Tag Archives: Tibble vs. Edison

Top Milliman blog posts in 2014

Milliman consultants had another prolific publishing year in 2014, with blog topics ranging from healthcare reform to HATFA. As 2014 comes to a close, we’ve highlighted Milliman’s top 20 blogs for 2014 based on total page views.

20. Mike Williams and Stephanie Noonan’s blog, “Four things employers should know when evaluating private health exchanges,” can help employers determine whether a PHE makes sense for them.

19. Kevin Skow discusses savings tools that can help employees prepare for retirement in his blog “Retirement readiness: How long will you live in retirement? Want to bet on it?

18. The Benefits Alert entitled “Revised mortality assumptions issued for pension plans,” published by Milliman’s Employee Benefit Research Group, provides pension plan sponsors actuarial perspective on the Society of Actuaries’ revised mortality tables.

17. In her blog, “PBGC variable rate premium: Should plans make the switch?,” Milliman’s Maria Moliterno provides examples of how consultants can estimate variable rate premiums using either the standard premium funding target or the alternative premium funding target for 2014 and 2015 plan years.

16. Milliman’s infographic “The boomerang generation’s retirement planning” features 12 tips Millennials should consider when developing their retirement strategy.

15. “Young uninsureds ask, ‘Do I feel lucky?’” examines the dilemma young consumers face when deciding to purchase insurance on the health exchange or go uninsured.

14. Last year’s #1 blog, “Retiring early under ACA: An unexpected outcome for employers?,” is still going strong. The blog authored by Jeff Bradley discusses the impact that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act could have on early retirees.

13. Genny Sedgwick’s “Fee leveling in DC plans: Disclosure is just the beginning” blog also made our list for the second consecutive year. Genny explains how different fee assessment methodologies, when used with a strategy to normalize revenue sharing among participant accounts, can significantly modify the impact of plan fees in participant accounts.

12. Doug Conkel discusses how the Supreme Court’s decision to rule on Tibble vs. Edison may impact defined contribution plans in his blog “Tibble vs. Edison: What will it mean for plan sponsors and fiduciaries?

11. In her blog “Retirement plan leakage and retirement readiness,” Kara Tedesco discusses some problems created by the outflow of retirement savings. She also provides perspective on how employers can help employees keep money in their plans.

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The Supreme Court, Tibble, fees, and the statute of limitations

Smith-SuzanneEarlier this month, the U. S. Supreme Court decided that it will review a case relating to retirement plan fees. Although it is a case about fees, the issue before the Supreme Court is really about ERISA’s six-year statute of limitations.

Background about the case. Plan participant Glenn Tibble brought a lawsuit against his employer, Edison International, and the company’s benefits and investment committees as fiduciaries and administrators of his defined contribution (DC) plan. Tibble claims the plan fiduciaries managed the plan imprudently by selecting retail mutual funds as retirement plan investments when institutional shares were available at a much lower cost to participants.

The lower courts found that the fiduciaries were imprudent in selecting retail-class shares and failing to investigate alternative institutional-class mutual funds.

The problem for Tibble is that some of the retail-class funds were added to the retirement plan more than six years before Tibble filed the lawsuit.

The courts have held that although the fiduciaries were imprudent with the selection of the retail-class shares, Tibble’s claim with respect to funds selected more than six years before the lawsuit is barred by ERISA’s six-year statute of limitations.

Current issue for the Supreme Court review. Now the Supreme Court has agreed to review the statute of limitations issue.

Tibble’s argument, which is supported by the U.S. Department of Labor, is that there is a continuing duty to monitor the plan investments. As a result, Tibble thinks his claim should not be time-barred under the theory that there is a restart of the six-year period with the ongoing failure to monitor the plan’s investments. This is a frightening thought for employers!

Prior court decisions have sided with the fiduciaries and found that the six-year period runs from the initial selection of the investment. While there is a duty to monitor the plan’s investments, the courts have been reluctant to permit a new limitations period for a continuing violation. The Ninth Circuit said it would lead to an “unworkable result” where present fiduciaries could be liable for decisions made by their predecessors decades before.

