4 Fiduciary Resolutions for 2024

 A brand new year awaits us – and with the New Year comes an opportunity to assess and reassess – for some when, resolutions for the cessation of bad behaviors and the beginning of better ones are in vogue. Here are some for plan fiduciaries for 2024 – that could benefit plan outcomes for years to come. 

See if your target-date options are over-weight(ed) 


Flows to target-date funds have continued to be strong – and little wonder, what with their positioning as the qualified default investment alternative (QDIA) of choice for most 401(k)s. That said, the vast majority of those assets are still under the purview of an incredibly small number of firms – nearly all of which (despite marketing brochures to the contrary) appear to share very similar views as to what an appropriate glidepath is supposed to look like – and nearly all of which have embraced the notion that a target-date is little more than a speed bump along the “through” target-date glidepath. 


A target-date fund is, of course, a plan investment. Like any plan investment, if it fails to pass muster, a plan fiduciary would certainly want to remedy that situation, including removing the fund if necessary (don’t take my word for it – that’s coming straight from the Labor Department). Particularly in view of recent market volatility, it’s worth (re)examining the asset allocations – and perhaps most significantly those that are applied to target dates that are near-term – and ask yourself – should an individual within five years of retirement have that much invested in those options?     


Look, the reasons cited behind TDF selection run a predictable gamut: price/fees, performance (past, of course, despite those disclaimers), platform (as in, it happens either to be their recordkeepers or compatible with their program) – and doubtless some are actually doing so based on an objective evaluation of the TDF’s suitability for their plan and employee demographics.  


Whatever your rationale, it’s likely that things have changed – with the TDF’s designs, the markets, your plan, your workforce, or all of the above – and it’s probably (past) time you took a fresh look. 


Pump up the default rate in your auto-enrollment plan


While a growing number of employers are auto-enrolling workers in their 401(k) plan, one is inclined to assume that, a decade and change after the passage of the Pension Protection Act, if a plan hasn’t done so by now, they likely have some very specific reasons. 


But for those who have already embraced automatic enrollment, those are plans that have (apparently) overcome the range of objections: concerns about paternalism, administrative issues, cost – some may even have heard that fixing problems with automatic enrollment can be – well, problematic (though things have gotten a little easier on that front). 


With more than a couple of decades of experience under our belts (a third of that under the auspices of the Pension Protection Act of 2006), we know a couple of things. First, 3% isn’t “enough” (ironically, that is probably what accounts for its popularity – it’s small enough that it wasn’t thought to spur massive opt-outs by automatically enrolled participants). We also know (or should) that the auto-enrollment safe harbor of the PPA calls for a minimum starting deferral of 3%, which is a floor, not a ceiling. And finally, that – at least according to any number of industry surveys – a default contribution rate twice as high as the prevalent 3% would likely not trigger a big surge in opt-out rates. However, there is a great deal of difference in the retirement outcomes between the two. 


On an encouraging note, more than half of the respondents to the 66th Annual Survey of Profit-Sharing and 401(k) Plans now have an initial default contribution rate in excess of 3% - and nearly as many (27.6%) have a rate of 6% as do (29.2%). 


Give reenrolling a second thought 


There is a natural human tendency to apply change from a point in time forward, to apply a new approach in plan enrollment, like automatic enrollment only prospectively, to workers who join the company after the point in time at which it is effective, rather than retroactively. And sure, workers who have had their chance to enroll voluntarily may well, in their refusal to do so, have spoken their intent not to participate at a previous point in time. 


However, that was then and this is now. If they don’t want to participate, it’s easy enough to opt-out. But maybe they didn’t fill out that form the last time because they forgot to, because the investment menu was too complicated or intimidating, or maybe the valid reason(s) they had then no longer applied. 


Regardless, don’t you owe them the same opportunity that you are giving your new hires? 


Develop a plan budget


Most financially-focused New Year’s Resolutions focus on spending (less) or saving (more)—and the really thoughtful ones do both—all tied around the development of a budget that aligns what we have to spend with what we actually spend.  


Most (many?) plans have a budget when it comes to the expenditures that require corporate funding. Less clear is how many establish some kind of budget when it comes to what participants have to spend. Now, granted, what they pay will vary based on any number of …variables—but an essential part of ensuring that the fees paid by the plan (for the services provided to the plan) is knowing how much—and for what.  


At some level, that means not only keeping an eye on things like expense ratios, the options with revenue-sharing and the availability of alternative share classes (or options like CITs)—but it also means having an awareness not only of the plan features but the usage rates of those plan features. 


Because when it comes to retirement plans, there often IS a direct link between spending less and saving more.

- Nevin E. Adams, JD


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