Data and Research

Fidelity Survey Finds 401(k) Plan Sponsors Focused on Fiduciary Responsibilities

Plan sponsors are seeking retirement advisers who can consult on plan design and performance, with an all-time high of 86% of sponsors having made plan design changes in the last two years.

By John Manganaro | August 17, 2016
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The seventh edition of Fidelity’s Plan Sponsor Attitudes Survey contains some interesting and counterintuitive findings compared with previous years, especially as it pertains to retirement plan sponsor satisfaction and regulatory pressures.

Presenting a sneak-peek of the survey data to PLANSPONSOR, Jordan Burgess, head of specialist field sales overseeing defined contribution investment only (DCIO) business at Fidelity Institutional Asset Management, stressed the quality of this survey compared with some other research.

“The 2016 Plan Sponsor Attitudes Survey was conducted in collaboration with E-rewards, an independent market research company, via an online survey of 976 plan sponsors on behalf of Fidelity in February 2016,” Burgess explains. “Respondents were identified as the primary person responsible for managing their organization’s 401(k) plan, and unlike others, the survey did not just focus on plan sponsors in our own book of business. We also looked predominantly at plan sponsors actually using the services of a financial adviser or plan consultant.”

The result is a particularly informative look into the decisionmaking of the slice of plan sponsors already engaged with advisers, Burgess said, noting one of the clear standout finding from this year is the dramatic shift in plan sponsor attitudes towards their fiduciary responsibility. It’s a trend Burgess said “is obviously being fueled by the Department of Labor’s recent efforts, but it’s about more than that, too.”

Specifically, the survey results show 38% of the plan sponsors surveyed are concerned about their fiduciary duty, a significant increase from 24% last year. At the same time, a new high of 69% ranked an adviser’s willingness to take on a formal fiduciary role as important. Furthermore, for the first time, “fiduciary responsibility” is the top reason plan sponsors say they started using retirement advisers.

“Results also show sponsors cite the need for a more knowledgeable adviser who is an expert in a variety of areas, including how to best manage fiduciary responsibilities but also other areas related specifically to DC plan design and operations,” Burgess said.

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