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Fiduciary

Revenue sharing is on the decline, as it should be.

The use of revenue sharing in retirement plans is on the decline, and this is a good thing. Plan sponsor surveys by both Callan and the Plan Sponsor Council of America highlight the decline in use of revenue sharing from over 21% of plans to about 15% in 2019. However, revenue sharing still runs rampant in smaller 401(k)s, and among 403(b) plans. Revenue sharing is an additional cost, tacked onto the expense ratio of a mutual fund or insurance product to pay for (typically) either the advisor’s services (aka 12(b)(1)s) and/or recordkeeping services (sub TAs). It ranges between 5 and 75 basis points and basically represents indirect and sub-surface payments from one service provider to another. The model is fraught with problems. For example: Uneven revenue sharing among different funds in a given plan means that some participants are paying more (in the form of a higher expense ratio) than others for the same service. Poorly disclosed revenue sharing leaves participants and many plan sponsors in the dark about what they’re paying. Indeed as many as 30% of plan sponsors admitted to not knowing if revenue share agreements were in force. Given all the recent fee litigation, sponsors should want to know, and advisors should

Recordkeeper consolidation may be coming, but don’t squeeze the participant!

The idea that a recordkeeper should “monetize” participants is appalling. George and Abigail Revoir of AMRev Consulting, writing in the November 4th 2020 edition of RPA Convergence opine on recordkeeper consolidation and the ever widening gap between mega and midsize providers. No question there is revenue pressure in our business, but one comment in their otherwise satisfactory analysis of this trend stopped us in our tracks. The end game, says the Revoirs, is to “monetize the participants.” Monetize the participants? How appalling! What plan sponsor wants to hear that in a “finals” presentation! “Mr. Plan Sponsor, we offer X, Y and Z services, but what we’re really after is access to your employees to upsell them non-plan related products and services.” Which CFO is OK providing 100% of employees’ personally identifiable information to an organization that will use it to “monetize” her employees? Be assured, it is quite possible to profitably serve plan sponsors and their participants with accurate, responsive and innovate recordkeeping without having to view participants as piggy banks. NWPS has been doing it for 26 years and we are certainly not the only ones. And let’s not forget the current discussion over who really owns the participant data

Avoiding ERISA Lawsuits Isn’t Hard

Proposed class action lawsuits by retirement plan participants against their own employers are on track for a fivefold increase between last year and this year, according to a Bloomberg Law analysis. Sixty-five class action suits have been filed so far in 2020 and many of these suits are for excessive fees and/or the use of overpriced share classes. Several employers have been sued multiple times (e.g. Quest Diagnostics, Cerner Corp, Omnicom Group). Startlingly, some of the employers are large money management and plan recordkeeping firms (e.g. INVESCO, Goldman Sachs, BlackRock, Mutual of Omaha, Fidelity – multiple times). Talk about a fox guarding the hen house!Moreover, these lawsuits are being brought against smaller plans (e.g. Greystar Management Services - $188M plan) and to other participant driven plans like 403(b)s (e.g. Mercy Health, University of Miami). After all, ERISA and the duty to pay only reasonable fees applies equally to qualified plans of all sizes and flavors. Sure, many of these lawsuits can be explained by the fact that the case law is maturing (providing a blue print for action) and that participants are more knowledgeable and attuned to fees now that the expense curtain has been pulled back somewhat. Today, there

The Value of Participant Data

In the tech world, there is an old saying: “if the product is free, you’re not the customer; you’re the product.”  Turns out this was first presented as a concept regarding the relationship between TV networks and viewers way back in 1973.  It’s as true now as it was then! What does this have to do with retirement plans you might ask.  Well, in several recent ERISA lawsuits the use of participant data by a plan’s provider to cross-sell other products and services has been raised as an ERISA violation both by the plan sponsor and by the providers.  To wit: “Even worse,” the lawsuit states, “Shell defendants allowed the Fidelity defendants to use plan participants’ highly confidential data, including Social Security numbers, financial assets, investment choices and years of investment history to aggressively market lucrative non-plan retail financial products and services, which enriched Fidelity defendants at the expense of participants’ retirement security.” We thought it would be interesting to consider the enterprise value of participant data by making some comparisons with the tech and social media giants.  In 2015 a tech blog published these numbers (market capitalization/monthly average user count).  We calculated the 2020 numbers (with some difficulty!). Value of a User 2015 2020 Facebook $158 $246 Google $182 $500 Alibaba $621 $850 Amazon $733 $3,500 What the table

Trick or Treat – How does that fund wind up on the platform?

The next time you’re speaking with a 401(k) service provider, ask them how that fund (any of the funds) happened to make it onto their platform.  Is it because that fund has superior investment performance?  Is it because the platform provider or insurance company’s well-heeled cadre of analysts deemed that fund to be investment worthy?  While we’re sure (well