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Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #71: Recordkeepers and Financial Wellness Programs

This is 71st article about interesting observations concerning the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule and exemptions. These articles also cover the DOL’s FAQs interpreting the regulation and exemptions and related developments in the securities laws.

In my last post, Angles #70, I highlighted the three types of work that we are doing for recordkeepers as a result of the DOL’s fiduciary regulation and exemptions. This post goes into more detail about the development of financial wellness programs and the acceptance by recordkeepers of fiduciary responsibility for some of the services.

As background, the goal of financial wellness programs is to provide help to participants in achieving their short-, intermediate-, and long-term financial objectives. Recordkeepers are uniquely suited to provide those services, because of the information they already possess and because of their call centers. The services most often provided cover advice about:

  • Contributions and benefit adequacy.

  • Repayment of indebtedness.

  • Budgeting and management of expenses.

  • Savings for unexpected expenses.

  • Investing their 401(k) accounts.

  • Roll-ins to the 401(k) plan.

  • Rollovers from the 401(k) plan.

Some of that advice is fiduciary and some is not. Let’s take a closer look at that.

Clearly, recommendations about repayment of indebtedness, budgeting and management of expenses, and the accumulation of savings for unexpected expenses is not fiduciary advice. However, the recommendations must be reasonable in light of the circumstances (under the laws of most states). In addition, advice about the level of deferrals to 401(k) plans is not fiduciary advice, so long as it is based on an objective standard. For example, financial wellness programs may recommend that, as a first step, participants defer at least enough to benefit from the full match offered by the employer. In addition, those programs typically recommend at some point in the process that participants defer enough to achieve benefit adequacy at retirement (for example, a 70% income replacement ratio).

On the other hand, investment advice for participants’ accounts and recommendations of roll-ins and rollovers, is fiduciary advice. Those types of recommendations will cause the recordkeeper to become a fiduciary for those purposes. As a result, recordkeepers will need to have prudent processes in place to develop and deliver the recommendations. In addition, where the recordkeeper, or an affiliate, would make more money if a participant agrees to the recommendation, the recordkeeper will need to comply with a prohibited transaction exemption. Usually, that will the Best Interest Contract Exemption, or BICE.

For example, if a recordkeeper recommends that a participant rolls in his or her money from another plan or an IRA, the recordkeeper will need to do a prudent analysis of the relevant facts and then make a prudent and loyal recommendation to the participant. While the DOL has not provided detailed guidance about roll-ins, a reasonable approach would be for the recordkeeper to gather information about the investments, services and expenses in the IRA or old plan; the same type of information about investments, services and expenses in the recordkeeper’s plan; and information about the needs, circumstances and preferences of the participant. (As a general rule, in order to provide prudent advice, a fiduciary must gather the information that a knowledgeable person would consider relevant to making the decision. However, we are left to speculate about the specific information that would be required for a roll-in recommendation.)

In any event, recordkeepers must gather the relevant information and make prudent and loyal recommendations where they provide fiduciary advice under a wellness program. In addition, where a recordkeeper would receive additional compensation if the recommendation is accepted by the participant, the recordkeeper would need to satisfy the conditions of BICE which, in addition to the best interest standard of care, would include a prohibition on compensation in excess of a reasonable amount and would prohibit any materially misleading statements. The recordkeeper should also have written policies and procedures, together with supervision, for the development and delivery of the fiduciary recommendations.

If those conditions are satisfied, recordkeepers could provide so-called “conflicted” advice. (In this context, “conflicted” means that advice that will cause the recordkeeper or an affiliate to receive additional compensation.)

Where the financial wellness program also includes discretionary investment management of participant accounts, the issues are more complex. That is because BICE does not provide an exemption for discretionary investment management. In that case, the recordkeeper will need to either utilize an independent third party investment manager for the discretionary services or will need to use another exception (for example, the Frost Advisory Opinion or Prohibited Transaction Exemption 77-4).

Having worked on programs that offer these services to participants—and, therefore, having given it some thought, I believe that these programs will provide valuable services to employees. The financial world is increasingly complex and young employees are often burdened by substantial student loans. As a result, there is a need for help with financial decisions.

The views expressed in this article are the views of Fred Reish, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Drinker Biddle & Reath.

Part 1- Interesting Angles on DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #1

Part 2 - Best Interest Standard of Care: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #2 

Part 3 - Hidden Preamble Observations: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #3

Part 4 - TV Stock Tips and Fiduciary Advice: Interesting Angles #4

Part 5 - Level Fee Fiduciary Exemption: Interesting Angles on DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #5

Part 6 - Fiduciary Regulation And The Exemptions: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #6

Part 7 - Fiduciary Regulations And The Exemptions : Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #7

Part 8 - Designated Investment Alternatives: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #8

Part 9 - Best Interest Standard and the Prudent Man Rule: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #9

Part 10 - FINRA Regulatory Notice: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #10

Part 11-ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #11

Part 12- Potential Prohibited Transactions: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #12

Part 13-Investment Policies: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #13

Part 14- Investment Suggestions: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #14

Part 15- Best Interest Contract Exemption: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #15

Part 16 - Adviser Recommendations: Interesting Angles on DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #16

Part 17 - Level Fee Fiduciary: Interesting Angles on DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #17

Part 18- Best Interest Contract Exemption and IRA Advisor Compensation: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #18

Part 19- Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #19: Advisors' Use of "Hire Me" Practices.

