Saturday, June 17, 2017

What Plan Sponsors Want to Know About Financial Wellness

Several years back the concept of “wellness” crept into benefits planning. More recently, HR’s affinity for that wellness concept has been expanded upon by the concept of financial wellness. But as appealing as the notion is, a number of key questions linger.

With regard to wellness generally, the notion was simple: Rather than just treating the symptoms of poor health with insurance-funded trips to the doctor (or the hospital) after the damage was done, we’d get ahead of things by emphasizing healthy habit steps (smoking cessation, weight loss, etc.) programs that would reduce doctor bills (and insurance premiums).

As regards financial wellness, the notion is that bad financial health contributes to (and/or causes) a bevy of woes: stress, which can lead to things like lower productivity, bad health and higher absenteeism, and even a greater inclination toward workplace theft, not to mention deferred retirements by workers who tend to be higher salaried and who have higher health care costs.

But if the rationale is straightforward enough, and the interest somewhere between intrigued and highly committed, plan sponsors still have some questions that merit addressing.

What do you mean by ‘financial wellness’?

“Financial wellness” is a term widely bandied about these days, and by many different firms (and advisors). Unfortunately, it is a concept that is being applied somewhat inconsistently. I’ve heard stories of folks who affix it to practices that are little more than glorified enrollment meetings, to the simple inclusion of an “outcomes” analysis to the retirement plan report, to a full-blown series of workplace seminars on topics ranging from budgeting to estate planning.

So, the first question that needs to be answered is “What do you mean by financial wellness?”

What difference will it make?

The answer to the first question will, of course, have a great deal of bearing on this one. Naturally, the more modest the scope and scale, the less impact, but a lot depends on what issues the program attempts to address, not to mention the demographics (and overall financial well-being) of the workforce to which it is being applied.

Still, even if a comprehensive impact assessment can’t be completed without the collaboration of the plan sponsor, it’s important to be able to at least quantify an estimate of the potential impact(s), whether it be increased participation, improved deferral rates, or even just higher satisfaction with the program(s).

How long will it take/last?

Common sense suggests that financial wellness is a process, not an event, and one that, run well, may well run for some time following its introduction. Nonetheless, plan sponsors will, if not at the outset, at some point during the program, have some interest in knowing just how long until they can expect to see results.

How much will it cost?

Obviously, there will be a relationship between the nature and scope of the program and its cost. Anecdotally, there seems to be a fair amount of skepticism among plan sponsors – particularly on the HR side – of the cost-effectiveness of these programs. It is therefore worthy remembering that there is an “I” in ROI, and that plan sponsors will be interested in knowing what it is (or might be).

Who pays for it?

Once again, while the answer may well depend on the program envisioned, to the extent this represents new expenditures, how it will be paid for may well impact the scope and/or timing. Plan sponsors may be able to consider covering it out of general funds, but, depending on the nature of the program components, it might also be appropriate to consider tapping into health plan budgets, communications, or even retirement plan assets.

How will you measure success (or lack thereof)?

The good news is that ROI is increasingly the lead selling point in presenting these programs, and the “return” will almost certainly include some quantification, some combination of measurable deliverables. Of course, some of the deliverables of a financial wellness program are less quantifiable, but even in those situations, worker surveys can provide insights.

The bottom line is that a shared understanding and appreciation of the desired outcomes will go a long way toward achieving not only financial wellness – but customer relation wellness as well.

- Nevin E. Adams, JD

Saturday, May 06, 2017

5 Things People Get Wrong About Fidelity Bonds

One of the most important – and, in my experience, least understood – aspects of plan administration is the requirement that those who handle plan funds and other property be covered by a fidelity bond.

While ERISA requires the bond to protect the plan from losses resulting from acts of fraud or dishonesty, fiduciaries often confuse that coverage with insurance that is designed to protect them from liability.

Here are five things you (or your client) may not know about ERISA fidelity bonding – and that, as a result, they may be getting wrong.

An ERISA fidelity bond is not the same thing as fiduciary liability insurance.

The fidelity bond required under ERISA specifically insures a plan against losses due to fraud or dishonesty (e.g., theft) by persons who handle plan funds or property. Fiduciary liability insurance, on the other hand, insures fiduciaries, and in some cases the plan, against losses caused by breaches of fiduciary responsibilities.

Although many plan fiduciaries may be covered by fiduciary liability insurance, it is not required and does not satisfy the fidelity bonding required by ERISA.

