(Photo credit: Idea go)

2012 will be a year of change for the retirement industry. Experts agree that 401(k) plan fee disclosure rules, affecting plan sponsors and plan participants, and the U.S. Department of Labor’s reproposal of its rule amending the definition of fiduciary under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act will have the most impact industry-wide. Tax reform legislation that could impact how individuals save for retirement is another issue that probably won’t be decided in 2012, but will be debated a great deal.

“The biggest thing is the implementation of fee disclosure,” said Brian Graff, executive director and CEO of the American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries. “This is the big new thing in 2012. People are going to get a lot more information than they thought of or wanted before.  The big question everyone is waiting to assess how plan sponsors and participants will react to the waterfall of information?”

Allen Vaughn, president and chief fiduciary auditor for 401-k.pro Fiduciary Managers/The 401k Advisory Group, Inc. in Dunwoody, Ga., said he believes 2012 will be the year of lawsuits.

He fears the hoopla over the fee disclosure regulations will be like “watching a tornado destroy a town. … What is going to happen with 408(b)(2), one thing I advocated for, is it is going to show people the expenses, which I’m all for, that will make people smart shoppers. People need to see the benchmarks. They need to see what the average fund expenses are for record keeping, the average commission brokers make and the fee advisors make.”

Vaughn said he’s afraid that delayed rules will make it easier for companies to find new ways to hide their fees. “It gave insurance companies time to reconfigure things so they could look like they have a clean slate.”

The other biggie coming up in 2012 is the reproposal of the definition of fiduciary as it applies to ERISA plans and IRAs.

“It can have a dramatic impact on the 401(k) marketplace, not just in terms of the 401(k) plans themselves, but how service providers and advisors work with potential rollover options. There could be provisions in the regulation that would inhibit the ability of service providers working with a 401(k) plan participant, with respect to them talking to a participant about rollover options as they get closer to retirement. If they do have fiduciary status, there are restrictions on compensation differences that make it impossible for them to have a conversation,” Graff said.

Tax reform will be another big issue next year.

“I think legislatively, it’s hard to imagine that, given the political rancor that currently exists in Congress, that they will be able to enact tax reform in an election year,” he said.

Graff expects tax reform proposals from both the Republicans and Democrats. “Even if these bills won’t be enacted, they may be a baseline for what will be real tax reform after the election. There is still a lot of work to be done to make sure that any attacks on retirement savings incentives are stopped or minimized as much as possible,” he said.

The retirement industry as a whole needs to do a better job of educating investors. David Wray, president of the Plan Sponsor Council of America, said that his wish for 2012 is that everyone with a 401(k) or other retirement plan will sit down and take a good look at their plan.

“People need to review plans once a year. They don’t need to change much. That is one thing. Pick a day when you sit down and think about your plan; all the things that go into it. Give it a hard review, true it up and rebalance,” he said.

Individuals who are five years out from retirement should make a retirement budget, Wray added. They should think about what expenses they are going to have when they retire. That is their target. If they are on track, they can keep saving as they are, but if they aren’t on track, they can review their portfolios to make changes that will help them meet their goal, he said.

“Everybody needs to think about their future. It is always good at the beginning of a new year to think about the future,” he said.  “What you have to think about is you are going to live to 95 years old and managing your money with a lifetime recognized plan makes a big difference. If you can get 30-year-olds to avoid credit card debt, their life has changed. Decisions made when they are 30 are going to impact them at 90.”

Wray added that, “managing money wisely with a lifetime plan puts people in such a better position than people who manage day-to-day and don’t thing about long-term. … Small appropriate decisions in your early working career can have an enormous impact in the long-term. We are only now beginning to get that understanding.”