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What is a “flexible” ERISA 3(38)

“Is there such a thing as a ‘flexible’ ERISA 3(38) fiduciary?”  

ERISA consultants at the Retirement Learning Center Resource Desk regularly receive calls from financial advisors on a broad array of technical topics related to IRAs, qualified retirement plans and other types of retirement savings and income plans, including nonqualified plans, stock options, and Social Security and Medicare. We bring Case of the Week to you to highlight the most relevant topics affecting your business. A recent call with a financial advisor from New Hampshire is representative of a common inquiry related to ERISA fiduciary services.

Highlights of the Discussion

According to a strict reading of ERISA and its regulations under 29 U.S.C. Title 29 §3(38)—no; there is no such legally defined entity. However, in practice, there are ERISA 3(38) fiduciary services that are advertised as “flexible.” Let’s start with the definition of an ERISA §3(38) plan fiduciary. An ERISA 3(38) fiduciary is an investment manager that is a registered investment advisor (e.g., RIA, bank or insurance company), appointed by the plan sponsor to fully manage the assets of the plan. Such individual or entity has the power to manage, acquire, or dispose of any asset of a plan; is responsible for selecting, monitoring and replacing plan investment options; and has full discretion regarding a plan’s investment management process. When the 3(38) fiduciary is appointed, a written agreement must be executed acknowledging the 3(38)’s fiduciary responsibility for managing the assets of the plan. ERISA 3(38) relieves the plan sponsor of fiduciary liability with respect to the selection, performance, monitoring and replacement of the investments for a plan when the sponsor has prudently selected the 3(38) investment manager; and the sponsor continues to monitor the 3(38)’s services. As one can see, the strict definition of an ERISA 3(38) does not seem to leave room for too much, if any, flexibility.

A few firms that offer 3(38) services have added the “flexible” moniker or adjective to describe situations where the plan sponsor can provide the 3(38) investment manager with “suggestions” regarding the investment line up. These plan sponsor suggestions could range widely from encouraging the 3(38) to take over and assume responsibility for an existing investment line up; providing input on investments the plan sponsors would like the 3(38) to add to the 3(38)’s available options; or having the ability to select from a broad universe of investments that are within the 3(38)’s fiduciary coverage universe to create the investment line up. The gnawing question becomes has the plan sponsor exerted discretion over the investment decisions and, thereby, clawed back some of the fiduciary responsibility it sought to relinquish? There is no clear answer. It is another one of those “facts and circumstances” situations the DOL and courts would evaluate on a case by case basis. But it is important to be aware of and take into consideration when making a decision that flexibility can muddy the fiduciary liability and relief waters.

Conclusion

Some firms advertise a flexible 3(38) investment management solution. Plan sponsors and their advisors should be sure they 1) understand what precisely the flexibility is; 2) evaluate if it could potentially affect liability; 3) make a prudent, educated decision based on the information; and 3) record the decision making process for their fiduciary process records.

© Copyright 2019 Retirement Learning Center, all rights reserved
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Qualified Separate Line of Business

“How are the qualified separate line of business (QSLOB) rules helpful for a defined contribution plan?”  

ERISA consultants at the Retirement Learning Center Resource Desk regularly receive calls from financial advisors on a broad array of technical topics related to IRAs, qualified retirement plans and other types of retirement savings and income plans, including nonqualified plans, stock options, and Social Security and Medicare. We bring Case of the Week to you to highlight the most relevant topics affecting your business.

A recent call with a financial advisor from Massachusetts is representative of a common inquiry related to plan testing.

Highlights of the Discussion

The QSLOB rules can help a plan satisfy minimum coverage rules. Among other requirements, a defined contribution plan must cover or “benefit” a minimum number of a firm’s employees in order to remain qualified and receive favorable tax treatment from the IRS [Treasury Regulation Section (Treas. Reg. §) 1.410(b)-1]. Generally, all employees of a single employer are considered when applying the minimum coverage requirements. One exception to applying this test on a firm-wide basis exists by following the QSLOB rules of Treas. Reg. §1.414(r)-8. If an employer operates QSLOBs, then it may apply the minimum coverage requirement separately with respect to the employees of each QSLOB. That could make it easier for the employer to pass testing.

Treas. Reg. §1.414(r)-1

The above flow chart from the IRS is a helpful guide and is explained as follows. A line of business (LOB) is a portion of an employer that is identified by the property or services it provides to customers of the employer. For this purpose, the employer is permitted to determine the LOBs it operates by designating the property and services that each of its LOBs provides to customers of the employer.

A separate LOB (SLOB) is a line of business that is organized and operated separately from the remainder of the employer. In order to be a SLOB, the LOB must satisfy four statutory requirements 1) separate organizational unit; 2) separate financial accountability; 3) separate employee workforce; and 4) separate management [Treas. Reg. §1.414(r)-3].

In order to be a qualified SLOB (QSLOB), the SLOB must meet three additional requirements: 1) it must have 50 dedicated employees at all times during the testing year; 2) the employer must notify the Secretary of the Treasury that it intends to treat a SLOB as a QSLOB (by filing IRS Form 5310-A, Notice of Plan Merger or Consolidation, Spinoff, or Transfer of Plan Assets or Liabilities; Notice of Qualified Separate Lines of Business; and 3) the SLOB must satisfy the administrative scrutiny test—for which there are seven safe harbor options (see Treas. Reg. §1.414(r)-5 and Treas. Reg. §1.414(r)-6).