You can’t get an ERISA bond from just anybody.

Bonds must be obtained from a surety or reinsurer that is named on the Department of the Treasury’s Listing of Approved Sureties, Department Circular 570. Under certain conditions, bonds may also be obtained from underwriters at Lloyds of London. Neither the plan nor any interested party may have any control or significant financial interest, either directly or indirectly, in the surety or reinsurer, or in an agent or broker, through which the bond is obtained.

Not every fiduciary needs to be bonded.

Most fiduciaries have roles and responsibilities that involve handling plan funds or other property, and generally will need to be covered by a fidelity bond (unless they satisfy one of the exemptions in ERISA or the DOL’s regulations. However, technically an ERISA fidelity bond would not be required for a fiduciary who does not handle funds or other property of an employee benefit plan.

The plan can pay for the bond out of plan assets.

The purpose of ERISA’s bonding requirements is to protect the plan, and those bonds do not protect the person handling plan funds or other property or relieve them from their obligations to the plan, so the plan’s purchase of the bond is allowed.

You can purchase a fidelity bond for more than the legally required amount.

However, note that whether a plan should spend plan assets to purchase a bond in an amount greater than that required by ERISA is a fiduciary decision.

You can find out more about this topic here.

- Nevin E. Adams, JD

Saturday, April 29, 2017

5 Things You May Not Know About Roth 401(k)s

I made the switch to Roth for my retirement savings years ago – and I have long counseled younger workers, who were likely paying the lowest tax rates of their working lives, to do so as well.

Pre-tax treatment has, of course, been the norm in 401(k) plans since their introduction in the early 1980s. On the other hand, the Roth 401(k) wasn’t introduced until the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, and even in that legislation wasn’t slated to become effective until 2006 (and at that time was still slated to sunset in 2010).

Despite that late start, according to a variety of industry surveys (Plan Sponsor Council of America, Vanguard, PLANSPONSOR), roughly 60% of 401(k) plans now offer a Roth 401(k) option, and PSCA data shows that 28.6% of 403(b) plans already allow for Roth contributions. Participant take-up, which just a few years ago hovered in the single digits, is now in the 15-20% range.

Here are five other things you may not know about the Roth 401(k):

To allow designated Roth contributions, a plan also has to offer traditional pre-tax 401(k) contributions. A plan can only offer designated Roth contributions if it also offers traditional, pre-tax elective contributions. Oh, and they can be offered by either a 401(k), 403(b) or 457 plan.

You can auto-enroll designated Roth contributions. The plan must state how the automatic contributions will be allocated between the pre-tax elective contributions and designated Roth contributions.

You can “catch up” on a Roth basis. Individuals can make age-50 catch-up contributions as a designated Roth contribution to a designated Roth account.

You have to include Roth contributions in the 401(k) plan annual nondiscrimination testing. Designated Roth contributions are treated the same as traditional, pre-tax elective contributions when performing annual nondiscrimination testing. Moreover, just like other elective deferral, they must be included when calculating the top-heavy ratio each year. You cannot allocate forfeitures, matching or any other employer contributions to any designated Roth accounts.

You can take loans from designated Roth accounts. As long as the plan permits, you can identify from which account(s) in your 401(k), 403(b) or governmental 457(b) plan you wish to draw your loan, including from a designated Roth account.

Retirement plan education has long had as a basic tenet that individuals will be paying lower tax rates in their retirement future. Of course, tax rates – and future income levels – are hard to predict. Both can rise more than anticipated in the future – and a Roth option can provide some essential flexibility to diversify tax treatment, as well as investments.

- Nevin E. Adams, JD

For more information, see Retirement Plans FAQs on Designated Roth Accounts from the IRS.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Here We Go Again...

What were you doing in 1986?

It was a big year in my life. I got married, hit one of those birthdays with a zero in it, watched my-then hometown Chicago Bears dominate Super Bowl XX, and picked up and moved my new bride (and our menagerie) several hundred miles south to take on a new job heading up a recordkeeping operation.

Before the end of that year, that recordkeeping operation (and, thanks to a recent bank acquisition, the seven different platforms it was running on) would be struggling to understand, implement and communicate a wide array of sweeping changes associated with the Tax Reform Act of 1986. Even though it came during a period when tax code changes (ERTA, TEFRA, DEFRA, REA), were being thrown at us about every 18 months, on average, it’s still difficult to absorb the scope and breadth of the work it took to implement the changes that came with TRA 86.

