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Electronic Code of Federal Regulations

e-CFR Data is current as of September 29, 2014

Title 29Subtitle BChapter XXVSubchapter A → Part 2509


Title 29: Labor


PART 2509—INTERPRETIVE BULLETINS RELATING TO THE EMPLOYEE RETIREMENT INCOME SECURITY ACT OF 1974


Contents
§2509.08-1   Supplemental guidance relating to fiduciary responsibility in considering economically targeted investments.
§2509.08-2   Interpretive bulletin relating to the exercise of shareholder rights and written statements of investment policy, including proxy voting policies or guidelines.
§2509.75-2   Interpretive bulletin relating to prohibited transactions.
§2509.75-3   Interpretive bulletin relating to investments by employee benefit plans in securities of registered investment companies.
§2509.75-4   Interpretive bulletin relating to indemnification of fiduciaries.
§2509.75-5   Questions and answers relating to fiduciary responsibility.
§2509.75-6   Interpretive bulletin relating to section 408(c)(2) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974.
§2509.75-8   Questions and answers relating to fiduciary responsibility under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974.
§2509.75-9   Interpretive bulletin relating to guidelines on independence of accountant retained by Employee Benefit Plan.
§2509.75-10   Interpretive bulletin relating to the ERISA Guidelines and the Special Reliance Procedure.
§2509.78-1   Interpretive bulletin relating to payments by certain employee welfare benefit plans.
§2509.94-3   Interpretive bulletin relating to in-kind contributions to employee benefit plans.
§2509.95-1   Interpretive bulletin relating to the fiduciary standards under ERISA when selecting an annuity provider for a defined benefit pension plan.
§2509.96-1   Interpretive bulletin relating to participant investment education.
§2509.99-1   Interpretive Bulletin Relating to Payroll Deduction IRAs.

Authority: 29 U.S.C. 1135. Secretary of Labor's Order 1-2003, 68 FR 5374 (Feb. 3, 2003). Sections 2509.75-10 and 2509.75-2 issued under 29 U.S.C. 1052, 1053, 1054. Sec. 2509.75-5 also issued under 29 U.S.C. 1002. Sec. 2509.95-1 also issued under sec. 625, Pub. L. 109-280, 120 Stat. 780.

§2509.08-1   Supplemental guidance relating to fiduciary responsibility in considering economically targeted investments.

This Interpretive Bulletin sets forth the Department of Labor's interpretation of sections 403 and 404 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), as applied to employee benefit plan investments in “economically targeted investments,” that is, investments selected for the economic benefits they create apart from their investment return to the employee benefit plan. The guidance set forth in this interpretive bulletin modifies and supersedes the guidance set forth in interpretive bulletin 94-1 (29 CFR 2509.94-1).

ERISA requires that a fiduciary act solely in the interest of the plan's participants and beneficiaries and for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits to their participants and beneficiaries. The Act specifically states, in relevant part, that:

  “[A]ssets of a plan shall never inure to the benefit of any employer and shall be held for the exclusive purposes of providing benefits to participants in the plan and their beneficiaries.*  *  *”1

1Sec. 403(c)(1), 29 U.S.C.A. 1103(c)(1).

  “[A] fiduciary shall discharge his duties with respect to a plan solely in the interest of the participants and beneficiaries and for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits to participants and their beneficiaries.”2

2Sec. 404(a)(1)(A)(i), 29 U.S.C.A. 1104(a)(1)(A)(i).

ERISA's plain text thus establishes a clear rule that in the course of discharging their duties, fiduciaries may never subordinate the economic interests of the plan to unrelated objectives, and may not select investments on the basis of any factor outside the economic interest of the plan except in very limited circumstances enumerated below.

With regard to investing plan assets, the Department has issued a regulation, at 29 CFR 2550.404a-1, interpreting the prudence requirements of ERISA as they apply to the investment duties of fiduciaries of employee benefit plans. The regulation provides that the prudence requirements of section 404(a)(1)(B) are satisfied if (1) the fiduciary making an investment or engaging in an investment course of action has given appropriate consideration to those facts and circumstances that, given the scope of the fiduciary's investment duties, the fiduciary knows or should know are relevant, and (2) the fiduciary acts accordingly. This includes giving appropriate consideration to the role that the investment or investment course of action plays (in terms of such factors as diversification, liquidity and risk/return characteristics) with respect to that portion of the plan's investment portfolio within the scope of the fiduciary's responsibility.

