or semi-annual basis.

Click here to download the infographic in PDF form: FRA PlanTools – Are These Fees Unreasonable – Part 1 — Advisory Services.

FRA PlanTools - Are These Fees Unreasonable - Part 1 -- Advisory Services