For all the work that had to go into complying with the new regulatory regimen that came with TRA 86, its real impact would come in the years that followed, via the newly established 402(g) limit (back then we simply called it the $7,000 limit), not to mention the multiple iterations of the nondiscrimination testing that often produced problematic refunds for the highly compensated group. There’s little question that those changes (and others) did what they were designed to do – generate additional tax revenue in the here-and-now by limiting the deferral of taxes.

Yes, the talk is all about tax reform, but the motivation is generally tax cuts, and with a $20 trillion debt, Uncle Sam will need to find some way to offset the projected loss in revenue – and that’s where the tax incentives to establish, fund and contribute to a workplace retirement plan inevitably find themselves in the budgetary crosshairs.

While those paying attention to such things realize that most of those tax preferences are temporary – that is, taxes will be paid on those employer, pre-tax contributions and the earnings thereon when they are withdrawn – the government beancounters look at revenues and expenditures within a 10-year window, and since the payment of most retirement benefits occurs outside that window, the amount of taxes postponed looks, from a budgetary standpoint, to be taxes permanently foregone. And, on that basis, even though the retirement preferences are completely different from other tax deductions, from a budgetary scoring standpoint, it’s a big, juicy target.

We saw what that might mean as recently as 2014 when then-Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) put forth a proposal that would pay for tax reform (or at least some of it) by freezing the COLA limits that apply to defined contribution plans for a decade and limiting the annual ceilings on elective deferrals so that only half could be made on pre-tax basis (weirdly, this would have applied only to employers with more than 100 workers). The first part of the proposal was deemed to raise $63.4 billion in revenue over 10 years, the latter an additional $144 billion, by basically forcing workers who would otherwise have taken advantage of pre-tax savings to pay taxes on those contributions upfront. And let’s not forget that those burdens would have fallen particularly harshly on those who decide to offer these plans in the first place and to match employee contributions.

For those of us who remember 1986 – or perhaps the years in between that and EGTRRA – the references to TRA 86 as a model for Tax Reform 2017 are a bit chilling. Because when it comes to winners and losers in tax reform – and make no mistake, tax reform is all about winners and losers – more often than not, retirement comes out on the short end. And every time it does, it feels more than a little bit like having to bail out your brother-in-law with a loan from your 401(k) – again.

For months now we’ve been talking about tax reform, and the potential implications for retirement policy. It was a focus at this year’s NAPA 401(k) Summit, and it will be front-and-center at this year’s NAPA DC Fly-In Forum. The reason is obvious: If you’re going to lower tax rates and be revenue neutral, the money to offset those tax reductions has to come from somewhere. And traditionally, the tax preferences that foster the growth and expansion of retirement plans and retirement savings have been a “go to” source, perhaps never more so than a generation ago with TRA 86.

The road ahead could be rocky, particularly as it comes in the wake of the application of the Labor Department’s fiduciary regulation, whether delayed or not, and perhaps modified. It’s said that being forewarned is being forearmed, and we’ve certainly worked to do that over the last several months.
If you are not already, you’ll want to stay connected on these issues in the weeks ahead.

Get informed. Get involved. Before it’s too late.

- Nevin E. Adams, JD

Saturday, April 01, 2017

View "Points"

By any measure, the just-concluded NAPA 401(k) Summit was an incredible, record-breaking success – with so much good content and networking that it was hard to choose between sessions. For those who weren’t able to be there – or who were unable to be everywhere at once – here are some random thoughts, insights and perspectives from that event.

Health savings accounts could wind up being a big deal.

One man’s loophole is another man’s incredibly important tax preference.

The most important thing is not what happened, it’s what’s going to happen.

Online gambling didn’t kill Vegas – and robo-advisors won’t kill 401(k) advice.

In tax reform, everything is about trade-offs.

84% of Millennials surveyed want their investments to make the world better.

Retirement plans are about 1/50th of what a plan sponsor does.

Fees are still a major factor in landing a new client.

Most people want to do the right thing, but they don’t know how to do it.

When the market goes down, lawsuits go up.

Claiming Social Security before age 66 permanently reduces a client’s retirement benefit. Almost
75% of Americans claim Social Security before their Full Retirement Age.

After 66, Social Security retirement benefits grow by 8% per year.

All PEPs are MEPs but not all MEPs are PEPs.

