There’s no denying it. The chances that one (or more) of your retirement plan clients could be tapped for a Department of Labor audit are greater than ever.
That’s because the DOL is stepping up audits of plan sponsors. One focus is whether plan sponsors are fulfilling their fiduciary duties to ensure the fees they’re paying are reasonable for the services they receive. This includes a strong interest in advisor compensation and services — and whether the advisor is being paid a reasonable amount.
The best thing you can do now is to prepare yourself — and your clients — ahead of time. This will help you spend less time alleviating plan fiduciary concerns, and allow you to spend more time working with clients to meet their goals.
This preparation can pay off even for clients who don’t get audited. Thorough disclosure of your services and fees can help you deepen your relationships with existing clients. It can also be helpful as a prospecting tool for engaging new clients, who will clearly understand your fees and service offerings.
Leave a paper trail
Employers are obligated under the 408(b)(2) regulation to evaluate the reasonableness of service provider compensation. Make it easy for your clients to do this by clearly specifying the services you bring to their plans.
Good recordkeeping of everything you do can provide a helpful backup in responding to questions that may arise about the scope of your services. Keep records of your client service work, including:
- Investment policy adoption and updating.
- Oversight and monitoring of designated investment alternatives.
- Regulatory updates and developments.
- Fiduciary training.
- Investment or other fiduciary committee meeting support.
- Analysis and reports on plan fees and expenses.
- Actions taken to mitigate or reduce plan expenses.
- Watch list recommendations.
- Actions taken to replace or retain funds.
- Participant enrollment meetings.
- Investment education or retirement readiness sessions.
Help your plan sponsors prepare for questions
You’ll also want to prepare your clients for the kinds of questions they may get from the DOL during an audit. For instance, the DOL is likely to ask if the responsible plan fiduciary has taken the appropriate steps to:
- Identify the plan’s covered service providers.
- Obtain the disclosures required of those service providers under the 408(b)(2) regulation.
- Determine the reasonableness of that compensation in light of the quality of services provided.
Your preparation should span two levels. First, with your own compensation, make sure you’ve delivered a disclosure that satisfies the requirements of the 408(b)(2) regulation. Second, you may want to help your client understand their 408(b)(2) responsibilities involving other service providers.
Be ready to explain every aspect of your fees