401(k) Fee Disclosure Proposal Draws Industry Criticism at Committee Hearing

October 4, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A legislative proposal calling for greater disclosure of 401(k) fees was lambasted in a hearing on Thursday in the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee by retirement industry groups who say the proposal's breadth of disclosure would be too overwhelming for everyone involved including participants.

The themes presented in the testimony were threaded together by a few unifying points: 401(k) fees need some clarification and regulation, but Miller’s proposal would impart too heavy a burden on plan sponsors and plan providers without a significant enough gain for participants.

The testimony by industry representatives echoed the same cautionary tone heard after Representative George Miller, (D-California), released the proposal in July (See  Representative Miller Introduces Fee Disclosure LegislationFirst, Do No Harm  ). Miller is the committe’s Chairman.

Some of the groups presenting testimony asked that Congress work closely with the Department of Labor, which is already following a phased approach to fee disclosure (See  DoL Asks For Advice on 401(k) Fee Disclosures ).  

“The requirements of H.R. 3185 for participant fee disclosure are numerous, burdensome, complex, and likely to increase participant confusion rather than enhance participant knowledge,” said Lew Minsky , an attorney testifying on behalf of the ERISA Industry Committee, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Profit Sharing/401(k) Council of America and other organizations.

The American Benefits Council said in a statement that while fee disclosure can help participants better understand their options, “participants need clear, simply short disclosures that effectively communicate the key points that they need to know to decide whether to participate and, if so, how to invest.” The group further said that “plan fiduciaries need more detailed information since it is their duty to understand fully the options available and to make prudent choices on behalf of all of their participants.”

According to the committee, Miller’s proposal would:

  • require plan administrators to disclose, in clear and simple terms, all fees charged to plan participants each year;
  • help workers better understand their investment options by providing more detailed information on investment strategies, risks, and returns when they sign up for their company’s 401(k);
  • ensure that all fees and conflicts of interest are disclosed annually to employers who sponsor 401(k) plans; and
  • enhance the Department of Labor’s oversight of 401(k) plans.

Thursday’s testimony from Bradford Campbell, Assistant Secretary of Labor and head of the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA). is here .

A statement by Tommy Thomasson on behalf of T he American Society of Pension Professionals & Actuaries is here .

Complete hearing video

Individual Video Clips (note not all witnesses had a YouTube clip.  To see the entire session, check the link above).

Opening Remarks of Chairman George Miller Committee on Education and Labor.

Tommy Thomasson, President and CEO Daily Access Corporation.

David Certner, Director of Federal Affairs AARP.

Jon Chambers, Principal Schultz, Collins, Lawson, Chambers, Inc. 

Matthew H. Scanlan, Managing Director Americas Institutional Business, Barclays Global Investors