People want to be financially secure. They know what to do to become financially secure. Yet, they are not financially secure.

What do you have “in your head” that’s not on your website?

In 1835 the normal retirement age was… death.

The DOL’s been very clear that “QDIA protection evaporates” under certain circumstances.

President Trump is like a tech stock – he could fly high, or he could be a train wreck.

For a plan committee, especially when it comes to investment changes, doing nothing is often best.

For prospects, at the end of the day, client references are the ultimate value message.

Repeatability is an important key to building a practice.

Plan sponsor: “Don’t assume what’s obvious to you is obvious to me.”

So, how are you going to top this?

We heard the latter a number of times during the course of the 2017 NAPA 401(k) Summit – which admittedly set a whole new standard for what has become the nation’s retirement plan advisor convention. But we also heard that after the 2016 NAPA 401(k) Summit, and I think we managed to do so. Thanks again to our sponsors, our presenters and facilitators, and most particularly those who supported the event with your attendance and participation – who were all part of a remarkable experience!

If you were there, tell a friend. And whether you were there or not, make plans now to attend the 2018 NAPA 401(k) Summit – and see how we’ll top this year’s!

Sign up for updates at http://napasummit.org/.

- Nevin E. Adams, JD

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Preparing for the Storm

If you live (or were travelling to) the upper east coast of the U.S. this week, odds are you spent some time making preparations for what looked to be (and by the time you read this likely is) a big winter storm.

We don’t always get that much time to prepare, of course – and sometimes when we do, those big storms don’t turn out to be very big after all. But you can generally count on lots of frenzied weather forecasters predicting snow-mageddon (even if they do offer some caveats), and at least one shot of the inside of a local grocery showing empty bread and milk aisles. Because, after all, who could go 48 hours without bread and milk?

Life is full of surprises – and though most of those are unaccompanied by a friendly meteorologist to help us anticipate them, one might well wonder why we let them “sneak” up on us without making better preparations.

Perhaps the most obvious is the topic of retirement preparation. Any day now the queen mother of retirement confidence assessments – the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS) – will likely, as it has for more than a quarter-century now, tell us that Americans are, writ large, uncomfortable, uncertain, and unprepared for retirement. Nor is this some external assessment based on an objective evaluation of retirement preparations and needs. Rather, this survey, as are most of the industry survey progeny it has since inspired, is a self-reflection by survey respondents. Respondents including some who do not save, and others who do not save “enough,” and many, probably most, who haven’t even tried to guess at how much “enough” might be. Most will likely be concerned about their prospects for a financially secure retirement – but apparently not concerned enough to do very much about it.

Indeed, if history is a fair guide, I think it’s fair to say that the media coverage will likely rival that of an impending environmental apocalypse. Despite the researchers best efforts to provide some perspective on the findings, you can almost certainly count on an obsession as to how many haven’t yet accumulated $1,000 in savings – albeit without regard to their age, their income, or whether they have the encouragement and incentives of a retirement plan at work. If the report finds a drop in confidence, it will almost certainly be cited as a lack of confidence in a system that isn’t working. If, on the other hand, the report finds a surge in confidence – well, then you can expect reports that talk about how unfounded the confidence is.

As complicated as weather forecasting can be, it pales in comparison to trying to figure out what the financial “weather” for the next 30 years is going to be. Little wonder that those already in retirement tend to be more confident than those with decades of preparation still ahead. Still, what all too often gets lost in our criticisms of the current system is just how well it works.

Perhaps only three-of-four eligible to participate in such programs choose to do so, but on an employer-by-employer basis, participation rates north of 90% are not impossible to find – and that’s before the adoption of mechanisms like automatic enrollment, where those kinds of rates are common. Target-date funds have, in incredibly short order, gained the favor of plan sponsors and participants alike – with as yet incalculable benefits for those retirement investments. Those, and a whole new generation of retirement income alternatives are coming to market – alternatives that, unlike the prior generation, will benefit from the scrutiny of plan fiduciaries trying to make sure that a lifetime of accumulation isn’t decimated in a single moment. These innovations have come to light, and to market, because of the employer-sponsored system. By comparison, what kinds of innovations have been brought to those disciplined enough to set aside money in a retail IRA?

In the real world, a lucky few know how to save and invest properly; somewhat more have access to the counsel and advice of a trusted adviser. But for most of us, the workplace retirement program is our first and only “investment” account. It is the one place where even those with relatively small balances can have access to professional advice, alongside the opportunity to gain the purchasing power of a group.