Part 20- Three Parts of "Best Interest Standard of Care": Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #20

Part 21- Retirement Plan Documentation and Prudent Recommendation: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #21

Part 22-Banks and Prohibited Transactions: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #22

Part 23-Prohibited Transactions: IRA and RIA Qualified Money: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #23

Part 24 - Differential Compensation Based on Neutral Factors

Part 25-Reasonable Compensation Versus Neutral Factors: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #25

Part 26- Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #26- Reasonable Compensation for IRAs: When and How Long?

Part 27 - Definition of Compensation

Part 28 - What About Rollovers that Aren’t Recommended?: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #28

Part 29- Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #29- Capturing Rollovers: What Information is Needed?

Part 30- Three Kinds of Level Fee Fiduciaries . . . and What’s A “Level Fee?”: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #30

Part 31 - Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #31: “Un-levelizing” Level Fee Fiduciaries

Part 32 - What “Level Fee Fiduciary” Means for Rollover Advice: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #32

Part 33- Discretionary Management, Rollovers and BICE: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #33

Part 34- Seminar Can Be Fiduciary Act: Interesting Angles on DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #34

Part 35- Presidential Memorandum on Fiduciary Rule: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #35

Part 36 -Retirement Advice and the SEC: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #36

Part 37 - SEC Retirement-Targeted Examinations: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #37

Part 38- SEC Examinations of RIAs and Broker-Dealers under the ReTIRE Initiative: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #38

Part 39- FINRA Regulatory Notice 13-45: Guidance on Distributions and Rollovers: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #39

Part 40 - New Rule, Old Rule - What Should Advisers Do Now?: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #40

Part 41 - While We Wait: The Current Fiduciary Rule and Annuities: Interesting Angles on DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #41

Part 42 - Rollovers under DOL’s Final Rule: Interesting Angles on DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #42

Part 43 - BICE Transition: More Than the Eye Can See - Interesting Angles on DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #43

Part 44 - Basic Structure of Fiduciary Package (June 9): Interesting Angles on DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #44

Part 45 - DOL Fiduciary “Package”: Basics on the Prohibited Transaction Exemptions: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #45

Part 46 - How Does an Adviser Know How to Satisfy the Best Interest Standard?: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #46

Part 47- “Real” Requirements of Fiduciary Rule: Interesting Angles on DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #47

Part 48- The Last Word: The Fiduciary Rule Applies on June 9- Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #48

Part 49- The Requirement to Disclose Fiduciary Status: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #49

Part 50- Fourth Impartial Conduct Standard: Interesting Angles on DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #50

Part 51- Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #51: Recommendations to Transfer IRAs

Part 52 - Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #52: The Fiduciary Rule and Exemptions: How Long Will Our Transition Be?

Part 53 - Fiduciary Rule and Discretionary Investment Management: Interesting Angles on DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #53

Part 54 - Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #54: The DOL’s RFI and Possible changes to BICE

Part 55- DOL’s RFI and Recommendation of Annuities- Interesting Angles on DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #55

Part 56-Recommendations of Contributions as Fiduciary Advice: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #56

Part 57- Relief from 408(b)(2) Requirement on Change Notice: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #57

Part 58- Recommendations to Contribute to a Plan or IRA- Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #58

Part 59- What Plans and Arrangements Are Covered by the Fiduciary Rule: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #59

Part 60- What the Tibble Decision Means to Advisers: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #60

Part 61- Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #61: The Fiduciary Rule, Distributions and Rollovers

Part 62 - Is It Possible To Be An Advisor Without Being A Fiduciary? - Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #62

Part 63-Policies and Procedures: The Fourth BICE Requirement - Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #63

Part 64 -What Does the Best Interest Standard of Care Require?-Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #64

Part 65- Unexpected Consequences of Fiduciary Rule - Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #65

Part 66- Concerns About 408(b)(2) Disclosures: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #66

Part 67- From the DOL to the SEC - Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #67

Part 68-Recommendations of Distributions - Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #68

Part 69- Compensation Risks for Broker-Dealers and RIAs: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #69

Part 70-Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #70: The Fiduciary Rule and Recordkeeper Services

Part 72- Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #72 - The "Wholesaler" Exception

Part 73- Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #73: Recordkeeper Investment Support for Plan Sponsors

Part 74- Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #74: One More Fiduciary Issue for Recordkeepers

Part 75-Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #75-The Fiduciary Rule: Mistaken Beliefs

Part 76-Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #76-Discretionary Management of IRAs: Prohibited Transaction Issues for RIAs

Part 77-Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #77: The Fiduciary Rule: Mistaken Beliefs (#2)

Part 78-Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #78: The Fiduciary Rule: Mistaken Beliefs (#3)

Part 79-Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #79-The Fiduciary Rule: Mistaken Beliefs (#4)

©2018 Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP. All Rights Reserved

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About this Author

Fred Reisch, Drinker Biddle Law Firm, Los Angeles, Labor and Employment Law Attorney
Partner

Fred Reish represents clients in fiduciary issues, prohibited transactions, tax-qualification and Department of Labor, Securities and Exchange Commission and FINRA examinations of retirement plans and IRA issues.

Fred works with both private and public sector entities and their plans and fiduciaries and represents plans, employers and fiduciaries before federal agencies such as the DOL and IRS. He consults with banks, trust companies, insurance companies and mutual fund management companies on 401(k) recordkeeping services, investment products and...

(310) 203-4047