A funny thing happened on the way to discussing the question "Will 2012 be the 'Year of Fiduciary'?" (FiduciaryNews.com, January 4, 2012). While industry veterans argued both sides of the question, they did agree on one thing: small 401(k) plan sponsors will likely be in for a surprise of the fourth kind.

(If you remember "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" then you know anything of the fourth kind cannot be good, especially when it involves probes and, well, you get the idea…)

Here's the problem for far too many small 401(k) plan sponsors: They believe they can safely hide behind the veil of ignorance when it comes to fees, conflicts-of-interest and, ultimately, the fiduciary duty they owe their employees. For some of these plan sponsors, they feel their liability is limited by the fact that they own most of the assets in their company's plan. For others, they've let the value of their friendships with their service providers prevent them from asking awkward questions. Finally, for the rest, they simply don't have the time, experience or resources to find the right questions to ask.

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