The ability of insurance companies and their agents to easily provide investment advice to investors in defined contribution programs will be at stake as House and Senate negotiators begin their efforts this week to reconcile different versions of legislation whose main goal is ensuring the solvency of defined benefit plans.
Insurers, agents and their trade groups will all be lobbying for inclusion of the provisions in the legislation, which the industry believes will jump-start its business and further diversify its products.
One noncontroversial provision calls for automatic enrollment of employees in 401(k) programs when they join a company.
Another provision would encourage employers to provide an annuitization option for a defined contribution plan by clarifying the safest available annuity.
Provisions in the House version of the bill provide for the favorable treatment of long term care riders on annuities, as well as a permanent extension of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act (EGTRRA) of 2001′s annual contribution limits for IRAs and qualified defined contribution plans that are due to sunset at the end of 2010.
A crucial provision for the industry deals with reducing current requirements based on conflict of interest concerns that limit the ability of insurers and their agents to provide investment advice to their 401(k) customers.
Both the House and Senate bills include language dealing with the rules agents and companies must follow in providing investment advice to plan participants and the fiduciary responsibility (and associated legal liability) companies now face from furnishing such advice.
The Senate bill mandates that agents and insurers go through more hoops than they would have to under the House bill to provide this advice to plan participants.
Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee and majority leader, supports language in the House bill that would allow investment advisors whose funds are available under a 401(k) plan to give investment advice provided certain disclosure and qualifications are met.
Under the House bill, fees paid to the advisor would have to be reasonable (comparable to arms-length transactions), and the plan participant would have to make the actual investment decisions.
Also under the bill, plan sponsors would have no duty to monitor advice and would not be liable for the consequences of the advice.