More than 78% of plan sponsors are planning to maintain their offerings of stable value funds, according to the MetLife 2013 Stable Value Study
The vast majority (86%) of plan sponsors have been offering stable value as an investment option in their defined contribution plans for more than two years, and
are not planning to change that within the next year.
Among those plan sponsors that added stable value as an investment option in their DC plan in the past two years, 47% said they did so to provide participants with a “capital preservation fund,” 37% said stable value “offers higher interest rates than other, comparable investments,” and the same percentage said “it was recommended by their recordkeeper/TPA.”
MetLife commissioned this study of 140 plan sponsors and 19 stable value fund providers to gain updated insights into the current landscape of stable value products. However, when it comes to understanding the arrangements plan sponsors have selected, more than one in five plan sponsors (22%) who offer stable value to their participants said they did not know what types of stable value contracts back their offering, and the low percentage of smaller plans identifying synthetics as elements of their stable value option suggests they may not be aware that pooled stable value funds often incorporate all three types of contracts. This finding is consistent with the results of MetLife’s 2010 Stable Value Study, though the overall level of familiarity among plans sponsors and stable value fund providers has increased for most factors since the initial study.
“The safety and stability provided by stable value funds have made them a consistently popular choice for qualified plan participants, particularly during challenging economic times,” said Thomas Schuster, CFA, vice president and head of Stable Value Investment Products, MetLife. “That said, as the market stabilizes, plan sponsors and fund providers should not become complacent. While understanding of stable value contract provisions has increased slightly, knowledge of how these terms actually affect stable value outcomes is less well understood.”
When accessing stable value, nearly two-thirds of plan sponsors (62%) indicate that they predominantly access or arrange their stable value offerings through a recordkeeper or full-service provider, and an additional 13% of plans access stable value funds through a TPA. A small number of plan sponsors (only 5%) access stable value through a pooled fund offered by an investment-only stable value manager, and even fewer (4%) use a qualified professional asset manager (QPAM) to access their stable value offerings.
“The potential mixture of investment managers, wrap providers and contracts available today makes it especially important for the plan sponsor to recognize and become educated about the similarly wide variety of regulations that govern each type of arrangement,” added Warren Howe, National Sales Director, Stable Value Markets, MetLife. “This includes variations in wrap contract provisions and guarantees, in addition to the standard due diligence with regard to investment providers, strategies and guidelines.”
The study offers the following recommendations for plan sponsors and their advisers:
- Take affirmative steps to guard against complacency: While this study shows improvement in some aspects of plan sponsor understanding of stable value contract terms, it suggests that the knowledge of how these terms actually affect stable value outcomes is less well understood. Take the time to ask and have your stable value providers explain how their contracts will work for your plan.
- Become familiar with all three basic stable value contract structures: This study makes it clear that traditional GICs, separate account GICs and synthetic GICs are all well represented in today’s stable value options, and suggests that options are increasingly backed by more than one type of contract.
- Take the time to discuss the mechanics of your stable value option with your stable value providers: Both the contract and agreement terms and their effects – how they will work in practice – are important. This study indicates more progress on the former than the latter. The richness of choices that the current stable value market offers sponsors requires attention to how the providers, structures and access points selected all work together in support of the sponsor’s stable value option.
- Be mindful that adding more fiduciaries does not make a sponsor any less a fiduciary in its own right: This study suggests that the incidence of sponsors retaining advisors for help with arranging or monitoring their stable value options has climbed sharply since the 2010 study. Sponsors should be mindful that retaining an advisor is intended to assist them in meeting, rather than a substitute for, their own fiduciary responsibilities.
- Give thoughtful consideration to the interaction between 404(c) and QDIA safe harbors: Sponsors that have adopted a QDIA in connection with auto-enrollment whose overall plans are structured to rely on the 404(c) safe harbor should take care that focusing on the former does not undo the protections of the latter.
- Stay attuned to emerging financial regulatory reform and its potential effects on stable value: MetLife underscores the importance of plan sponsors and the practitioner community continuing to speak for stability in qualified retirement plan structures, and the importance of having flexibility to make the fiduciary decisions that are best for their own plan participants.
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