The surveys keep coming: A sizable percentage of plan fiduciaries don’t realize they are fiduciaries —which means that they don’t understand what being a fiduciary requires them to do. The term “ostrich fiduciaries” can be used to describe them — they are people who keep their heads in the sand to avoid seeing their responsibilities and all of those auditors and plaintiff’s lawyers waiting to hold them accountable.
But people who know that they are fiduciaries can also have gaps in their knowledge or just be dealing with crises as they come up. They may never get the big picture. For those fiduciaries self-aware enough to know there are things they need to learn, here are some ways they can raise the bar in fulfilling their fiduciary responsibilities.
Schedule an on-site fiduciary training session. Department of Labor auditors will ask whether there has been fiduciary training, and a good way to respond would be to show that you have had one or more fiduciary training sessions with your ERISA attorney or adviser. Use written materials and keep them as a record of what was discussed.
Sign up for webinars. These are convenient ways to learn and some are free or low cost. The Department of Labor has a webcast series called “Getting it right — know your fiduciary responsibilities.”
Attend a formal education program. Attend a live education session, such as the programs sponsored by The Plan Sponsor University or your local chapter of Worldwide Employee Benefits. This will enable you to network face-to-face with your peers, a benefit over webinars. The Department of Labor also has offered live fiduciary education sessions in major cities, although none are scheduled right now.
Familiarize yourself with materials on the DOL’s website. Look for the EBSA portion of the website. In addition to the “Getting it right” webcasts, there are good materials on issues such as plan fees and how to select a plan auditor.
Develop written policies with your advisers. Written policies provide a roadmap for how you will fulfill your responsibilities.
Prepare a checklist of things to do each year. The best way to make sure that you are doing what you need to do is to have your advisers or preferably your ERISA attorney prepare a compliance checklist. This can include best practices, such as annual review of the Investment Policy Statement and service providers.
Read up on your own. You can find lots of additional material by doing searches online. For example, Principal and Callan have produced fiduciary management handbooks for ERISA fiduciaries. Our own website, has a link that lets you download our popular “Intelligent Fiduciary” Guide. Just about everyone in our field has a wealth of useful information posted on a website and you usually don’t need to be a client to access the material.
Read newsletters and blogs regularly. There are many free newsletters and blogs that will help keep plan sponsors abreast of developments and new requirements. Law firms, advisers, actuaries, consultants and recordkeepers are often represented in these.
Remember fulfilling fiduciary responsibilities is an ongoing obligation. Following these steps will enable you to keep up with the latest developments as well as bringing you up to speed on the basics.
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