For all of the attention given to the word "fiduciary" in thebusiness and mainstream media over the past two years, a lot ofplan sponsors have not gotten the memo.

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According to data from AllianceBernstein, half of plan sponsors don’tthink they are fiduciaries. Under the Employee RetirementIncome Security Act, any employer sponsor of a retirement plan is afiduciary.

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Perhaps more troubling is the fact that sponsors’ awareness oftheir legal role as fiduciaries is down 19 points since 2011,according to the investment management firm.

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Even among those sponsors that acknowledge they have primaryresponsibility for overseeing their retirement plans, one-thirddon’t believe they are fiduciaries.

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And among those that don’t recognize they are fiduciaries, fourin 10 are making all of the decisions according to the plan. ABsurveyed over 1,000 sponsors spanning the spectrum of plansize.

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A release from the firm says sponsor fiduciary awareness ishigher among employers that hire outside plan advisors andconsultants.

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Plans that use advisors showed greater productivity amongseveral key metrics:

  • the average participation rate was 49 percent among advisedplans, compared to 40 percent of non-advised plans;

  • 57 percent of participants increased savings rates in advisedplans, compared to 37 percent of non-advised plans;

  • and 22 percent of participants in advised plans improved theirretirement readiness, compared to 11 percent in non-advisedplans.

Only four in 10 sponsors said their plan has an investmentpolicy statement in place, a practice ERISA attorneys insist on.Another 20 percent of sponsors don’t document their fiduciaryprocess, and among those that do, more than half say theiroversight needs improvement.

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On some scores, sponsors are showing responsiveness to bestpractices, in spite of the shockingly low levels of fiduciaryawareness.

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About four in 10 plans have re-enrolled employees in the pastthree years. One in five participants opt out of plans after beingautomatically enrolled.

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Financial wellness programs continue to gain traction, butadoption is concentrated in institutional size plans, or those withmore than $250 million in assets. Half of the largest plans offersome form of wellness program, compared to 25 percent of small andmicro plans.

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More than half of sponsors said they’ve seen the retirement agerise in their companies over the past five years; one-quarter saidthe average retirement age was 67.

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Nick Thornton

Nick Thornton is a financial writer covering retirement and health care issues for BenefitsPRO and ALM Media. He greatly enjoys learning from the vast minds in the legal, academic, advisory and money management communities when covering the retirement space. He's also written on international marketing trends, financial institution risk management, defense and energy issues, the restaurant industry in New York City, surfing, cigars, rum, travel, and fishing. When not writing, he's pushing into some land or water.