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DOL Issues Guidance Cautioning 401(k) Fiduciaries Against Offering Crypto as an Investment Option

The DOL issued guidance reminding responsible 401(k) plan fiduciaries of their ongoing duty to monitor investments and cautioning that the DOL “has serious concerns about the prudence of a fiduciary’s decision to expose a 401(k) plan’s participants to direct investments in cryptocurrencies, or other products whose value is tied to cryptocurrencies.” The DOL listed five reasons why cryptocurrency investments and their derivatives (collectively, “Crypto”) may not be a prudent selection at this time and threatened that 401(k) plan fiduciaries who allow Crypto as an investment option (even if through a brokerage window) “should expect to be questioned about how they can square their actions with their duties of prudence and loyalty.” Accordingly, 401(k) plan fiduciaries who are contemplating including or retaining Crypto as a plan investment option should factor this DOL guidance into their decision-making process.   Compliance Assistance Release No. 2022-01 is available here.

DOL Supplements Prior Information Letter on Private Equity in Designated Investment Alternatives

The DOL recently published a supplement statement (the “Supplement Statement”) relating to its June 3, 2020 Information Letter (the “Letter”) regarding the use of private equity investments in designated investment alternatives for individual account retirement plans. The Letter stated that a plan fiduciary would not violate the fiduciary duties under ERISA solely due to the plan fiduciary’s offering of a professionally managed asset allocation fund with a private equity component as a designated investment alternative, subject to the conditions set forth in the Letter. The DOL noted that the Letter was not an endorsement of such private equity investments and that plan fiduciaries must determine whether such an investment is prudent and made solely in the interests of plan participants and beneficiaries. Our prior blog post regarding the Letter is available here. The Supplement Statement clarified that plan fiduciaries should not misread the Letter “as saying that [private equity]—as a… Continue Reading

Guidance on Benefit Plan Cybersecurity Best Practices

Plan participants now enroll, change elections, review benefits, apply for plan loans and hardship distributions, and access account information through websites and cellphone apps. As electronic access to plan information has increased, so has the interest of hackers in obtaining the wealth of information stored electronically. Recently, the DOL?ÇÖs Employee Benefits Security Administration (the ?Ç£EBSA?Ç¥) issued the following cybersecurity guidance documents to help plan sponsors comply with their duties to protect plan information: Tips for Hiring a Service Provider with Strong Cybersecurity Practices: These tips are intended to help plan sponsors and plan fiduciaries meet their duties under ERISA to prudently select and monitor service providers. They include a list of questions to ask and considerations to make when evaluating potential service providers. Cybersecurity Program Best Practices: This guidance provides a list of 12 best practices intended to help plan fiduciaries mitigate cybersecurity risks and make prudent decisions when selecting… Continue Reading

Proposed Rule Addressing Fiduciary Duties of Prudence and Exclusive Purpose with Respect to Proxy Voting and the Exercise of Shareholder Rights

The DOL?árecently published a proposed rule (the ?Ç£Proposed Rule?Ç¥) that would amend the current investment duties regulations to provide guidance regarding how plan fiduciaries should exercise their duties of prudence and exclusive purpose with respect to proxy voting and the exercise of shareholder rights. Prior to the Proposed Rule, the DOL had addressed such fiduciary duties in sub-regulatory guidance and individual letters, which did not provide plan fiduciaries with consistent and clear guidance on how they must exercise their duties for proxy voting and other exercises of shareholder rights. Specifically, the Proposed Rule: Codifies the DOL?ÇÖs long-standing position that plan ?Ç£fiduciaries must carry out their duties prudently and solely in the interests of the participants and beneficiaries and for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits to participants and beneficiaries and defraying the reasonable expenses of administering the plan?Ç¥ when deciding whether, and when, to exercise shareholder rights, including the voting… Continue Reading

DOL Issues Proposed Rule to Amend the Investment Duties Regulation

The DOL?árecently issued a proposed rule to amend the ?Ç£investment duties?Ç¥ regulation at found at 29 CFR 2550.404a-1 (the ?Ç£Regulation?Ç¥). The proposed rule would provide investment guidance to ERISA plan fiduciaries in light of recent trends in environmental, social, and governance (?Ç£ESG?Ç¥) investing. ERISA requires plan fiduciaries to act ?Ç£solely?Ç¥ in the interest of plan participants and beneficiaries and for the ?Ç£exclusive purpose?Ç¥ of providing benefits and paying reasonable administrative expenses and prudently selecting investments for the plan. In the past, the DOL has periodically issued guidance addressing fiduciary duties under ERISA with respect to ESG-based investment decisions, including Interpretive Bulletin 94-1, which described a ?Ç£tie-breaker standard,?Ç¥ whereby ESG considerations could be the deciding factor when competing investments served the plan?ÇÖs economic interests equally. Later Interpretive Bulletins emphasized that it would be a violation of ERISA to accept reduced returns in favor of ESG goals, but that in certain cases,… Continue Reading

The DOL Says Certain Private Equity Investments May Be Permissible Designated Investment Alternatives Under Individual Accounts Plans

On June 3, 2020, the DOL issued an information letter addressing the possibility of including a private equity type investment as a ?Ç£designated investment alternative?Ç¥ under a participant directed individual account plan. The DOL concluded that, as a general matter, ?Ç£a plan fiduciary would not . . . violate [ERISA?ÇÖs fiduciary duties] solely because the fiduciary offers a professionally managed asset allocation fund with a private equity component as a designated investment alternative for an ERISA covered individual account plan in the manner described in [the] letter.?Ç¥ The DOL observed that private equity investments ?Ç£involve more complex organizational structures and investment strategies, longer time horizons, and more complex, and typically, higher fees?Ç¥ and they generally have ?Ç£different regulatory disclosure requirements, oversight, and controls?Ç¥ and ?Ç£often have no easily observed market value.?Ç¥ In addition to these considerations, the DOL listed several factors that plan fiduciaries should evaluate when considering whether a… Continue Reading

The Supreme Court Holds Participants in Fully-Funded Defined Benefit Plans Cannot Sue for Fiduciary Breach

The U.S. Supreme Court held Monday that participants in a fully-funded defined benefit plan have no standing to bring a lawsuit against plan fiduciaries for a breach of ERISA?ÇÖs fiduciary requirements. In Thole, plan participants alleged that the plan fiduciaries had mismanaged funds and invested in imprudent investments causing the plan to lose approximately $748 million more than it otherwise should have during the 2008 recession. Subsequent to that date, the plan sponsor contributed an additional $311 million to the plan resulting in the plan becoming fully funded. The Court held that because the participants would receive the same benefits whether they won or lost the lawsuit, there was no controversy and, therefore, the participants had no standing under Article III of the U.S. Constitution to bring a civil action under Sections 502(a)(2) or 502(a)(3) of ERISA. Thole v. U.S. Bank N.A., No. 17?Çô1712 (U.S. June 1, 2020) can be… Continue Reading

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