The Securities and Exchange Commission is proposing a new rule under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 that would require registered investment advisers to satisfy specific requirements if they outsource certain services or functions. The Proposed Rule (Rule 206(4)-11) imposes due diligence and monitoring obligations for the engagement and retention of service providers and includes changes to Form ADV and to the recordkeeping requirements under Rule 204-2. Investment advisers should become familiar with the Proposed Rule to ensure timely compliance, if it is adopted.
‘Tis the season for giving – and the Department of Labor just gave plan sponsors a gift. The Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) recently announced its intent to update its Voluntary Fiduciary Correction Program (VFCP) to create a new self-correction process for correcting late remittances of participant deferrals and loan repayments to defined contribution plans.
Investment consultants and other service providers who advise plan participants and fiduciaries about rollovers and investment choices received another reprieve from new rules governing that advice. But the reprieve is only temporary; those consultants and advisors must be prepared to comply by February 1, 2022.
On April 14, 2021, the Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (“EBSA”) issued cybersecurity guidance for retirement plan fiduciaries and service providers, as well as plan participants. In the guidance, the EBSA states that ERISA fiduciaries are required to take appropriate steps to mitigate internal and external cybersecurity threats to plan participants and retirement plan assets. To assist fiduciaries and service providers in fulfilling this obligation, the EBSA issued two documents that describe cybersecurity best practices – Cybersecurity Program Best Practices and Tips for Hiring a Service Provider. The EBSA also issued some basic rules – Online Security Tips – to help participants reduce the risk of fraud and loss to their retirement accounts.
On February 12, 2021, the Department of Labor issued a press release confirming that the new fiduciary investment advice guidelines under Prohibited Transaction Exemption 2020-02 will go into effect on February 16, 2021. The Department also confirmed that the temporary enforcement relief provided by Field Assistance Bulletin 2018-02 will remain in place until December 20, 2021.
The Biden administration previously issued a memo to regulatory agencies suspending new regulations issued during the waning days of the Trump administration. The purpose of the suspension is to provide the incoming administration with the opportunity to review those regulations. As a result, there was some question whether the Exemption would become effective.
On December 15, 2020, the Department of Labor finalized its new guidelines for fiduciary investment advice. Prohibited Transaction Exemption 2020-02 both clarifies the circumstances under which financial institutions and investment professionals are considered “fiduciaries” under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code, and also establishes a new framework under which such fiduciaries may provide services and receive compensation.
The preamble to the final Exemption provides the Department’s long-awaited final interpretation of when investment advice – such as a recommendation to roll over retirement plan assets to an IRA (or between IRAs) – creates a fiduciary relationship under ERISA or the Code. The substantive terms of the Exemption allow investment advisers who are fiduciaries to receive compensation and engage in principal transactions that would otherwise violate prohibited transaction rules.
The Exemption applies to SEC- and state-registered investment advisers, broker-dealers, banks, insurance companies, and their employees, agents and representatives that are investment advice fiduciaries under the newly interpreted “five-part” test of fiduciary status. It imposes certain conditions to protect the interests of retirement plans, participants, beneficiaries, and IRA owners. The Exemption is set to become effective February 16, 2021, absent a delay by the Biden Administration. Thus, employers will need to be aware of the Exemption and its conditions in their engagement of (and interactions with) plan service providers.
The SECURE and CARES Acts provide a broad spectrum of required and optional changes that employers must evaluate with respect to retirement plan administration. One impending change is the SECURE Act’s broader eligibility requirement for part-time employees in 401(k) plans, which becomes effective on January 1, 2021. In addition, employers may be surprised to learn that some CARES Act distribution options were added to their plans automatically by their record keepers through a “default” process. Thus, employers should review their plan’s administrative procedures to determine if (and how) changes under the SECURE Act and CARES Act were (and are being) implemented to ensure administrative compliance with the plan document.
As we are all now intimately aware, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the nature of the workplace, and all of the benefits, rights, and responsibilities arising out of employment. We are operating under a new set of rules, and those rules are changing daily. Employers’ efforts to manage their workforce in order to maintain fiscal viability while protecting the health of employees also affect benefits. The cascading effect of these factors raises many thorny benefits questions. We will summarize – and attempt to answer – a few of those questions here (based on the legal landscape as of March 31, 2020).
The recent turmoil in the financial markets, while troubling for individual investors, also has potentially significant implications for ERISA fiduciaries. Individuals and committees who have investment authority over plan assets should reevaluate their portfolios in light of these developments. Circumstances may not require a change in investment strategy, but ERISA’s prudence requirement requires fiduciaries to give immediate, thoughtful consideration to how those circumstances have changed.
The deadline by which SEC-registered investment advisers and SEC-registered broker-dealers are required to file Form CRS with the SEC and deliver the Form to retail investors is quickly approaching. Firms registered with the SEC prior to June 30, 2020, must file the Form with the SEC no later than June 30, 2020. In addition, firms are also required to deliver their Form CRS to new and prospective retail investors. For retail investors who already have a brokerage or advisory account, Form CRS must be provided by July 30, 2020.