5 Tips for Advisors to Benefit From a Post-Fee-Disclosure World

The DOL’s retirement plan fee disclosure rule requires sponsors to update their employee communications, says 401(k) Coach Charlie Epstein

The debut of DOL's fee disclosure rule is a good opportunity for advisors to strengthen relationships with plan sponsors. The debut of DOL's fee disclosure rule is a good opportunity for advisors to strengthen relationships with plan sponsors.

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Heads up, advisors: now’s a good time to strengthen your business relationship with retirement plan sponsors.

Why? Because on Aug. 30, the Department of Labor’s (DOL) disclosure fee requirements will go into effect and sponsors must notify millions of participants in writing about the specifics of their retirement plans. That means spelling out all sales loads charged against investments, expense ratios for annual operating expenses and other fees for services such as accounting and record-keeping.

For advisors who serve the plan sponsor market, the DOL’s Employee Benefits Security Administration participant fee disclosure rule, known as ERISA 404(a)(5), also spells opportunity.

According to Charlie Epstein, a chartered financial consultant and founder of the 401(k) Coach Program, the new rule is a good way for advisors to reach out to sponsor clients and remind them of best practices for helping employees achieve successful retirement outcomes.

"As a rule of thumb, over-communicating is better than the alternative,” said Epstein, author of Paychecks for Life, a book that offers nine principles for participants to turn their 401(k) plans into secure retirement income. “Employees will appreciate you, and better yet, many will be more willing than ever to meet with you to discuss their personal financial planning. In the end, you will get paid more for your actions, not less.”

Read on for Epstein’s top five tips for advisors in a post-fee disclosure world.

(For more about retirement planning, read Putnam: Asset Allocation Is Overrated in Retirement Plans at AdvisorOne.)

Get out in front of the noise, recommends 401(K) Coach Epstein1) Get Out in Front of the Noise.

According to 401(k) Coach Program founder Epstein, there is a lot of press swirling about that says employees are paying too much for their 401(k) plan or that the 401k plan is broken.

While you may think that’s nonsense (and so do I – 401k plan fees have been dropping 25% to 50% across the country), you need to get out to your 401(k) employers and make them all aware of the pending DOL 405(a) participant fee disclosure,” Epstein reminds retirement plan advisors.

“Let employers know what it means and what they may expect from their employees reactions,” he adds. “Let them know how their 401(k) record keeper plans to communicate these fees and in what format."

Put out a new RFP for your 401(k) plans2) Time for a New Request for Proposal.

If you haven't put your 401(k) plans out for an RFP bid in the last three years, you best do so now, Epstein says.

“401(k) plan fees and expenses have been dropping 25% to 50%,” he notes. “Depending on your plans’ size, you may be able to save the employer and employees 25% to 50%, if not more, in expenses. Make sure you do this and not your competition.”

Add low-cost index funds and ETFs3) Add Low-Cost Index Funds and ETFs.

If your current plans do not offer lower cost index funds in each asset category, add them immediately, Epstein advises advisors.

“In large fee disclosure litigation cases, the courts have ruled in favor of the plaintiffs (plan sponsor fiduciaries), especially when a 401(k) plan offered both active (higher cost) and passive (lower cost) fund options to all employees. Translation: It's tough to argue when a plan offers a wide range of investment choices,” writes Epstein in his top five tips for advisors.

Communicate with plan sponsors' employees4) Urge Plan Sponsors to Arrange a Meeting With Their Employees.

“Tell the plan sponsor employer it is critical that you meet with employees, both in groups and one-on-one, to make them aware of the fee disclosure and its impact on their retirement savings,” Epstein notes.

Now's the time to update service agreements5) Update Your Service Agreement and Fee Disclosure Statements.

Finally, Epstein says, as an advisor to a 401(k) plan, you need to communicate: the services you provide; the fees you will receive for providing those services, both hard and soft dollar fees; whether you will be a fiduciary to the plan; and whether  you have any conflicts of interest.

“Now is the time to update and/or create a service agreement,” Epstein recommends.

(For more about retirement planning, read Putnam: Asset Allocation Is Overrated in Retirement Plans at AdvisorOne.)

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