Fees in defined contribution (DC) plans can be complicated. Historically, fees have not been fully and simply disclosed, but the industry is changing towards greater and more understandable disclosure.

Simply put, there are two basic types of fees: administrative and investment-related. The investment-related fees are deducted from earnings on participant accounts and will vary from one investment to the next. These fees are paid to the firms that are making decisions about how the various funds are invested in the market. Participants will pay different investment-related fees, as the fees are based on where the participant chooses to invest their assets.

Administrative fees are also deducted from participant accounts. If the plan has not implemented a fee equalization (also known as fee levelization), administrative fees will also vary from one investment to the next. Administrative fees are designed to pay for administrative-related activities associated with recordkeeping participant accounts. Such activities can include marketing, statements, education, processing contributions, and withdrawals, issuing required tax forms and meetings with local representatives.

Fee equalization addresses the equity of the administrative fees being charged to participants. Unlike the duties associated with investment management, duties associated with administering participant accounts do not change depending on where a participant has directed his or her investments. Arguments can easily be made that administrative fees should be the same for all participants because they have the same recordkeeping requirements. In our experience, regardless of investment selection, account value, contribution level – the administrative duties are equal for all participants, so the administrative fees should also be equal.

We believe that every plan sponsor should consider a fee equalization structure in their plans, so participants share equally in the cost of administering this important benefit.


Should you reduce your plan’s fees to better serve participants? Many vocal experts speaking on behalf of investors and participants say “yes” – unequivocally. But what about the investors and participants themselves? What do they say?

Invesco Consulting teamed up with language experts Maslansky + partners to get the answer. The nine-month study included in-depth interviews with commission-based brokers and fee-based advisors, dial session focus groups with 90 investors, and a North American survey of 1,000 investors in the U.S. and Canada.

Throughout the study, there were very few complaints from investors about high fees. Certainly, there were concerns about fees being a drag on returns. But investors were far more worried about overcoming their mounting financial obstacles. They talked about how the industry has grown more complicated – the markets, investment options, retirement liabilities, investment regulations, and taxes. And they said they need help and are willing to pay for it because they don’t have the time or the inclination to do it themselves.

In the broader context, these investors wanted value – services, guidance and investments in exchange for fair and reasonable prices. Three distinct themes emerged from the research with investors and participants: be smart with our money, help us with more than investments and keep us on track. When you consider how to best serve today’s investors, these are the three primary benefits to focus on.




1. “Be smart with our money.” In the absence of value, costs matter most. In the abundance of value, costs matter least.

Investors are not asking for low fees; they’re asking for high value. They expect to pay a fair price for financial services because anything of value costs something. As for the low-cost option? Low costs usually mean high risk. That cheap car, half-off shirt or discount plumber often remind consumers that they get what they pay for.


Which of the following is most important to you?

That my investments are:


It matters what they pay

How do you tell investors that you are being smart with their money?

In the study, several different approaches were dial-tested. The transcript below shows the results of one dial session where investors listened to a message about being smart with their money. The investors were each equipped with remote control dials and reacted to the message by dialing up when they liked what they were hearing and dialing down when they did not. All participants started their dials at 50. When dials reached 70 and above, the messaging worked. When dials fell to 35 or below, the messaging failed. The numbers below, in red, indicate how investors reacted to the messaging.


Dial Test

50 When it comes to your finances, it’s only natural to want to get the best value possible for the money
you are paying. And my firm and I believe that what you pay matters. 61

It’s our duty to provide you with advice, investments and services at fair and reasonable prices, and we don’t take that responsibility lightly. Part of establishing a fair and reasonable price is making sure you get the most value possible out of the fee you pay. 68

That’s why now more than ever, the firm and I are working to offer you a greater level of service without increasing the costs you pay. We’re expanding the range of services under the umbrella of financial planning, like minimizing the taxes you pay on investments, planning for financial milestones and ensuring you’re on the right track to achieving the retirement you want. 81


2. “We need help with more than just investments.” It’s not about a product; it’s about a partnership.

Investors are asking for more help. The trend from commission-based brokers to fee-based advisors is not just due to the regulators. Investors want comprehensive and all-inclusive help that is coordinated by a long-term financial plan.


A good financial advisor does more than just execute trades.


3. “Make us feel confident we’re on the right track.” It’s not about a financial plan; it’s about financial planning.

Finally, investors are asking for help tracking their progress toward their goals. They don’t want the setit-and-forget-it approach. Instead, they want to know where they stand at any given time.


Which financial plan is best? Please select your top choice.

For more information on plan fees, please contact your plan advisor.

“Priceless. Evaluating your plan fees? Think more, not less” was contributed by Invesco. “Priceless” is based on Invesco’s
work with Maslansky + Partners. Invesco Distributors, Inc. is not affiliated with Maslansky + Partners.


