On October 14, 2010, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a final rule requiring the disclosure of certain plan and investment-related information, including fee and expense information, to participants and beneficiaries in participant-directed individual account plans (e.g., 401(k) plans). The regulation is intended to help ERISA plan participants better manage their retirement savings by ensuring that they have the information they need to make informed decisions about their investments.
The Department of Labor estimates that 72 million people are invested in participant-directed retirement plans nationwide, compiling a total of nearly $3 trillion in assets. A “participant-directed plan” is one that provides for the allocation of investment responsibilities to participants or beneficiaries. While participants in these plans are responsible for making their own investment decisions, “current law does not require that all workers be given the information they need to make informed investment decisions or, when information is given, that it is furnished in a user-friendly format.” This is particularly true with respect to the fees and expenses associated with certain investment choices.
The final rule aims to assist plan participants in this regard, and will impact plan sponsors, fiduciaries, participants and beneficiaries, as well as the service providers of such plans. To be sure, the final rule provides that when a plan allocates investment responsibilities to participants or beneficiaries, the plan administrator must take steps to ensure that such participants and beneficiaries (1) are made aware of their rights and responsibilities with respect to the investment of their assets, and (2) are provided sufficient information regarding the plan and the plan's investment options to make informed decisions with regard to the management of their individual accounts. The plan administrator must also provide each participant with certain plan-related and investment-related information.
In addition, the final rule provides that the investment of plan assets is governed by the fiduciary duties set forth within ERISA Section 404(a)(1)(A)-(B), which require plan fiduciaries to act prudently and solely in the interest of the plan’s participants and beneficiaries. Accordingly, the regulation requires plan fiduciaries to:
• Provide plan participants with quarterly statements of plan fees and expenses deducted from their accounts;
• Provide plan participants with core information about investments available under their plan, including the cost of these investments;
• Use standard methodologies when calculating and disclosing expense and return information to achieve uniformity across the spectrum of investments that exist in plans;
• Present the information in a format that makes it easier for plan participants to comparison shop among the plan's investment options; and
• Provide plan participants with access to supplemental investment information in addition to the basic information required under the final rule.
A complete copy of the final rule can be found here. In addition, for a concise overview of the final rule, please click here.