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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

Nothing in Life is Free ?Çô ERISA Expense Account Considerations

Many 401(k) plans contain spending accounts funded by revenue-sharing generated by a plan?ÇÖs mutual fund holdings. These accounts, often referred to as ERISA expense accounts, revenue-sharing accounts, or plan expense reimbursement accounts, can cause complications for plans if not administered properly. These revenue-sharing accounts can accumulate quickly, and in large plans, can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. However, plan sponsors often do not know that the accounts are accumulating, and when they find them, may think they have just discovered ?Ç£free money.?Ç¥ But nothing in life is free, and missteps with the use of these funds could result in participant claims. Accordingly, before utilizing these funds, plan sponsors should use care and consider the following questions: Are the funds being held in the trust??áDOL Advisory Opinion 2013-03A (which is available here) noted that revenue sharing payments that were being received by the third party administrator prior… Continue Reading

The DOL Announces a Non-Enforcement Policy on Final ESG Investment and Proxy Voting Rules

On March 10, 2021, the DOL released an enforcement policy statement (the ?Ç£Statement?Ç¥), which announced that until the DOL publishes further guidance, it will not enforce the recently issued ?Ç£Financial Factors in Selecting Plan Investments?Ç¥ final rule (the ?Ç£ESG Rule?Ç¥) and the ?Ç£Fiduciary Duties Regarding Proxy Voting and Shareholder Rights?Ç¥ final rule (the ?Ç£Proxy Voting Rule?Ç¥, together with the ESG Rule referred to herein as, the ?Ç£Final Rules?Ç¥). The ESG Rule generally required plan fiduciaries to select investments and investment courses of action based solely on consideration of ?Ç£pecuniary factors,?Ç¥ and the Proxy Voting Rule set forth a plan fiduciary?ÇÖs obligations when voting proxies and exercising other shareholder rights in connection with plan investments. The implementation of the ESG Rule in particular has caused concerns for plan fiduciaries about the use of environment, social, and governance considerations in its investment decisions and has been met with increasing criticism from a… Continue Reading

Is it Time for an Investment Committee Tune-up?

Companies sponsoring a 401(k) plan to help their employees save for retirement often form an investment committee to help select plan investments without realizing the duties that the committee assumes.?á To help prevent investment committee members from unintentionally breaching their fiduciary duties, companies periodically review their investment committee compliance and should keep complete records of appointments, policies, and procedures.?á The following investment committee checklist can be a starting point for this review: Review the underlying plan document to determine who it lists as the ?Ç£named fiduciary?Ç¥.?á Most plan documents provided by third party administrators list the ?Ç£plan sponsor?Ç¥ as the named fiduciary, which means the board of directors is the governing body responsible for acting as a fiduciary, absent a delegation of such fiduciary responsibility by the board of directors to a committee.?á If your plan lists the ?Ç£plan sponsor?Ç¥ as the named fiduciary and you have a committee selecting… Continue Reading

Review Investment Policy Statements for ESG Investment Compliance

The DOL recently updated its ?Ç£investment duties?Ç¥ regulation to provide further guidance in light of recent trends in environmental, social, and governance (?Ç£ESG?Ç¥) investing, which we previously posted on our blog here. As the DOL increases its investigations and inquiries into ESG investments held by retirement plans, plan fiduciaries should review their plan investments and policies to: (i) determine if their retirement plans hold any ESG-type investments, and (ii) if they do hold such investments, (a) review their investment policy statements (?Ç£IPS?Ç¥) and evaluate whether such policies comply with the current rules for ESG investments (and will comply going forward with the DOL?ÇÖs guidance), and (b) confirm whether such investments remain appropriate for the plan. Plan fiduciaries may need to consult with their financial/plan advisors to determine if ESG-type investments are currently held by their plan. If a plan holds ESG investments and the IPS does not address such investments,… 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 New DOL Fiduciary Rule ?Çô A Return to the Old with a New Proposed Prohibited Transaction Exemption

On June 29, 2020, the DOL issued its much anticipated new ?Ç£fiduciary rule?Ç¥ under ERISA. The new rule is meant to replace the DOL?ÇÖs previous fiduciary rule (and related exemptions) which went into effect in 2016 but was vacated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in 2018. The new fiduciary rule is composed of two parts: (i) a final regulation which reaffirms and reinstates the five-part test for determining whether a person renders ?Ç£investment advice?Ç¥ for purposes of ERISA (the ?Ç£Reinstated Rule?Ç¥), and (ii) a new prohibited transaction class exemption for investment advice fiduciaries based on the ?Ç£impartial conduct standards?Ç¥ previously adopted by the DOL (the ?Ç£Proposed Exemption?Ç¥). Reinstated Rule The new rule amends the Code of Federal Regulations to reinstate the prior 1975 regulation which contained the five-part test for determining whether a financial institution or investment professional is a fiduciary for rendering ?Ç£investment advice.?Ç¥… 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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