Other facts and circumstances relevant to an investment or investment course of action would, in the view of the Department, include consideration of the expected return on alternative investments with similar risks available to the plan. It follows that, because every investment necessarily causes a plan to forgo other investment opportunities, an investment will not be prudent if it would be expected to provide a plan with a lower rate of return than available alternative investments with commensurate degrees of risk or is riskier than alternative available investments with commensurate rates of return.

ERISA's plain text does not permit fiduciaries to make investment decisions on the basis of any factor other than the economic interest of the plan. Situations may arise, however, in which two or more investment alternatives are of equal economic value to a plan. The Department has recognized in past guidance that under these limited circumstances, fiduciaries can choose between the investment alternatives on the basis of a factor other than the economic interest of the plan. The Department has interpreted the statute to permit this selection because (1) ERISA requires fiduciaries to invest plan assets and to make choices between investment alternatives, (2) ERISA does not itself specifically provide a basis for making the investment choice in this circumstance, and (3) the economic interests of the plan are fully protected by the fact that the available investment alternatives are, from the plan's perspective, economically indistinguishable.

Given the significance of ERISA's requirement that fiduciaries act “solely in the interest of participants and beneficiaries,” the Department believes that, before selecting an economically targeted investment, fiduciaries must have first concluded that the alternative options are truly equal, taking into account a quantitative and qualitative analysis of the economic impact on the plan. ERISA's fiduciary standards expressed in sections 403 and 404 do not permit fiduciaries to select investments based on factors outside the economic interests of the plan until they have concluded, based on economic factors, that alternative investments are equal. A less rigid rule would allow fiduciaries to act on the basis of factors outside the economic interest of the plan in situations where reliance on those factors might compromise or subordinate the interests of plan participants and their beneficiaries. The Department rejects a construction of ERISA that would render the Act's tight limits on the use of plan assets illusory, and that would permit plan fiduciaries to expend ERISA trust assets to promote myriad public policy preferences.3

3See letters from the Department of Labor to Jonathan Hiatt dated May 3, 2005; to Thomas Donahue dated December 21, 2007 (A.O. 2007-07A); and to David Chavern dated June 27, 2008 (A.O. 2008-05A).

A plan fiduciary's analysis is required to comply with, but is not necessarily limited to, the requirements set forth in 29 CFR 2550.404a-1(b). In evaluating the plan portfolio, as well as portions of the portfolio, the fiduciary is required to examine the level of diversification, degree of liquidity, and the potential risk/return in comparison with available alternative investments. The same type of analysis must also be applied when choosing between investment alternatives. Potential investments should be compared to other investments that would fill a similar role in the portfolio with regard to diversification, liquidity, and risk/return.

In light of the rigorous requirements established by ERISA, the Department believes that fiduciaries who rely on factors outside the economic interests of the plan in making investment choices and subsequently find their decision challenged will rarely be able to demonstrate compliance with ERISA absent a written record demonstrating that a contemporaneous economic analysis showed that the investment alternatives were of equal value.

Examples:

A plan owns an interest in a limited partnership that is considering investing in a company that competes with the plan sponsor. The fiduciaries may not replace the limited partnership investment with another investment based on this fact unless they prudently determine that a replacement investment is economically equal or superior to the limited partnership investment and would not adversely affect the plan's investment portfolio, taking into account factors including diversification, liquidity, risk and expected return. The competition of the limited partnership with the plan sponsor is a factor outside the economic interests of the plan, and thus cannot be considered unless an alternative investment is equal or superior to the limited partnership.

A multiemployer plan covering employees in a metropolitan area's construction industry wants to invest in a large loan for a construction project located in the same area because it will create local jobs. The plan has taken steps to ensure that the loan poses no prohibited transaction issues. The loan carries a return fully commensurate with the risk of nonpayment. Moreover, the loan's expected return is equal to or greater than construction loans of similar quality that are available to the plan. However, the plan has already made several other loans for construction projects in the same metropolitan area, and this loan could create a risk of large losses to the plan's portfolio due to lack of diversification. The fiduciaries may not choose this investment on the basis of the local job creation factor because, due to lack of diversification, the investment is not of equal economic value to the plan.

