The Labor Department has refuted claims that it plans to move the April 1 compliance deadline for new 401(k) fee disclosure rules to later in the year to give service providers time to make changes based on the final regulation.
The 408(b)(2) regulation will require service providers to detail any fees they are charging plan sponsors. The final regulation could be issued before the end of January.
“The department is sympathetic to concerns by industry, but we haven’t signaled that applicability deadlines will be extended,” said a DOL spokesman. “We’re sympathetic to concerns, so we are aware of them. I’m not going to speculate where the current information is coming from.”
Reuters released a story on Wednesday stating that the department was thinking about moving the compliance deadline.
Industry organizations like the American Society of Pension Professionals & Actuaries and the Council of Independent 401(k) Recordkeepers are in favor of moving the deadlines forward.
In a letter to the Department of Labor at the end of December, ASPPA and CIKR reiterated their support of the DOL’s efforts to improve fee disclosure for individual account plans, but “unfortunately the application of both the interim 408(b)(2) and 404(a) regulations is only three months away and the DOL has not issued the final guidance needed to create systems to comply with the regulations,” said Craig Hoffman, general counsel and director of regulatory affairs for both organizations.
“ASPPA has long supported the DOL on fee disclosure and transparency. We think it is a great idea and we are happy to see they are coming to the finish line,” Hoffman said today in an interview. “We have grave concerns about what will actually be in the final regulation and the ability of folks to comply with the regulation, on short notice, being released in final form.”
He added that, “we hope and expect that the DOL will be sympathetic to our request, but I have no specific feedback from the DOL at this point in time.”
ASPPA’s letter requested that the effective date for both fee disclosure regulations be no earlier than one year after the 408(b)(2) regulation is published in its final form.
“The fact of the matter is, it is January and the regulation is supposed to be effective April 1. That is barely two months away,” he said. “In fact, with an April 1 date, companies really need to be ready with all disclosure materials long before the actual deadline. In my opinon, I don’t see any way the DOL can hold to the April 1 date. And I think throughout the process they have been sympathetic and empathetic for the need for time to prepare for this. I would be surprised if they don’t ultimately extend the effective date.”
Some larger companies, like The Principal, got ahead of the compliance curve. The Principal rolled out its fee disclosures to new clients over the summer and to existing clients beginning Nov. 1, 2011.
“What we did is start providing focus groups with mockups of how we planned to disclose this information. Then we tested it with plan sponsors and advisors and worked through a third party. None of this information was new. We’ve been providing this information for some time. We just seized the opportunity to change how this information was presented,” said Joni Tibbetts, vice president of retirement and investor services for The Principal.
Companies like The Principal now need to disclose recordkeeping fees separately from all other fee disclosures. They also must detail indirect compensation, such as revenue sharing and compensation to advisors, attorneys and trusts because all of these come out of plan assets.
The 404(a) regulation will require plan sponsors to disclose all fees charged to plan participants.
“We are very supportive and we look forward to it coming into effect, but we want an orderly transition into the new regime,” Hoffman said. “I’ve been doing this a long time. I’ve been involved in the DOL since 2007 when it first started. They have consistently said they recognize the need for appropriate time to transition. I don’t know what has delayed [the final ruling]. I don’t think the DOL anticipated it would take this long to get the rule published. I think they will be sympathetic to our request for an extension.”