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Require 401(k) Plans to Offer Fixed-Income Products, Key Congressman Says

April 17, 2009
Related Topics: Future Workplace, Retirement/Pensions, Workforce Planning, Latest News
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Requiring that annuities or other fixed-income products be included as an option in 401(k) plans is being considered by the House Education and Labor Committee, said Rep. Robert Andrews, D-New Jersey, chairman of the committee’s Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee.

“In the midst of the market meltdown, a lot of the wealthy have moved from equity markets to Treasury bills,” Andrews said in an interview.

“A lot of other people don’t have that option in their retirement savings,” he said.

“I see this as a way that every defined-contribution participant could, in effect, transform their account into a defined-benefit type of account,” Andrews said. “They could opt for an annuity product that gives them a guaranteed income. It’s a choice that everyone should have.”

Only about a third of 401(k) plans have a fixed-income option, Andrews said.

That is a “surprisingly small number,” he said.

Last year, the Education and Labor Committee approved a bill that would require more disclosure of 401(k) fees, and the committee is currently considering similar legislation, Andrews said.

Requiring an annuity or fixed-income option was not in the bill approved last year by the committee. “It’s under consideration” this year, he said.

Legislation aimed at improving 401(k) fee disclosure is likely to include a requirement that all 401(k) plans include at least one low-cost index-type fund, Andrews said. That provision was in last year’s bill.

The mutual fund industry, which manages many of the nation’s 401(k) plans, opposes mandating that type of requirement, said Investment Company Institute president and chief executive Paul Schott Stevens.

“The design of the system, left up to employers, is sound and has worked well,” he said.

About 70 percent of all 401(k) plans already have an equity index fund option, Stevens added.

Other elements of likely 401(k) legislation would include a requirement that specific investment advice to plan participants be dispensed only by advisors who are not affiliated with mutual fund or other companies that sell investments for the plans, Andrews said.

In addition, the committee is looking at a requirement that 401(k) fees be “unbundled” into broad categories so that employers and employees could determine investment management fees, administrative fees and a few other types of fees, he said.

“That way you can shop,” Andrews said.

A similar provision was included in last year’s bill.

Disclosure of revenue-sharing payments made by plan service providers to mutual fund companies for funds included in 401(k) plans also is likely to be included in the legislation being considered, he added.

Andrews predicted that the legislation will gain support in Congress.

It’s possible to build a broad coalition in favor of 401(k) reform,” he said.


Filed by Sara Hansard of Investment News, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail editors@workforce.com.

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