Welcome to Hey Joel! This forum answers plan sponsor questions from all over the country by our in-house former practicing ERISA attorney.

Hey Joel,

Should I distribute the Fiduciary Investment Review to plan participants? – Generous in Georgia

Dear Generous,

I appreciate your desire to provide detailed information to your plan participants, but hold your horses. While there is nothing legally preventing the sharing of the Fiduciary Investment Review (FIR) with participants, we do not recommend it and, in fact, strongly discourage it. The FIR is designed for delivery to fiduciaries, not participants. This is not only because the fiduciaries are more sophisticated but because the report is better understood (I would even say, only understood) when presented/explained by an advisor that knows the data. The average participant may be alarmed by watchlisted funds and take inappropriate action (i.e., remove them from his/her portfolio when that’s not the recommendation.) Further, we fear that participants will move all their money into the funds scoring 9 or 10 as you can imagine, doing so would ignore the critical strategy of diversification. Instead of sharing the report itself, I always recommend an employee communication from the plan sponsor. Something like – “Hey employees, the company has met with our plan advisor to review the plan investments and all is doing great. We take the monitoring seriously, we do it regularly and will let you know when/if a change is needed… Until then, don’t forget to join, increase your deferral, diversify, etc, etc.” No need to alarm unnecessarily.

Always here to give advice,

Joel Shapiro


This month’s employee memo provides participants with information on rebalancing portfolios — what it is, its purpose and how to complete one. Download the memo from your Fiduciary Briefcase at Please see an excerpt below.

As a participant in the company’s retirement plan, you are committed to saving for your future. Whether you are retiring in a few weeks or a few decades, you may need to protect your investment. A healthy way to do this is to rebalance your portfolio.


What is rebalancing?

Rebalancing is readjusting your portfolio back to the original asset allocation that took into account your risk tolerance and time horizon. Put another way, rebalancing forces you to adhere to your investment strategy.

You rebalance by selling assets that make up too much of your portfolio and use the proceeds to buy back those that now make up too little of your portfolio. The net effect is to “sell high and buy low.” Ultimately, regular rebalancing can increase the overall return of your portfolio over time. An automatic rebalancing feature may be available through your current retirement plan provider. Visit your provider’s website for more information.


Keeping in check

Experts recommend you rebalance at least once a year and no more than four times a year. Consider this a good opportunity to evaluate if your investment strategy is still in line with your original goals.



Suppose you enrolled in the plan at the beginning of last year and allocated 40 percent of your portfolio to bond funds and 60 percent to equity funds. Further suppose that when you received your year-end statement, it shows that 70 percent of your assets are in equity funds and 30 percent are in bond funds.

To stay within your acceptable risk level (which is what you determined before entering into the plan), you should sell enough equity funds to bring that back to 60 percent of your assets and buy enough bond funds to bring them up to 40 percent of your assets.


Initial Investment Direction: 60% Equities, 40% Bonds
Investment Allocation After One Year: 70% Equities, 30% Bonds




The Future is Looking Cloudy for the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule

In March, the Fifth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals struck down the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) Fiduciary Rule in its entirety. This follows closely on a decision from the Tenth Circuit just a week prior upholding the Rule. The Fifth Circuit concluded the Rule is arbitrary and capricious; that it is not authorized by ERISA and that the DOL exceeded its regulatory authority in promulgating this rule.

The essence of the Fiduciary Rule is that any person making investment recommendations to plans, their participants or IRA holders, is acting as a fiduciary and may only make recommendations that are in the “best interests of the client.” The rule is complex (the regulation is 176 pages) and has generated much controversy within the financial services industry.

As the result of an executive order issued by President Trump early last year, the Secretary of Labor already placed parts of the Fiduciary Rule on hold until the middle of next year. In view of this delay, now combined with the Fifth Circuit’s decision, it seems the Fiduciary Rule’s future is uncertain. A key question is how vigorously the DOL will defend the Rule. The Trump Administration’s priority is withdrawing, rather than defending regulations. While there is no right of appeal in this case, the DOL could ask the Supreme Court to consider the matter on the basis there is now a split in the Court of Appeals. Under such circumstances, the Supreme Court will often grant a request to hear the case. Spokespersons for the DOL have refused to comment on how the Department intends to proceed.

The Securities & Exchange Commission has been a leader in regulating the financial services industry. It has, on more than one occasion, stated it believes the DOL was stepping on its turf in promulgating the Fiduciary Rule. If the Rule falls by the wayside, it is probable that either the Securities & Exchange Commission or the Financial Services Regulatory Authority (FINRA) will issue a similar fiduciary standard of their own.


Congress Simplifies the Safe Harbor for Hardship Distributions

A provision of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 simplifies the safe harbor for hardship distributions. Most plans follow the safe harbor rules for hardship distributions, although this is not required. Where a plan follows the safe harbor rules, the Internal Revenue Service will not challenge on audit whether a distribution qualifies as a hardship. It is somewhat unusual for Congress to amend a regulatory standard by statute.