So what are the takeaways for plan fiduciaries? On the fee issues, if you are selecting retail type mutual funds, you need to consider alternative institutional-class mutual funds and document your decision.

With respect to the statute of limitations, we should have the Supreme Court decision by the end of June 2015. For plan fiduciaries, the decision will be an important ruling on the meaning of ERISA’s six-year statute of limitations and the future liability for plan sponsors.

Tibble vs. Edison: What will it mean for plan sponsors and fiduciaries?

Conkel-DouglasThe U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to rule on the Tibble vs. Edison case, the first case in front of the Supreme Court dealing with excess fees within a qualified defined contribution (DC) plan, e.g., a 401(k) plan. In this case the plaintiff contends there was a fiduciary breach of duty by Edison because the plan continued to use retail share class funds when lower-cost share classes became available to the plan as it grew. However, the focus of the ruling may not focus on the excess fee component but more on the six-year statute of limitations under ERISA (the U.S. law that regulates qualified retirement plans and fiduciary responsibilities). The statute of limitation under ERISA is designed to prevent fiduciaries from never-ending risks arising from historical decisions. Congress specifically added this limitation to try to minimize the burden of a 401(k) plan to plan sponsors. For this reason, the scope of the ruling may be limited to the statute of limitations rather than specifics on the fee issue. However, this ruling will be significant in light of the $4.2 trillion in 401(k) plan retirement assets.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court’s ruling and comments could have a large impact on future litigation concerning participant grievance against plan sponsors—we will have to wait and see. Regardless of the ruling, this increased attention will hopefully promote more education and development of best practices when it comes to plan sponsors truly understanding their fee arrangements within their qualified plans. As an active relationship manager ensuring that my clients completely understand their “total” fee structure, there has been a focused effort on my part toward that end the last several years. I have written a couple of white papers discussing elements of qualified plan fees, which often are overlooked or not discussed in detail at the fiduciary/advisor/provider level:

Fees: What everyone is NOT talking about!

Fees: What no one is talking about, round 2

One of the fee elements I discuss in detail is the administrative fees (revenue sharing) embedded in the plan’s investment options. It often feels as if sponsors focus on implicit administration fees when usually 70% or more of the plan’s total cost comes from the expense ratios of the plan’s investment options. One important best practice is to ensure that any revenue sharing embedded in a fund’s expense ratio is used to benefit the participants invested in that fund (not at the plan level but to benefit the participants who actually pay that revenue-sharing amount via the expense ratio). This is referred to as “fee-leveling” and while it is becoming a best practice there are still a large number of sponsors who don’t understand the issue and simply don’t know the solutions.

Assuming that a plan levels fees by giving the participants in a fund the benefit of that fund’s revenue sharing, then once an investment option is chosen for a plan’s fund lineup selecting the share class of that fund becomes an easy choice. The sponsor simply needs to select the share class that provides the lowest net cost to the participant. In the example below, assume that a plan sponsor levels fees by taking any revenue sharing paid by an investment option and crediting that back to the participants in that fund as a revenue-sharing expense reimbursement (a credit).

Figure 1: Fund A, Various Share Classes

Expense Ratio Revenue Sharing Net Cost to Participant
Share Class A 0.75% 0.30% 0.45%
Share Class I 0.50% 0% 0.50%

In the example above, for this plan at its current provider, the lowest net cost to participants (once the revenue sharing is allocated back to participants in this fund) would be the Share Class A. This is not always the result, depending on the fund family and share classes. Sometimes, there is no difference in net cost so the conclusion would be to go with the zero revenue-sharing class so the plan doesn’t have to do a revenue-sharing credit allocation.

As this case progresses we will post more comments and updates, but, for now, I encourage sponsors to study up on their plan’s fee arrangements, fee-leveling, and other best practices within the industry. Sponsors should not rely too much on their current providers or advisors if some of the topics discussed above have never been mentioned in a retirement committee meeting, as they might lack the insight required to do a complete evaluation.