GAO Finds International DC Strategies Beneficial to U.S.

April 23, 2012 ( – The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has concluded that defined contribution retirement plan approaches in other countries may be beneficial to the U.S.

By Tara Cantore | April 23, 2012
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The countries GAO reviewed use risk-based approaches to target practices deemed most likely to harm participants and to develop preventative measures. While the role of service providers varies, defined contribution (DC) plans and service providers in the four countries GAO reviewed are overseen by multiple agencies—primarily a pensions regulator and a securities regulator. In each of these countries, the pensions regulator is the agency that regularly collects data on service provider fees, as well as other plan features, which are used to inform their oversight activities.

In particular, in several of these countries, the pensions regulator uses these data as part of a risk-based approach to identify service provider practices that may harm participants, instead of relying only on a compliance-based approach. For example, in Chile, pensions agency officials evaluate key features of the DC system, such as the service providers’ management of the individual accounts and the composition and role of the board of directors of the service provider. In both Chile and Australia, agency officials said using a risk-based approach enables the pensions regulator to take proactive measures to ensure the DC plans are operating in the best interest of participants. These countries have used risk-based approaches to oversee service providers for a number of years, while the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has just begun to develop a risk-based approach in its efforts to oversee U.S. DC plans and service providers.

Other countries have used key strategies to improve the disclosures participants receive about the fees they pay for their DC plans, including presenting disclosures in a consistent, summary format, which has increased transparency. In particular, these countries have made disclosures simpler and more uniform to facilitate comparisons, and one has required that providers highlight the long-term impact of fees on participants’ account balances.