A plan is considering an investment in a bond to finance affordable housing for people in the local community. The bond provides a return at least as favorable to the plan as other bonds with the same risk rating. However, the bond's size and lengthy duration raises a potential risk regarding the plan's ability to meet its predicted liquidity needs. Other available bonds under consideration by the plan do not pose this same risk. The return on the bond, although equal to or greater than the alternatives, would not be sufficient to offset the additional risk for the plan created by the role that this bond would play in the plan's portfolio. The plan's fiduciaries may not make this investment based on factors outside the economic interest of the plan because it is not of equal or greater economic value to other investment alternatives.

A plan sponsor adopts an investment policy that favors plan investment in companies meeting certain environmental criteria (so-called “green” companies). In carrying out the policy, the plan's fiduciaries may not simply consider investments only in green companies. They must consider all investments that meet the plan's prudent financial criteria. The fiduciaries may apply the investment policy to eliminate a company from consideration only if they appropriately determine that other available investments provide equal or better returns at the same or lower risks, and would play the same role in the plan's portfolio.

A collective investment fund, which holds assets of several plans, is designed to invest in commercial real estate constructed or renovated with union labor. Fiduciaries of plans that invest in the fund must determine that the fund's overall risk and return characteristics are as favorable, or more favorable, to the plans as other available investment alternatives that would play a similar role in their plans' portfolios. The fund's managers may select investments constructed or improved with union labor, after an economic analysis indicates that these investment options are equal or superior to their alternatives. The managers will best be able to justify their investment choice by recording their analysis in writing. However, if real estate investments that satisfy both ERISA's fiduciary requirements and the union labor criterion are unavailable, the fund managers may have to select investments without regard to the union labor criterion.

[73 FR 61735, Oct. 17, 2008]

§2509.08-2   Interpretive bulletin relating to the exercise of shareholder rights and written statements of investment policy, including proxy voting policies or guidelines.

This interpretive bulletin sets forth the Department of Labor's (the Department) interpretation of sections 402, 403 and 404 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) as those sections apply to voting of proxies on securities held in employee benefit plan investment portfolios and the maintenance of and compliance with statements of investment policy, including proxy voting policy. In addition, this interpretive bulletin provides guidance on the appropriateness under ERISA of active monitoring of corporate management by plan fiduciaries. The guidance set forth in this interpretive bulletin modifies and supersedes the guidance set forth in interpretive bulletin 94-2 (29 CFR 2509.94-2).

(1) Proxy Voting

The fiduciary act of managing plan assets that are shares of corporate stock includes the management of voting rights appurtenant to those shares of stock.1 As a result, the responsibility for voting or deciding not to vote proxies lies exclusively with the plan trustee except to the extent that either (1) the trustee is subject to the direction of a named fiduciary pursuant to ERISA Sec. 403(a)(1); or (2) the power to manage, acquire or dispose of the relevant assets has been delegated by a named fiduciary to one or more investment managers pursuant to ERISA Sec. 403(a)(2). Where the authority to manage plan assets has been delegated to an investment manager pursuant to Sec. 403(a)(2), no person other than the investment manager has authority to make voting decisions for proxies appurtenant to such plan assets except to the extent that the named fiduciary has reserved to itself (or to another named fiduciary so authorized by the plan document) the right to direct a plan trustee regarding the voting of proxies. In this regard, a named fiduciary, in delegating investment management authority to an investment manager, could reserve to itself the right to direct a trustee with respect to the voting of all proxies or reserve to itself the right to direct a trustee as to the voting of only those proxies relating to specified assets or issues.

1See letter from the Department of Labor to Helmut Fandl, Chairman of the Retirement Board of Avon Products, Inc., dated February 23, 1988.

