Monday, April 2, 2012

MEP's - EBSA Speaks and More Opinions Coming

Well folks, for those of you who know me, you've probably come to understand that I'm a cautious (re: Prudent) person by nature. I'm suspicious of new spins on old concepts and of slick sales pitches which are used to imply one thing, but deliver something less. In that context, I've written, at times sarcastically, about Multiple Employer Plans (MEPs). My underlying message has always been, Proceed with Caution. The idea is that if sounds too good to be true, it usually is and it doesn't hurt to question the idea at its source.

Recently, I personally attended the annual 401(k) Sales Summit put on by the American Society of Pension Profesionals & Actuaries (ASPPA). At the opening of Day 2 of the conference, I attended a session which was a one on one interview of Michael Davis of the Department of Labor by Brian Graff of ASPPA. There were several topics discussed, upcoming fee disclosure rules, the proposed expanded definition of a fiduciary, and yes, MEPs. Mr. Davis, was one of the better DOL speakers I've heard present and I felt he was very clear in that he felt that the current rules governing Qualified Retirement Plans (the ERISA) do not support the concept of an "Open MEP", meaning MEPs for employers that are unrelated and subjected to a collective bargaining agreement. He mentioned this three separate times, so it was very clear. This took place on March 19, 2012.

Interestingly, this news was met with shock/surprise (perhaps anger?) by many of the members of the audience, whom are other pension practitioners like myself. It SHOULDN'T have come to a surprise to anyone as these remarks are consistent with what has been coming out of EBSA for the last year or so, and even again just two weeks prior on March 7, 2012 at Phyllis Borzi's (Assistant Secretary of Labor) testimony to the Special Committee on Aging of the U.S. Senate. Press Release Here -->

In this testimony, Ms. Borzi specifically stated that the idea of "Open MEPs" is not an established concept under ERISA and went on to express concerns about aggressive marketing and promotion of Open MEPs stating that:

  1. Adopting Employers are fully releived of fiduciary obligations for administering and monitoring investments and of administrative reporting duties.

  2. That by pooling plans together can reduce administrative burdens and costs.

They have stated that two separate Opinions will be forthcoming dealing with the concept of the Open MEP. We are on record (see blog posts from July 2011 and again in August 2011) stating that we believe that any person/entity that may excercise discretion or control over plan assets (whether specifically named in the plan document or not) is a fiduciary as defined under ERISA Section 3(21) and that includes employers who adopt into an MEP. If the rules change, we may also change our opinion. Until then, the message remains, BE CAUTIOUS. Investigate these structures thoroughly including gaining a strong understanding of the relationship between those providing services to the plan (and charging fees) and those in a fiduciary position. We believe that many of the ones we've looked at appear to be in violation of the ERISA Prohibited Transaction rules.