The U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report in April saying that employees switching jobs often receive guidance by 401(k) companies to roll their accounts into an IRA, even when that might not be the best course of action.
But what does this mean for advisers?
"The report didn't show enough about why people make the choices they do," says Lisa Bleier, managing director of Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, referring to the rollover into IRAs. "Advisers are just trying to educate folks, they're not trying to scheme. But we're taking the comments to heart and will work with regulators."
She says she spoke to an adviser that day about how he's created charts to navigate individuals through the path of choices with a 401(k) when changing jobs. A lot of information is already out there but "we agree the more information, the better," Bleier says.
Kent Mason, partner at Davis & Harman, a Washington-based employee benefits law firm, says the GAO also makes very clear that if plan sponsors and advisers have fiduciary liability attached to communications they tend to "pull way back."
In other words, if the U.S. Department of Labor attaches fiduciary liability to 401(k) advising, information for consumers could "dry up completely," Mason says.
The DOL has publicly noted the possibility of extending fiduciary liability in the future to encompass both advisers and plan sponsors.
"It's a real problem that could hurt the consumers, and also prevent intermediaries like advisers from doing their job," Mason believes.
But according the Investment Company Institute, a lobbying organization for the financial services industry, it's doubtful the DOL will take the GAO's cautionary report into consideration.
An ICI spokesperson said that even though GAO was clear about the effects of fiduciary extension to advisers, the group is "schizophrenic" and goes on to essentially endorse it.
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