It’s here. On June 9, 2017, the long awaited Fiduciary Rule for 401(k) plans will arrive. The wirehouse and broker-dealer community within the investment industry has fought this new rule every step of the way. Why? Because their secrets are about to be exposed. Fee gouging in these 401(k) plans has spiraled out of control and it has gone on for way too long. While the Fiduciary Rule was designed to better protect plan participants within these employer sponsored retirement plans, the response from the broker-dealer community, in an effort to protect themselves, may actually drive the fees in 401(k) plans higher than they are now.
If your company sponsors an employer sponsored retirement plan and your investment advisor is a broker with one of the main stream wirehouse or broker dealers then they may be approaching you within the next few months regarding a “platform change” for your 401(k) plan. Best advice, start asking questions before you sign anything!! The brokerage community is going to try to gift wrap this change and present this as a value added service to their current 401(k) clients when the reality is this change is being forced onto the brokerage community and they are at great risk at losing their 401(k) clients to independent registered investment advisory firms that have served as co-fiduciaries to their plans along.
The Fiduciary Rule requires all investment advisors that handle 401(k) plans to act in the best interest of their clients. Up until now may brokers were not held to this standard. As long as they delivered the appropriate disclosure documents to the client, the regulations did not require them to act in their client’s best interest. Crazy right? Well that’s all about to change and the response of the brokerage community will shock you.
I will preface this article by stating that there have been a variety of responses by the broker-dealer community to this new regulation. While we cannot reasonably gather information on every broker-dealers response to the Fiduciary Rule, this article will provide information on how many of the brokerage firms are responding to the new legislation given our independent research.
Many of the brokerage dealers are restricting what 401(k) platforms their brokers can use. If the broker currently has 401(k) clients that maintain a plan with a 401(k) platform outside of their new “approved list”, they are forcing them to move the plan to a pre-approved platform or the broker will be required to resign as the advisor to the plan. Even though your current 401(k) platform may be better than the new proposed platform, the broker may attempt to move your plan so they can keep the plan assets. How is this remotely in your employee’s best interest? But it’s happening. We have been told that some of these 401(k) providers end up on the “pre-approve list” because they are willing to share fees with the broker dealer. If you don’t share fees, you don’t make the list. Really ugly stuff!!
Because these wirehouses and broker-dealers know that their brokers are not “experts” in 401(k) plans, many of the brokerage firms are requiring their 401(k) plans to add a third-party fiduciary service which usually results in higher plan fees. The question to ask is “if you were so concerned about our fiduciary liability why did you wait until now to present this third party fiduciary service?” They are doing this to protect themselves, not the client. Also, many of these third party fiduciary services could standardize the investment menu and take the control of the investment menu away from the broker. Which begs the question, what are you paying the broker for?
Some broker-dealers are responding to the Fiduciary Rule by forcing their brokers to move all their 401(k) plans to a “fee based platform” versus a commission based platform. The plan participants may have paid commissions on investments when they were purchased within their 401(k) account and now could be forced out of those investments and locked into a fee based fee structure after they already paid a commission on their balance. This situation will be common for 401(k) plans that are comprised primarily of self-directed brokerage accounts. Make sure you ask the advisor about the impact of the fee structure change and any deferred sales charges that may be imposed due to the platform change.
The plan fees are often times buried. The 401(k) industry has gotten very good at hiding fees. They talk in percentages and basis points but rarely talk in hard dollars. One percent does not sound like a lot but if you have a $2 million dollar 401(k) plan that equals $20,000 in fees coming out of the plans assets every year. Most of the fees are buried in the mutual fund expense ratios and you basically have to be an investment expert to figure out how much you are paying. This has continued to go on because very rarely do companies write a check for their 401(k) fees. Most plans debit plan assets for their plan fees but the fees are real.
With all of these changes taking place, now is the perfect time to take a good hard look at your company’s employer sponsored retirement plan. If your current investment advisor approaches you with a recommended “platform change” that is a red flag. Start asking a lot of questions and it may be a good time to put your plan out to bid to see if you can negotiate a better overall solution for you and your employees.
Hi, I’m Michael Ruger. I’m the managing partner of Greenbush Financial Group and the creator of the nationally recognized Money Smart Board blog . I created the blog because there are a lot of events in life that require important financial decisions. The goal is to help our readers avoid big financial missteps, discover financial solutions that they were not aware of, and to optimize their financial future.