As explained by the DOL, some 401(k)-type plans offer participants access to brokerage windows in addition to, or in place of, specific investment options chosen by the employer or another plan fiduciary. These “window” arrangements can enable or require individual participants to choose for themselves from a broad range of investments—in many cases participants can choose from the entire universe of stocks and mutual funds, comprised of tens of thousands of different options.
The DOL says it received a significant number of questions and comments about brokerage windows following the 2012 publication of a final regulation on participant-level fee disclosure, and so it is now considering whether to update rules related to brokerage windows (see “Brokerage Window Issues Still Open”).
“We promised employers and other plan sponsors and fiduciaries that we would look into the use of brokerage window features,” explains Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employee Benefits Security Phyllis C. Borzi. “Our goal in issuing this request is to determine whether, and to what extent, regulatory standards or other guidance concerning the use of brokerage windows may be necessary to adequately protect participants’ retirement savings.”
The RFI asks for a variety of data concerning brokerage windows, including the scope of investment options typically available through a window; demographic and other information about participants who commonly use brokerage windows; the process of selecting a brokerage window and provider for a plan; the costs of brokerage windows; and what kind of information about brokerage windows and underlying investment options typically is available and disclosed to participants.
The latest PLANSPONSOR Defined Contribution Survey shows the incidence of self-directed brokerage windows is 19.5% across plans of all sizes. However, the largest plans are significantly more likely to offer a brokerage window, with 44.4% of plans with assets between $500 million and $1 billion offering some type of brokerage window for self-directed investing. Plans with more than $1 billion of assets are slightly less likely to offer brokerage windows, at 42.6%.
Written comments may also be sent to the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Regulations and Interpretations, Employee Benefits Security Administration, N-5655, 200 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, D.C., 20210. Letters should include the extra address line, “Attn: Brokerage Window RFI.”
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