401(k) plan fiduciaries are often concerned about their fiduciary liability – little surprise when they can be personally liable for fiduciary failures. To mitigate this risk, fiduciaries must understand the sources of liability. A way to do that is asking insurance companies about the factors that increase the price of 401(k) fiduciary liability insurance.

Recently, Aon – one of the world’s largest providers of risk management, retirement, and health services – surveyed top insurance companies about that question. They published their findings – including key takeaways – in a white paper. If you are 401(k) plan fiduciary, I recommend you check it out. The paper includes some valuable insights into the drivers of 401(k) fiduciary liability.

Here are some excerpts from the Aon white paper and my thoughts on their top takeaway.

About 401(k) Fiduciary Liability Insurance

The Aon white paper included one of the best explanations of 401(k) fiduciary liability insurance – which is optional – I have ever read:

“If you have discretionary authority for the management or administration of an employee benefit plan that is subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), or if you exercise any authority of control with respect to the management or disposition of the assets of an ERISA plan, then you are considered a fiduciary of that plan. Under ERISA, plan fiduciaries shall be personally liable for fiduciary failures, meaning that your personal assets could be at risk. In a worst-case scenario, even bankruptcy would not offer protection.

An ERISA bond will not offer protection against breaches of fiduciary duty. Under ERISA, plan fiduciaries and those who handle plan funds or assets must be bonded to protect the plan from losses caused by dishonest or fraudulent actions. But the ERISA fidelity bonds that you are legally required to purchase will not protect from losses arising from breaches of fiduciary duty (such as the failure to prudently invest plan assets) or plan administrative errors. These exposures require fiduciary liability insurance.

Fiduciary liability insurance is designed to provide coverage for:

Covered claims may include:

Aon Survey Results

According to Aon, “Understanding what drives pricing for fiduciary liability insurance is not just about managing those insurance costs, but also about understanding and managing fiduciary risks themselves—that is, avoiding a lawsuit altogether.”

To this end, Aon surveyed top insurance companies providing fiduciary liability insurance coverage to understand how plan management typically impacts pricing for fiduciary liability insurance. Their survey focused on areas within the control of fiduciaries for defined benefit (DB) plans – commonly called pensions – and defined contribution (DC) plans – which includes 401(k) plans.

For each area, Aon asked insurers to characterize the impact on premiums as significant, small, or nonexistent

Below is a summary of their findings:

The Top Takeaway – Fees Are Very Important

The Aon white paper includes five key survey takeaways. The top takeaway – fees are very important. According to Aon, “For those following ERISA litigation over the past several years, it should come as no surprise that the questions about fee levels and structures as well as processes for reviewing fees ranked as top drivers of fiduciary liability insurance premiums.”

My Thoughts

I’m not surprised at all  Aon found revenue sharing to be a significant driver of insurance premiums. I consider this 401(k) provider compensation a risky bet for plan fiduciaries for the following reasons:

Fortunately, revenue sharing is easy to avoid. You just need to hire a 401(k) provider with 100% direct administration fees

Steer Clear of 401(k) Liability to Protect Participant Interests!

I do not carry 401(k) fiduciary liability insurance as plan fiduciary myself. My firm’s 401(k) plan has relatively few assets and I don’t find it particularly difficult to meet my 401(k) fiduciary responsibilities – which I view as pretty common sense. However, I completely understand why other plan fiduciaries might consider the insurance worth the price.

That said, regardless of your view on the 401(k) fiduciary liability insurance, understanding the factors that increase the price of 401(k) fiduciary liability insurance can help you avoid fiduciary pitfalls – and in turn, ensure a higher quality retirement plan for you and your employees!

This content was originally published here.

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