Retirement plan providers are seeing a rise in sponsors shopping their defined contribution plans, setting off a 401(k) bidding war as employers get aggressive in their search for lower fees and better options.

As the fourth quarter approaches — the time when most companies make benefits decisions — many are digging into the question of whether they might be paying too much in administrative and recordkeeping fees and would like to see what else is out there.

"From now until mid-December, it is clearly our peak season," said Mike Narkoff, senior vice president for Pennsylvania-based Ascensus, which provides recordkeeping and administrative services to more than 43,000 retirement plans and 1.5 million IRAs. "We do see most of our new clients onboarding in the later part of the year."

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