Should a Retirement Plan Implement a Fee Policy Statement?

Fee Policy Statement, Fiduciary, Compliance

For the client who may be concerned about fiduciary compliance, a fee policy statement may give comfort.

Like all other fiduciary actions, the value of this statement is a function of how well it is written (not too loose nor too tight) and how consistently a plan sponsor actually describes/practices the process documented. So, a fee policy statement can potentially create problems in addition to mitigating them.

Having said this, assuming the plan is being managed prudently, by conducting a comprehensive live bid every three to four years (or sooner if circumstances warrant), along with an annual “second opinion” based on national normative data (as in our annual Fiduciary Plan Review), and the plan sponsor responds appropriately to the conclusions and maintains documentation, this should provide sufficient documentation to mitigate liability.

The recent attention to this issue is good in that, if interpreted properly, it will raise awareness. On the other hand, it also may create a bias for action which may not be beneficial.

A written fee policy is not required and may not be necessary.  It is sufficient to state in the Investment Policy Statement (IPS) that the fiduciaries will take the necessary steps to ensure fees are reasonable. A detailed fee policy may set fiduciaries up for failure and limit their flexibility in determining how fees will be structured.

Plan fiduciaries should have a complete understanding of how much a plan is paying in total and to whom, and they should benchmark the plan periodically to ensure the fees are competitive. If the investments are sharing revenue, the fiduciaries should decide that this is appropriate and should understand who is receiving this revenue. All of this should be documented through reports and meeting minutes.

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