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  • Nicholas Zaiko, CIMA

Part 1 - Fiduciary Considerations: Managed Accounts in 401(k) Plans

Updated: Jan 27

The decision to use an advice provider or managed account provider involves fiduciary responsibility in the prudent selection, monitoring, conflict‐free or level‐fee pricing of the managed account provider. DOL guidance provides a detailed summary of plan sponsors’ fiduciary responsibility to evaluate and monitor their managed account provider in addition to the plan’s investment fund offerings.


Manage Accounts Defined

Managed accounts are a professionally managed account within a defined contribution plan enables a duly‐appointed investment manager, acting as an ERISA plan fiduciary, to manage a plan participant’s account on a discretionary basis. Managed accounts can create broadly diversified portfolios using the existing investment choices within the plan consistent with the participant’s risk preference and retirement horizon.


A managed account is an investment management service that has the ability to manage a participant’s entire plan account taking into consideration the participant’s unique personal circumstances, including current account holdings, savings rates and investment holdings outside of the plan account. A managed account can make use of the existing investment line‐up within the retirement plan, including company stock, if applicable.


Use of Computer Model

Advice that is rendered using a computer model must not distinguish between investment options within an asset class based on the fees generated to the firm. The model must take into account all investment options in the plan except self‐directed brokerage window, employer stock, annuities, and target date funds. The provider must have a written certification that the model is unbiased.


404 (c) Status

The plan sponsor preserves its 404(c) status when hiring a managed account manager or service provider if the Participant exercises control over the plan account consistent with ERISA section 404(c), with the power to hire and fire the investment manager or to enter and exit the managed account services. This conclusion is expressly supported in the Department of Labor’s 404(c) regulations, namely paragraphs (d) (2)(ii) and (iii), entitled “Limitation on liability of plan fiduciaries.”


A participant who enrolls in a managed account program maintains control over the account consistent with ERISA section 404(c), with the power to or to enter and exit the managed account services.


Plan Sponsor Duty to Monitor

The duty of the plan sponsor with respect to the managed account service provider (manager) per 404(c) regulations is to monitor the manager’s performance, all‐in fees of the program to participants, evaluate the manager on an ongoing basis, and periodically conduct a review or evaluation as to continue to keep the manager.


Typically, fiduciaries appointing a managed account service provider should follow a process that takes into consideration the following:


  • Qualifications of the investment manager

  • Caliber and quality of the participant services

  • Reasonableness of the fees

  • Investment manager should acknowledge in writing that it is a plan fiduciary under ERISA and must act in the best interests of plan participants.


Plan sponsors are not directly responsible for the acts and omissions of the investment manager operating the managed accounts program. However, the plan sponsor still retains fiduciary responsibility for monitoring the managed accounts investment manager.


Plan trustees or named fiduciaries who appoint an investment manager under ERISA section 402(c)(3) are relieved from liability for the acts or omissions of the investment manager under ERISA sections 405(c) and 405(d)(1). However, the plan sponsor still retains fiduciary responsibility for monitoring the managed accounts investment manager. Annual reviews of the investment manager and performance results are considered best practices.


Managed Account Fees

Managed accounts typically charge an asset‐based fee with price point reductions at participant asset and/or plan enrollment tiers. Fees are typically deducted monthly or quarterly, in arrears, from the account of the plan participant enrolled in a managed accounts program.


Level Fee Requirement

Fees paid to the managed account adviser cannot be influenced by which investments are selected for the participant's asset allocation. The managed account adviser cannot receive additional compensation from an affiliate as a result of the participant's asset allocation. Affiliates of the managed account provider may receive fees that are variable. The managed account provider must not receive more compensation as a result of the investment decisions it makes.

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