Imagine a 401(k) plan that does not allow participants to direct the investment of their accounts, a plan where trustees make investment decisions on behalf of the plan as a whole. Some might consider that blasphemy. Participants want – no, they have a right – to direct the investment of their retirement accounts.
As radical as it sounds, it was not that long ago when participant investment direction was rare. Technology has been the single biggest factor in enabling plans to permit participant directed investments. Throw in a threat of fiduciary liability, some marketing, and we have a train that cannot be stopped. I am not suggesting that this train needs to be stopped. I do, however, think it is time to step back and take a look at where this train is headed.
The human body is a highly complex, self-contained entity that relies on several subsystems to function. A failure in any one of these systems could create a real crisis. No one would like being told that his/her brain, cardio-vascular, endocrine, nervous or other system might stop functioning or begin to “over function.” The results could be disastrous. Like the human body, the global economy is an extremely complicated organism that has many different parts. Regulation, taxation, business climate, employment, politics and other systems — all have the potential to dysfunction, creating a crisis that can impact your wealth.
According to InvestorWords.com, a defined contribution plan is “A company retirement plan, such as a 401(k) plan or 403(b) plan, in which the employee elects to defer some amount of his/her salary into the plan and bears the investment risk.” While there are many other sources for this definition, I chose this one for a reason. The primary purpose for participating in a defined contribution plan is for participants to save for their own retirement. While I sometimes understand people need to be protected from themselves, participants should be responsible for bearing the investment risk, rather than the plan. Plenty of rules and regulations are already in place to protect the interests of plan participants.
According to a recent Wall Street Journal article 401k Plans Step into the Sunshine: New Labor Department Rules Will Require Fee Disclosures, “The rules governing America’s most popular retirement vehicle are about to change, and that could mean huge savings for millions of workers building nest eggs for the future.”
Investment trends in the $4.5 Trillion Defined Contribution (DC) market are stretching the definition of an ‘open architecture’ investment platform. Historically, open architecture meant you or your partner offered a significant number of mutual funds from a variety of managers. While mutual funds still hold a significant amount of DC assets, alternative investments are taking hold and growing. Recent research from Celent predicts growth in non-mutual fund options, including Collective investment trusts, Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs), separate accounts and retirement income products. If an investment platform wants to remain truly ‘open,’ it will need to consider extending its mutual fund platforms to include these alternatives and the technology and operational challenges that go with them.