None of which would be possible without the involvement of their employer, the funding of that company match, and the tax incentives that underpin a structure that gets workers of modest means to do what never seems to come naturally to human beings – to prepare for the storm before it’s upon us.

For those of you in the path of this storm, stay safe – and I look forward to seeing hundreds of you in Las Vegas at the 16th Annual NAPA 401(k) Summit!

this post originally appeared here.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Is the Prudent Man Standard Good Enough?

It’s often said that ERISA’s prudent man rule is the highest duty known to law. But is that enough?

Don’t get me wrong – any law that holds human beings to the standards of an expert in any field is a pretty high standard, and one that can be difficult to meet even with the ablest of expert assistance.

I started thinking about this recently when a friend was asking my advice on what he should do regarding the options in his new 401(k) plan. I did what I often do, outlining the pros and cons of various alternatives, helping him to make what I considered to be a well informed – or at least better informed – decision.

I had stepped through all the options and considerations with his plan, a pretty standard combination of automatic enrollment provisions. But then, after asking questions throughout, when I was finished, he didn’t ask what I thought he should do. Instead, he asked what I had done with my own retirement savings.

The process of stepping through my decisions with my friend wasn’t without its limitations. It wasn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, for one thing; my plan didn’t have the same options available to him, nor were our specific financial and familial situations identical.  But it got me to thinking...

Plan fiduciaries have long been reluctant to superimpose their judgments on the participants whose benefit they are charged with overseeing, and with good cause. The financial decisions attendant to participating in a plan (including the decision to participate in the first place) are fraught with the potential for significant disruption, particularly in view of the panoply of personal circumstances that ought to be considered. And while there are doubtless situations in life for which we must do so – the imposition of our best judgments for loved ones not old enough, or no longer able, to do so – most of us have our hands full just keeping up with our own slate of critical determinations.

While we have made significant strides in implementing “automatic” plan designs that help participants get off to a better start than they might have if left to their own devices, it still seems that most fiduciaries gravitate toward the “first, do no harm” standard generally associated with the medical profession’s Hippocratic Oath.

A higher standard might arguably be the so-called “Golden Rule,” which sets as its marker that you do to others how you would like them to do to you. How might that apply to retirement plan designs?
  • If you, as a participant, wouldn’t think of setting aside only 3% of pay, even as a starting point, why would you let others do so?
  • If you, as a participant, wouldn’t think of contributing to a level that doesn’t give you the full benefit of that company match, why would you let others do so?
  • If you, as a participant, would (and do) willingly accelerate your rate of contribution annually, why do you let others pass up that opportunity?
  • If you take advantage of a qualified default investment alternative to help ensure that your investments are diversified and rebalanced on an ongoing basis, and particularly if you use that as a default option for new hires, why wouldn’t you do the same for current hires?
  • If you think overinvestment in company stock is dangerous, why do you let participants do it?
  • If you think participants need help making retirement planning decisions, why don’t you accommodate it?
I realize the answers to some, and perhaps all, of these questions are complicated. “My boss wants us to” is surely the answer in some cases, while “Because I am worried I/we will get sued” comes up frequently. The answer I hear most from plan sponsors is, “I don’t know enough about their individual situations to make the right decision,” though one might also reasonably reply, “Because I’m not required, even as an ERISA fiduciary, to do so.”

But as I said, my conversation about a friend’s new 401(k) got me to thinking about the prudent man standard, and how it’s generally applied to plan design standards.

After all, can it really be in the best interests of plan participants, if it isn’t good enough for you?

- Nevin E. Adams, JD

End Note
The original prudent man rule dates back to the common law, specifically the 1830 Massachusetts case of Harvard College v. Amory. From that case came the notion that trustees were directed “to observe how men of prudence, discretion and intelligence manage their own affairs, not in regard to speculation, but in regard to the permanent disposition of their funds, considering the probable income, as well as the probable safety of the capital to be invested.” In the absence of specific directions in the trust agreement, the trustee was to invest as he would invest his own property, taking into account the needs of beneficiaries, the need to preserve the estate (or corpus of the trust), and the amount and regularity of income.
ERISA’s prudent man rule goes further, requiring that a fiduciary must perform its duties “with the care, skill, prudence and diligence under the circumstances then prevailing, that a prudent man acting in like capacity and familiar with such matters would use…”