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.
After nearly a month of regulatory machinations and behind-the-scenes lobbying, the Department of Labor has released a proposed rule that would delay the “applicability date” of its recently enacted “conflict of interest” (or “fiduciary”) regulation (the “Fiduciary Rule”). The 60-day delay in the applicability of the Fiduciary Rule would have only an indirect effect on employers, but is of great interest to investment advisors and other service providers.
In December, the Division of Investment Management of the Securities and Exchange Commission issued Guidance Update No. 2016-06. The Update provides disclosure and procedural guidance to address potential issues for mutual funds responding to the Department of Labor’s adoption of the Conflict of Interest Rule. To address concerns by financial intermediaries that variations in mutual fund sales loads may violate the Rule, Funds are exploring various options, including changing fee structures and creating new share classes. Such changes may impact fiduciary decisions regarding a plan’s investments and compensation arrangements.
After years of effort, the Department of Labor released final rules on April 6, 2016, that will substantially alter the way investment advice is provided to ERISA plans, their participants, and even non-ERISA IRAs.
The United States Supreme Court gave considerable comfort to defined contribution plan participants – and their lawyers – who sue plan fiduciaries for failing to keep track of plan investment options. In a unanimous decision handed down on May 18, 2015, the Court held in Tibble v. Edison International that ERISA fiduciaries have a “continuing duty” to monitor investment options, and that plan participants have six years from the date of an alleged violation of that duty to file a lawsuit against the plan’s fiduciaries. This ruling significantly undercuts the utility of a statute of limitations defense that had been successfully deployed by plan fiduciaries in previous cases, and creates fertile ground for more litigation.