This week U.S. defined contribution plan sponsors received a
startling piece of news: At least four countries outside the
U.S have better fee disclosure practices than those in the U.S.
The report, issued by the General Accounting Office in March,
reviewed best practices in hopes of enlightening U.S.
retirement plan providers and regulators.
It turns out that even when compared to the new,
long-awaited fee disclosure rules from the Department of Labor
expected to finally go into effect later this year, countries
like Australia and Chile do a better job of informing plan
participants of their individual account expenses.
The March 2012 report entitled, Defined Contribution
Plans: Approaches in Other Countries Offer Beneficial
Strategies in Several Areas, requested by George Miller
(D-CA), a ranking member on the Committee on Education and the
Workforce in the House of Representatives, and Robert Andrews
(D-NJ), a ranking member of the Subcommittee on Health,
Employment, Labor and Pensions, also in the House of
Representatives. Miller has long been an advocate for
retirement income security for middle class Americans.
Miller and Andrews have reason to be concerned. Pension and
retirement industry experts know that fees can take a big bite
out of a plan participants final pot of savings. That
simple math has enabled the exponential growth of the defined
contribution plan mutual fund industry, from $35 billion in
1990 to $3 trillion today. They also probably know that in an
October 2010 report on 401(k) fees, the Department of Labor
found that a one-percentage-point difference in fees could
decrease retirement savings at the end of a career by as much
as 28 percent.
The trouble is, as Miller and Anderson also well know, the
majority of plan participants the more than 51
million U.S. workers enrolled in 401(k) type
plans have absolutely no clue what fees they
are paying in their workplace savings plans.
In fact, most plan participants are unaware that they are
paying fees at all. A February 2011 survey conducted by the
AARP found that 71 percent of 401(k) plan participants said
they paid no fees.
The GAO report, which examined fee disclosure practices in
Australia, Chile, Sweden and the United Kingdom, found that,
these countries have made disclosures simpler and more
uniform to facilitate comparisons, and one has required that
providers highlight the long-term impact of fees on
participants account balances.