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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
fiduciary
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Fiduciary Advisers

What is a 408(g) fiduciary adviser?

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 and qualified retirement plans.  We bring Case of the Week to you to highlight the most relevant topics affecting your business. A recent call with an advisor in Washington is representative of a common inquiry involving investment advice fiduciaries.

Highlights of discussion

  • “Fiduciary Advisers” may provide investment advice to qualified plan participants through an “eligible investment advice arrangement” that is based on a level-fee arrangement for the fiduciary adviser, a certified computer model or both [ERISA §408(g)].
  • A fiduciary adviser may also work with IRA owners as well.
  • Plan sponsors who engage a fiduciary adviser for their participants will not be responsible for the specific investment advice given, provided the adopting plan sponsors follow certain monitoring and disclosure rules. Plan sponsors are still responsible for the prudent selection and monitoring of the available investments under the plan and the fiduciary adviser.
  • The fiduciary adviser role is part of a statutory prohibited transaction exemption for the provision of investment advice that has been around since 2007, having been created by the Pension Protection Act of 2006 (PPA-06).  It has received very little attention over the years until now given the new emphasis on defining investment advice fiduciaries.
  • A fiduciary adviser could be a registered investment adviser, a broker-dealer, a trust department of a bank, or an insurance company.
  • To satisfy the exemption, a fiduciary adviser must provide written notification to plan fiduciaries that he/she intends to use an eligible investment advice arrangement that will be audited by an independent auditor on an annual basis. The fiduciary adviser must also give detailed written notices to plan participants regarding the advice arrangement before any advice is given.
  • Every year the eligible investment advice arrangement must be audited by a qualified independent auditor to verify that it meets the requirements. The auditor is required to issue a written report to the plan fiduciary that authorized the arrangement. If the report reveals noncompliance with the regulations, the fiduciary adviser must send a copy of the report to the Department of Labor (DOL). In both cases the report must identify the 1) fiduciary adviser, 2) type of arrangement, 3) eligible investment advice expert and date of the computer model certification (if applicable), and 4) findings of the auditor.

Conclusion

Under PPA-06, plan sponsors can authorize fiduciary advisers to offer investment advice to their plan participants and beneficiaries as part of an eligible investment advice arrangement.  Plan sponsors will not be held liable for the advice given by fiduciary advisers, provided all the requirements of the prohibited transaction exemption are met.

© Copyright 2019 Retirement Learning Center, all rights reserved