Thursday, July 14, 2011

DOL Officially extends fee disclosure....again....

In a notice on its website, the U.S. Department of Labor announced the extension of the applicability date of the fiduciary-level fee disclosure regulation issued under ERISA section 408(b)(2) until April 1, 2012. The Department had previously proposed to extend the applicability date only until January 1, 2012.

The DOL also announced an amendment to the applicability date of the participant-level fee disclosure regulation. Initial participant-level disclosures must now be made no later than 60 days after the first day of the plan year beginning after November 1, 2011; or if later, 60 days after the effective date of the fiduciary-level fee disclosure regulation.

Previously, the Department had proposed a 120-day transition period to provide the initial participant disclosures. The final rule is available here.

and a fact sheet for it here.

This delay doesn't change our views on the matter. Ultimately consumers should know what they pay for all goods and services and Plan Sponsors who are engaged in a trust arrangement, which all Qualified Plans are, further have an obligation to determine the reasonableness of a contract or arrangement.

In the absense of knowing all compensation arrangements, how can one determine that an arrangement is reasonable? The delays, nonetheless, are frustrating, another small win for the lobbyists.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

MEP's - Mediocre Employer Protection.....Just Kidding

Actually, the purpose of this post is in response to those seeking some "opinions" on whether MEP's, Multiple Employer Plans, are a good idea or not. The pros/cons are out there, on the pro's side is potential economies of scale and, theoretically, increased fiduciary protection. It has been this author's contention that the MEP is not a silver bullet (as has been sold by various MEP sales people), but isn't a bad idea necessarily. There is a place for all creative designs in the marketplace.

We believe that with a contained, related group of employers and the proper service providers in place, that a MEP structure can work quite well. Think about that small group of franchise owners who are related, but don't have a good employee benefit while the main franchise has a very strong one. Assuming the vendors can work with the group to allow it to be feasible from a cost perspective, this group could benefit quite well from a MEP structure.

That said, although an Employer who adopts a MEP plan for their employees is giving up 'Named Fiduciary' status, meaning they will no longer be the named Plan Sponsor or the Named Administrator or Named Trustee, we believe they will still be a fiduciary under ERISA and will have some remaining obligations. Specificully, under the definition of a fiduciary, ERISA §3(21) has 3 parts. Two of those parts deal with the ability to or the actual excercising of discretion over plan assets. It is under this formal definition that an employer who adopts a MEP is still a fiduciary. Ultimately, at their discretion they are opting into and may opt out of the MEP and this is an excercise of control over plan assets. Therefore, they are still a fiduciary and still have quite a bit of residual responsibilities and risk.

Recently, a series of opinions and subsequent postings have appeared that provide the user with some cautionary advice on MEP programs. See these two links, one from ASPPA and one from The Law Offices of Ilene H. Ferenczy, LLC.

Interestingly, these are more from the administrative point of view, but also site DOL opinions and a recent discussion held between members of the DOL and IRS with members of the Govt. Action Committee (GAC) of ASPPA. The result is a stated opinion that many of the so-called MEP programs out there wouldn't qualify as MEPs at all because many of the employers are unrelated and therefore fail to meet the qualification. Under those scenarios, if discovered, those plans would be required to file their own 5500's, test separately, have their own fiduciaries, etc. This is VERY different than the way that these increasingly popular "open-end" MEPs are being sold in the marketplace. I think this is a good case of 'Buyer Beware'. The employers are buying a Panacea or Cure-All for their responsibilities, but in reality they aren't gaining much, if anything.

As always, we welcome any differing view points or clarifications. Please, nothing commercial or it will not be posted.