To be eligible for a hardship distribution under the safe harbor, a participant must have a pressing financial need and be without the necessary resources to meet this need. The statute eliminates two of the requirements necessary to these facts:

  • Participants are no longer required to first take the maximum loan available to them under the
    plan before requesting a hardship distribution, and
  • After a participant takes a hardship distribution, the plan no longer must suspend the
    participant from making contributions for six months.

This change takes effect January 1, 2019.


New PBGC Program for Missing Participants

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) expanded its long standing missing participants program for traditional pension plans to now include terminating defined contribution plans. A plan termination is not complete until all assets are distributed. This can be challenging because frequently there are “missing participants.” In other words, individuals with small account balances that cannot be located. With the elimination of the Social Security Administration and IRS’ letter forwarding programs, no solutions existed at present.

Four alternatives were sanctioned by the DOL for dealing with accounts of missing participants:

  • For accounts in excess of $5,000, purchase an annuity;
  • Roll the account to an IRA established on the participant’s behalf;
  • Open an interest-bearing account in the participant’s name at a federally insured bank; or
  • Transfer such accounts to a state’s lost property fund.

The chief drawbacks to all these approaches are costs and the fact it is unlikely the funds will ultimately end up in the hands of participants.

Now plan sponsors have the option of transferring the accounts of lost participants to the PBGC. The program still requires plan sponsors to first make a diligent search for missing participants before transferring accounts to the PBGC. Because the PBGC’s program is publicized and has a searchable database, the program protects the rights of missing participants by making it more likely they will ultimately receive their benefits. In addition to its searchable database, the PBGC conducts periodic searches for missing participants.

Unfortunately, this program applies only to terminating plans and is not available to ongoing plans. While this program is voluntary, it is an all-or-nothing approach. If a plan sponsor elects to transfer accounts to the PBGC, then all accounts of missing participants must be transferred. The PBGC program has no ongoing fees, only a one-time setup fee of $35 per account. There is no fee for accounts of less than $250. This program is open to plans that are terminated after 2017.




Home Depot Lawsuit Challenges Robo Advisory Services Provided by Financial Engines

This suit represents an emerging trend in litigation involving retirement plans. It names multiple plan providers as defendants, rather than just focusing on the plan fiduciaries. In addition to the administrative committee of the Home Depot Future Builder 401(k) Plan and investment committee the named defendants include a number of plan providers, among them Financial Engines and a number of individuals in their company.

The complaint seeks $140 million in damages. Among other allegations, the complaint alleges excessive fees and failure to adequately monitor underperforming investments.

Financial Engines provides online asset allocation tools for individual participants in hundreds of retirement plans. Because these tools are offered online there is no personal interaction between Financial Engines and individual participants.

Plaintiffs contend that Financial Engines, rather than providing genuine personal investment advice, delivered “cookie-cutter portfolios based on minimal participant input.” According to the complaint, Home Depot allowed Financial Engines to charge plan participants advisory fees that were in some cases double the competitive rate. The types of robo advisory services Financial Engines offers are growing within the industry. There is some question as to whether the fees are sometimes excessive given the lack of personal service.

This lawsuit is in its early stages and it remains to be seen how successful the plaintiffs will be in proving their allegations. This suit has not yet been certified as a class action.


Please remember that past performance may not be indicative of future results.  Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that the future performance of any specific investment, investment strategy, or product (including the investments and/or investment strategies recommended or undertaken by Lutz Financial (“Lutz”), or any non-investment related content, made reference to directly or indirectly in this newsletter will be profitable, equal any corresponding indicated historical performance level(s), be suitable for your portfolio or individual situation, or prove successful.  Due to various factors, including changing market conditions and/or applicable laws, the content may no longer be reflective of current opinions or positions. Moreover, you should not assume that any discussion or information contained in this newsletter serves as the receipt of, or as a substitute for, personalized investment advice from Lutz.  To the extent that a reader has any questions regarding the applicability of any specific issue discussed above to his/her individual situation, he/she is encouraged to consult with the professional advisor of his/her choosing.  Lutz is neither a law firm nor a certified public accounting firm and no portion of the newsletter content should be construed as legal or accounting advice.  A copy of the Lutz’s current written disclosure Brochure discussing our advisory services and fees is available upon request. Please Note: If you are a Lutz client, please remember to contact Lutz, in writing, if there are any changes in your personal/financial situation or investment objectives for the purpose of reviewing/evaluating/revising our previous recommendations and/or services, or if you would like to impose, add, or to modify any reasonable restrictions to our investment advisory services. Lutz shall continue to rely on the accuracy of information that you have provided.

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May Retirement Plan Newsletter

This month’s newsletter contains insights on ways to increase employee retirement contributions, investment options, reasons to roll into your employer’s plan vs. an IRA, and more…

read more

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