As described in our recent blog posts, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) recently issued guidance in the form of FAQs to address questions concerning the practical application of PTE 2020-02, Improving Investment Advice for Workers & Retirees. This blog post discusses the guidance the DOL offers with respect to various topics under PTE 2020-02. Guidance with respect to the general requirements of PTE 2020-02 was discussed in our prior blog post and the DOL’s guidance with respect to the application of PTE 2020-02 to rollover recommendations was discussed in our prior blog post.
On May 21, 2021, the terms of the proposed ERISA class action settlement in Cates v. The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York were announced. The settlement, which includes a $13 million payment and many non-monetary terms, serves as a reminder for fiduciaries/committees to review their processes for selecting and retaining investment options — and to examine the fees and services of plan providers.
As described in our recent blog post, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) recently issued guidance in the form of FAQs to address questions concerning the practical application of PTE 2020-02, Improving Investment Advice for Workers & Retirees. Recommendations regarding the rollover of assets from an employee benefit plan to an IRA are a key focus of the DOL and of these FAQs. This blog post discusses the guidance the DOL offers with respect to rollover recommendations under PTE 2020-02.
In 1975, the DOL issued a regulation that adopted a five-part test for determining when investment advice is “fiduciary investment advice” and would qualify an investment professional as a fiduciary under ERISA (the “1975 Labor Regulation”). The five-part test is met if an investment professional: 1) renders advice to a plan, plan fiduciary or IRA owner as to the value of securities or other property, or makes recommendations as to the advisability of investing in, purchasing, or selling securities or other property; 2) on a regular basis; 3) pursuant to a mutual agreement, arrangement, or understanding with the plan, plan fiduciary or IRA owner; 4) where the advice will serve as a primary basis for investment decisions with respect to plan or IRA assets; and 5) where the advice will be individualized based on the particular needs of the plan or IRA.
With SECURE Act 1.0 (officially titled “Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act”) still being implemented by many plan sponsors, Congress is now considering a new package of laws designed to help close the nation’s retirement savings gap, referred to as SECURE Act 2.0 (officially titled “Securing a Strong Retirement Act”).
While the House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Committee unanimously approved SECURE Act 2.0, it has still not been voted on by the full House, and certain representatives may want changes implemented. And it has likewise not been approved by the Senate. Thus while SECURE Act 2.0 appears to have bi-partisan support, passage in its current form is not a sure thing.
On December 18, 2020, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) adopted PTE 2020-02 Improving Investment Advice for Workers & Retirees (“PTE 2020-02”), a new prohibited transaction exemption related to fiduciary investment advice offered to plan sponsors and plan participants of ERISA-governed retirement plans and IRA owners.
Last month, the DOL issued guidance in the form of FAQs to address questions concerning the practical application of PTE 2020-02 (“FAQs”). These FAQs discuss various applications of PTE 2020-02, including guidance with respect to the general requirements of PTE 2020-02, recommendations for the rollover of employee benefit plan assets to an IRA, the use of disclaimers, the requirement to mitigate conflicts of interest, the use of payout grids for compensation, and the application of PTE 2020-02 to insurance industry financial institutions.
In a matter of first impression, the Ninth Circuit affirmed that ERISA does not preempt a California law that created a state-managed retirement program for certain private employers. Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association v. California Secure Choice Retirement Savings Program, 2021 WL 1805758 (9th Cir. May 6, 2021).
On April 14, 2021, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued three documents that provide cybersecurity guidance for plan sponsors, fiduciaries, recordkeepers, and plan participants. Cybersecurity has become an increasingly important topic for plan sponsors and committees, given the fiduciary requirements to act in the interest of plan participants and to prudently select and monitor service providers, in addition to general risk management considerations. While the guidance was not issued under a formal notice and comment process, it lists actions the DOL recommends that plan fiduciaries and committees take to safeguard data and monitor service providers – and potentially indicates the steps that the DOL would view as the minimum necessary to satisfy applicable fiduciary obligations.
In response to ongoing requests by plan sponsors, service providers and industry associations alike, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued informal, legally nonbinding guidance earlier this year to help address issues surrounding missing retirement plan participants. Join members of Faegre Drinker’s benefits and executive compensation group on April 14 from 11:00 – Noon CT, as we explore best practices for plan sponsors to identify missing and nonresponsive plan participants, as well as potential approaches to facilitate compliance and mitigate risk of penalties.
The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (“SECURE”) Act made a number of changes designed to increase the availability of lifetime income options in defined contribution retirement plans, such as 401(k) plans. Among those changes was a new fiduciary safe harbor for choosing an annuity provider, including an “in-plan” annuity-type product. Although this provision may not have received as much attention due to the COVID-19 pandemic, plan sponsors and committees should be aware of the new safe harbor option, particularly in light of the upcoming requirement to provide lifetime income disclosures to participants, which is set to become effective later this year (discussed here).
On March 10, 2021, the Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), the agency charged with interpreting and enforcing ERISA, announced that it will not enforce the Trump-era “Financial Factors in Selecting Plan Investments” rule, which has been perceived as potentially discouraging retirement plan fiduciaries from selecting investment alternatives which emphasize environmental, social, and governance factors (commonly referred to as “ESG investments”).
The rule, which was finalized in November 2020 and technically became effective on January 12, 2021, does not prohibit ESG investments. However, it has been widely criticized as fostering a misapprehension that ESG investments may be subjected to a higher degree of fiduciary scrutiny than others. Following the election, EBSA’s announcement of its non-enforcement policy comes as no surprise, as the Biden administration had already identified the rule on its “List of Agency Actions for Review.”