Sponsors of 403(b) plans unfazed by DOL ruleArticle added by Nick Thornton on December 20, 2016
Nick Thornton

Nick Thornton

Joined: March 15, 2016

Among the smallest 403(b) plans, only 55 percent of plan sponsor respondents said they were aware of the fiduciary rule.(Photo: Getty)

Nearly six of 10 nonprofit sponsors of 403(b) plans are not planning any changes to their retirement plans when the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule is implemented, according to a survey by the Plan Sponsor Council of America.

A static approach to the impending rule, which has an April 10, 2017 implementation date, was seen across 403(b) plans of all sizes, PSCA found.

Among plans with more than 1,000 participants, more than half are not planning any changes. For the smallest plans with less than 50 participants, more than 67 percent plan to maintain the status quo.

RELATED: Annuity sales to plunge under DOL Fiduciary Rule: Cirulli

Aaron Friedman, national practice leader of 403(b) and tax-exempt plans at the Principal Financial Group, says those figures and others in the study suggest the need for more retirement plan advisory expertise for nonprofits.

“I think the survey is a call to the advisor community to work with 403(b) sponsors and plan providers to review existing procedures to make sure sponsors understand the nuances of the new rule,” Friedman said.

Of the sponsors who see the rule as a call to action, about 18 percent are planning changes to investment lineups. And 17 percent plan to hire a fiduciary plan advisor.

Overall, only 74 percent of 403(b) sponsors required to comply with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act are aware of the fiduciary rule, which will require advisors to ERISA-governed defined contribution plans with less than $50 million in assets to serve as fiduciaries.

Among the smallest plans, recognition of the rule is notably low—only 55 percent of respondents said they were aware of the rule.

Friedman does not describe the nonprofit world as underserved by retirement plan advisors. Rather, he says the organizational nature of nonprofits better explains the lack of awareness of the rule.

“Nonprofits tend to be cultures that are focused on their given missions,” explained Friedman, who sits on PSCA’s nonprofit research committee.

“You could describe the cultures as conscientious and invested in their staffs’ welfare, but when it comes to human resource administration, they tend to be resource constrained relative to for-profit organizations,” he said.

That is precisely why the role of a retirement plan specialist advisor is so important for 403(b)s, thinks Friedman. “Nonprofit plan sponsors are looking for help, and they appreciate the help.”

There are some advisory firms with a focused 403(b) advisory practice, but on balance, Friedman says a lot of 401(k) specialist advisors have not committed to the nonprofit market.

“There are some nuances to advising on a 403(b) plan, but generally speaking, they are not substantial,” said Friedman. “That vast majority of the expertise for 401(k) plans translates to the 403(b) space. The learning curve for advisors looking to enter the 403(b) market is not steep--I think a 401(k) specialist would only need a few weeks of preparation to apply their expertise to nonprofits.”

As far as its role as a record-keeper is concerned, Friedman says Principal continues to invest substantial resources preparing for the rule’s implementation date.

“The regulation is extraordinarily complex,” he said. “There will be implications with regard to any client-facing roles, from call centers to education programs. We continue to finalize the details to the changes we’ll implement, but I can assure you we are paying a great deal of attention to all of the rule’s nuances.”

Originally published on BenefitsPro.com
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