Retirement plan sponsors, now more than ever, need to be diligent in carrying out their fiduciary responsibilities. The Department of Labor, IRS and other agencies have eyes on the industry, especially with new retirement planning fee disclosures and a soon to be proposed expanded definition of “fiduciary.”
“The business owner who says, ‘I’m hiring these service providers to run the plan and I don’t have to worry about it’ is nonetheless ultimately responsible if there are problems,” says Paula M. Lewis, Manager, Client and Advisor Experience, at Tegrit Group.
Smart Business spoke with Lewis about what business changes could signal that retirement plan adjustments are necessary.
Who do plan sponsors deal with?
Plan sponsor decision-makers depend on industry experts for assistance in managing their roles and responsibilities. Although some parties may serve multiple roles, the sponsor may engage an accountant, an investment advisor, an actuary, an ERISA attorney and a third-party administrator (TPA), with each having important and distinctive functions impacting the plan’s operation.
Despite having all these providers in place, the ultimate responsibility for the plan still lies with the plan sponsor. Employers sometimes put in a retirement plan and just let it ride, but then no one is ensuring the plan grows and changes with the company and its employees.
In this dynamic environment, it’s crucial that all parties communicate. It’s best if you know that your service providers work well together, which lessens the risk of something being missed, and the best course of action is being charted.
What changes need to be communicated?
Usually, over time there are changes to the employee demographics, financial standing and even the goals of a company. The company’s retirement plan should also change over time to reflect these changes in employees, finances and objectives. Certain changes always should be communicated to plan service providers, including:
- Changes in ownership.
- Acquisition or divestiture of another company.
- Family members becoming employees of the firm.
- Major compensation changes of key personnel.
- Retirement plan goal changes of key personnel.
It’s confusing to know who to tell what, but generally, the investment advisor and TPA should be made aware of all of these changes, as they may impact fiduciary considerations and compliance. The investment advisor, along with the TPA, should be able to analyze any changes, determine which parties need to be informed, and make any plan changes to avoid any problems or penalties and ensure the plan is designed to maximize the benefits and goals of the company.
What can happen if changes aren’t reflected in the plan?
There are various penalties that are imposed if a plan falls out of compliance because of changes at the plan sponsor level. Late amendments and failed compliance testing are but two. For instance, if the spouse of the owner of one company purchases a separate company, the two companies can be considered a ‘control group,’ and for plan purposes are ‘one.’ Upon an IRS audit, the less generous company may have to increase its plan contributions, which could be an expensive correction avoidable with advance planning and appropriate plan designs.
When acquiring a company with a pension plan, you acquire its liability, especially if it’s underfunded — unless the acquisition agreements are carefully worded. Without advance planning, closing a division could produce a costly surprise as it could be considered a partial plan termination, requiring that the terminated employees be 100 percent vested.
Another area that can cause compliance issues is how certain family members of owners becoming an employee impacts the retirement plan. According to the IRS, he or she is considered highly compensated regardless of their salary. That could cause a plan to require corrective contributions. It is crucial to keep the lines of communication open with your advisors and TPA.
Paula M. Lewis, QPA, QKA, manager, Client and Advisor Experience, at Tegrit Group. Reach her at (330) 983-0485 or email@example.com.
Website: Visit Tegrit’s Advisor Resource Center at www.tegritgroup.com/arc for additional retirement planning tips.
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