DC Plans Making Fee-Focused Changes

Increase in recordkeeper search activity, movement to institutional fund structures, de-emphasizing revenue sharing and adoption of fee policy statements were found in a survey of DC plan sponsors.

By PLANSPONSOR staff | January 27, 2017
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Callan’s 10th-annual “Defined Contribution Trends Survey” reveals that fees are playing a heightened role in driving plan sponsor decision-making.

Reviewing plan fees was cited as a key area of fiduciary focus, both now and for the foreseeable future. Also related to this focus on fees are trends including an increase in recordkeeper search activity, movement to institutional fund structures, de-emphasizing revenue sharing, and adoption of fee policy statements.

“Plan sponsors described their review of plan fees as ‘continuous’,” says survey co-author and DC consultant Jamie McAllister. “This includes both investment fees and recordkeeping fees. Recordkeeping searches often result in fee reductions. As a quarter of our survey respondents said that they were very or somewhat likely to conduct a recordkeeper search in 2017, this implies that fee pressure will continue.”

When Callan first asked the question, in the 2012 survey, defined contribution (DC) plan sponsors reported that the majority of participants paid administrative fees solely through revenue sharing (36%) or partially through revenue sharing (30%). In 2016, just over one-third (38%) said revenue sharing was used in any way to pay such fees.

“In 2012, plan sponsors had fewer fee payment options,” says Lori Lucas, CFA, survey co-author and Callan’s DC practice leader. “Today, there are far more mutual funds and daily valued collective investment trusts (CITs) without revenue sharing, and even when there is revenue sharing, plan sponsors can rebate it back to plan participants in ways that weren’t previously available.”

Plan sponsors’ movement away from mutual funds to CITs is also primarily driven by fees. Nearly two-thirds of DC plans offered CITs in 2016, up from 48% in 2012. Meanwhile, mutual funds have decreased in prevalence from 92% to 84% over that same period.

Fees are also driving the increased use of indexed funds. In 2016, far more plan sponsors reported increasing the proportion of passive funds in their plan (12%) than increasing the proportion of active funds (2%). In addition, more than 47% of plan sponsors have a written fee payment policy in place, either as part of their investment policy statement (21%) or as a separate document (26%). This is the highest rate ever recorded in Callan’s survey.

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