Finally, if all the property and services of the business are provided by the QSLOBs, then the employer may test the QSLOBs separately in order to satisfy the minimum coverage rules. A couple additional notes:

  • The QSLOB testing exception can be used in controlled group situations but not with affiliated service groups [see IRC §414(r)(8)].
  • Defined benefit plans may use the exception for minimum coverage testing, and for minimum participation testing pursuant to IRC §401(a)(26) with IRS approval.

A complete analysis of the QSLOB rules are beyond the scope of this writing.

Conclusion

The QSLOB testing exception for minimum coverage can be beneficial, but, as one can see, is complicated. Employers considering its application should consult with tax attorneys or advisors who are well-versed in the subject.

 

© Copyright 2019 Retirement Learning Center, all rights reserved
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401(k) Plan Committee Charter

“If a 401(k) plan has an investment or administrative committee, is the committee required to have a charter?”

ERISA consultants at the Retirement Learning Center Resource Desk regularly receive calls from financial advisors on a broad array of technical topics related to IRAs, qualified retirement plans and other types of retirement savings and income plans, including nonqualified plans, stock options, and Social Security and Medicare. We bring Case of the Week to you to highlight the most relevant topics affecting your business. A recent call with a financial advisor from Ohio is representative of a common inquiry related to 401(k) plan committees.

Highlights of the Discussion

Neither the Department of Labor (DOL) nor the IRS, both of which regulate qualified retirement plans, specifically require that a 401(k) plan committee have a charter. However, more and more firms with plan committees are adopting committee charters as a fiduciary best practice. Practically speaking, a committee charter can help committee members understand their roles and responsibilities.

Retirement plan committee charters are distinct from an investment policy statement. (Please see Investment Policy Statement Checklist and an Education Policy Statement.)

A plan committee charter should be approved by the board of directors of the company and answer the following questions:

  • What authority does the committee have?
  • What is the committee’s purpose?
  • How is the committee structured?
  • Who may serve on the committee?
  • How are committee members replaced?
  • How will the committee delegate authority?
  • How will the committee assign responsibilities and duties?
  • How frequently will the committee meet?
  • What procedures will the committee follow?
  • What are the standing agenda items and how are new topics introduced?
  • What is the process for selecting and managing plan service providers?
  • What reporting will the committee do and to whom?
  • What are the procedures for protecting committee members financially?

Retirement plan committees that do have charters should be sure to follow them, and review them regularly to determine if adjustments are needed.

Here is a sample format:

  • Introduction
  • Purpose of the Plan Committee
  • Committee Membership
  • Schedule and Organization of Meetings
  • Authority and Responsibilities
  • Procedures for Decision Making
  • Meeting Minutes and Reports
  • Fiduciary Liability and Protection

Conclusion

For retirement plans that have investment or administrative committees, having a committee charter in place could be a good fiduciary liability mitigation tactic—as long as it is followed.

© Copyright 2019 Retirement Learning Center, all rights reserved
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Form 5500 and the “80-120 Rule”

“My client was told by the record-keeper for her plan that it would be filing the plan’s IRS Form 5500 annual report under the “80-120 Rule.” Can you explain what that rule is?

ERISA consultants at the Retirement Learning Center Resource Desk regularly receive calls from financial advisors on a broad array of technical topics related to IRAs, qualified retirement plans and other types of retirement savings and income plans, including nonqualified plans, stock options, and Social Security and Medicare. We bring Case of the Week to you to highlight the most relevant topics affecting your business.

Highlights of the Discussion

Generally, plans with more than 100 participants are required to file the long version of Form 5500, Annual Return/Report of Employee Benefit Plan, as a “large plan.” However, there is an exception referred to as the “80-120 participant rule” that allows certain plans that would otherwise be considered large to continue to file as “small plans” following the streamlined Form 5500-SF, Short Form Annual Return/Report of Small Employee Benefit Plan, requirements (see 2018 Form 5500 Instructions).

The DOL defines small plans for Form 5500 purposes as plans with fewer than 100 participants at the beginning of the plan year. Small plans file Form 5500-SF and Schedule I Financial Information—Small Plans, (instead of Form 5500 and Schedule H Financial Information), plus certain other applicable schedules. However, small plans, typically, are exempt from the independent audit requirement that applies to large plans.

Under the 80-120 participant rule, if your client filed as a small plan last year and the number of plan participants is fewer than 121 at the beginning of this plan year, your client may continue to follow the Form 5500-SF requirements for this year.

EXAMPLE: For the 2017 plan year, Smally’s Inc., had 93 participants, so the plan administrator filed a Form 5500-SF and applicable schedules as a small plan.  The number of plan participants at the beginning of the 2018 plan year rose to 112.  Under the 80-120 participant rule, Smally’s Inc., may elect to complete the 2018 Form 5500-SF, instead of the long-form Form 5500 and schedules, in accordance with the instructions for a small plans.

Conclusion

The 80-120 participant rule may allow some plans that would otherwise be required to follow the arduous large plan filing requirements for Form 5500 to, instead, continue to file under the streamlined Form 5500-SF process.

 

© Copyright 2019 Retirement Learning Center, all rights reserved