A Model for 401(k) Advice, Pt. 1 – Must be Conflict-Free

Many 401(k) sponsors, providers and advisors eagerly await the DoL’s new advice proposal, which is due to be released within the next 30-45 days. In an effort to put in our two cents, we thought we would share our hopes for the proposal based on our experience in delivering advice, our understanding of other options in the marketplace, and the feedback we have received from employers and investors alike. Keep in mind most of our clients exist in the top end of the small market (250+ employees) to large sized employers (1,000+ employees).

Goal #1 – Advice Must be 100% Conflict-Free
We believe advice for 401(k) investors must be start with being conflict-free. If there are conflicts in providing participants advice, then 401(k) advice is doomed to fail. So, let’s look at how to ensure this holds true for participants and the employers that are required to do their due diligence on service providers, including advice providers.

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New 401(k) Advice Rules Set By End of February

The Department of Labor has declared their hopes for releasing the provisions for 401(k) advice by the end of February. Fair warning: The PPA was passed 4 1/2 years ago, and they still have not finalized said provisions. However, after the DoL was a bit embarrassed by the industry backlash by the legal, consumer protection and fiduciary experts, I actually feel optimistic they will get it right this time. In reading Phyllis Borzi’s comments below, we are hopeful the provisions will look something like this:

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Amway Demonstrates Employee Focus via 401(k) Advice and Financial Counseling

Late last year, Amway concluded a three year nationwide due diligence campaign for fiduciary 401(k) advice and hired BeManaged, powered by local firm Actium LLC, which provide professional ongoing account management and investment advice through Amway’s existing 401(k) plan, administered by Fidelity Investments. Over 1,000 Amway employees took advantage of BeManaged’s free 1on1 consultations provided over a 90 day period, which helped them understand what kind of investor they were, and then comparing that with how they were actually invested, and then allowed them to decide if they wanted to utilize BeManaged’s management or advice services.

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W MI Fiduciary Forum Ruffles Feathers of Local Brokers

Last October, we organized the West MI Fiduciary Forum, a follow up to the ’07 Fiduciary Roundtable, a highly successful fiduciary education event that over 70 professionals attended, including 401(k) and 403(b) plan sponsors, investment providers, TPA’s, brokers and advisors. While the name Fiduciary Roundtable has been changed to Fiduciary Forum (Fiduciary RoundTable has been trademarked), the purpose of the event did not.

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3 Simple Steps on How to Decrease the Risk of Participant Lawsuits

Step #1: Take Advantage of the Available Safe Harbors. Participants need help, and one of the safe harbors specifically helps participants and protects plan fiduciaries alike. The PPA created the role of PPA Fiduciary Adviser, which provides investment advice for a fee. Most providers have not responded because the regulations are simply too onerous. However,…

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Conflicting Interests – DoL 401(k) Participant Advice Rule May Not See Light of Day 1/29/09

“The controversy exists in that the person delivering the advice must adhere to specific fiduciary criteria, but their affiliated firm, whether that’s a broker-dealer, mutual fund company, insurance company, or bank, does not,” said Griffeth. The new rule “opens the door for conflicts of interest to exist on the part of brokerage firms and mutual fund firms at the sake of participants, whom I fear wouldn’t know what questions they should ask to ferret out conflicted advice.”

“…In essence, he said the broker- dealers, insurance companies, banks, and mutual fund companies could play “puppeteer” with the advisers that are meeting with participants to benefit their own pocketbooks, not the participants.” – Chad Griffeth, BeManaged | Actium

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