Employers Seek Consultants Without Conflicts of Interests

The Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) received support from the nation's employers in its investigation into conflicts of interest among the consultants that serve
their employee retirement plans, a newly released survey by PLANSPONSOR shows.

An overwhelming majority of 85 percent of so-called plan sponsors - employers who sponsor employee retirement plans - said it is 'extremely important' that their consultants are free of conflicts of interest. A further 15 percent said this was 'somewhat important.' Not a single respondent indicated that any semblance of a conflict of interest was acceptable.

"More than ever, plan sponsors value and rely on the unique expertise and perspective of consultants to help them fulfill their fiduciary obligations," notes Nevin Adams, Editor-in-Chief of PLANSPONSOR. "While more than half of
this year's survey respondents are relying on their consultant for compliance monitoring, plan sponsors realized that a perspective tainted by conflicts of interest not only provides no value, it presents a risk to the long-term interests of plan participants."

The survey described 'extremely important' as 'the consultant must be entirely free of conflicts.' 'Somewhat important' meant that 'some conflicts are acceptable, as long as they are disclosed.'

The results back up the action the SEC took earlier this year, when it asked a number of pension consultants for information regarding the practices, compensation arrangements and disclosures in providing services to defined benefit and defined contribution plans. Defined benefit plans are often called pension plans, while 401(k) plans are the most popular form of defined contribution plans.

Among other findings in the survey were:

-- Seventy-two percent said the relationship with an individual consultant is more important than the relationship with the firm itself.
-- Fifty-five percent said maximizing investment returns is their most pressing issue, followed by dealing with fiduciary responsibilities and educating employees about their retirement benefits, both at 49 percent.

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