Wednesday, July 8, 2015

You Run a Business -- Why Do You Choose to be in the Benefit Plan Business, Too?

You've been successful in the business world. You've made your way up through the ranks. Suddenly, because your title starts with the word "chief", you find yourself on the company's Benefits (or some other similar name) Committee.

You're an accidental fiduciary. You have no benefits training. You've never studied ERISA. In some cases, you've never heard of ERISA. What are you doing in this role and why?

Perhaps there is not a single person on your committee with a strong grounding in ERISA issues. But, you know that in order to compete for employees, you have to provide your employees with some benefits. It's likely that some or all of those benefit plans are covered by ERISA. And, ERISA coverage brings with it a myriad of rules and requirements.

Oh no, now I have you panicking. What should you do?

Let's consider one of the most common benefit plan offerings in 2015, the 401(k) plan. What is your committee responsible for? Do you know?

While one could argue that the list might be slightly different, here is a pretty decent summary:

  • Plan design
  • Selection of plan investment options
  • Compliance (with laws, regulations, and other requirements)
  • Plan administration
  • Communication to participants and education of those participants
That's a lot to swallow. Look around your committee. Presumably, since the committee has responsibility for all of those elements, at the very least, you can find people in the room who, between them, have expertise in all of those areas,

You can't? 

Do you really want the responsibility that comes with being a member of that committee when you have just realized that the expertise to handle the committee's roles doesn't reside on the committee?

You have choices, or at least you might. You could resign from the committee. Frankly, that usually doesn't go over well.

You could engage an expert. Suppose you could find an individual who could function in the role that a committee Chair would play in a perfect world. We're likely talking about someone who doesn't work for your company. This person will bring you peace of mind and essentially serve as the quarterback for the committee. He or she won't have a vote, but will guide you through the processes so that 

  • Your plan is well-designed for your population and budgets, 
  • It has investment options for plan participants that are prudently chosen and monitored according to an Investment Policy Statement (sometimes called an IPS), 
  • It gets and stays in compliance with applicable rules, 
  • Is administered properly and the firm that administers it is well-monitored, and
  • Is communicated to participants in a clear fashion that properly educates those participants as to the benefits of plan participation.
That sounds great, doesn't it?

If you don't currently have such a quarterback for your committee, perhaps you should. I can help you find one.

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