If the plan document or investment management agreement provides that the investment manager is not required to vote proxies, but does not expressly preclude the investment manager from voting proxies, the investment manager would have exclusive responsibility for proxy voting decisions. Moreover, an investment manager would not be relieved of its own fiduciary responsibilities by following directions of some other person regarding the voting of proxies, or by delegating such responsibility to another person. If, however, the plan document or the investment management contract expressly precludes the investment manager from voting proxies, the responsibility for voting proxies would lie exclusively with the trustee. The trustee, however, consistent with the requirements of ERISA Sec. 403(a)(1), may be subject to the directions of a named fiduciary if the plan so provides.

The fiduciary duties described at ERISA Sec. 404(a)(1)(A) and (B), require that, in voting proxies, regardless of whether the vote is made pursuant to a statement of investment policy, the responsible fiduciary shall consider only those factors that relate to the economic value of the plan's investment and shall not subordinate the interests of the participants and beneficiaries in their retirement income to unrelated objectives. Votes shall only be cast in accordance with a plan's economic interests. If the responsible fiduciary reasonably determines that the cost of voting (including the cost of research, if necessary, to determine how to vote) is likely to exceed the expected economic benefits of voting, or if the exercise of voting results in the imposition of unwarranted trading or other restrictions, the fiduciary has an obligation to refrain from voting.2 In making this determination, objectives, considerations, and economic effects unrelated to the plan's economic interests cannot be considered. The fiduciary's duties under ERISA Sec. 404(a)(1)(A) and (B) also require that the named fiduciary appointing an investment manager periodically monitor the activities of the investment manager with respect to the management of plan assets, including decisions made and actions taken by the investment manager with regard to proxy voting decisions. The named fiduciary must carry out this responsibility solely in the participants' and beneficiaries' interest in the economic value of the plan assets and without regard to the fiduciary's relationship to the plan sponsor.

2See Advisory Opinion No. 2007-07A (December 21, 2007).

It is the view of the Department that compliance with the duty to monitor necessitates proper documentation of the activities that are subject to monitoring. Thus, the investment manager or other responsible fiduciary would be required to maintain accurate records as to proxy voting decisions, including, where appropriate, cost-benefit analyses.3 Moreover, if the named fiduciary is to be able to carry out its responsibilities under ERISA Sec. 404(a) in determining whether the investment manager is fulfilling its fiduciary obligations in investing plans assets in a manner that justifies the continuation of the management appointment, the proxy voting records must enable the named fiduciary to review not only the investment manager's voting procedure with respect to plan-owned stock, but also to review the actions taken in individual proxy voting situations.

3See letter from the Department of Labor to Robert A.G. Monks, Institutional Shareholder Services, Inc., January 23, 1990.

The fiduciary obligations of prudence and loyalty to plan participants and beneficiaries require the responsible fiduciary to vote proxies on issues that may affect the economic value of the plan's investment. However, fiduciaries also need to take into account costs when deciding whether and how to exercise their shareholder rights, including the voting of shares. Such costs include, but are not limited to, expenditures related to developing proxy resolutions, proxy voting services and the analysis of the likely net effect of a particular issue on the economic value of the plan's investment. Fiduciaries must take all of these factors into account in determining whether the exercise of such rights (e.g., the voting of a proxy), independently or in conjunction with other shareholders, is expected to have an effect on the economic value of the plan's investment that will outweigh the cost of exercising such rights. With respect to proxies appurtenant to shares of foreign corporations, a fiduciary, in deciding whether to purchase shares of a foreign corporation, should consider whether any additional difficulty and expense in voting such shares is reflected in their market price.

(2) Statements of Investment Policy

The maintenance by an employee benefit plan of a statement of investment policy designed to further the purposes of the plan and its funding policy is consistent with the fiduciary obligations set forth in ERISA section 404(a)(1)(A) and (B). Because the fiduciary act of managing plan assets that are shares of corporate stock includes the voting, where appropriate, of proxies appurtenant to those shares of stock, a statement of proxy voting policy would be an important part of any comprehensive statement of investment policy. For purposes of this document, the term “statement of investment policy” means a written statement that provides the fiduciaries who are responsible for plan investments with guidelines or general instructions concerning various types or categories of investment management decisions, which may include proxy voting decisions. A statement of investment policy is distinguished from directions as to the purchase or sale of a specific investment at a specific time or as to voting specific plan proxies.

In plans where investment management responsibility is delegated to one or more investment managers appointed by the named fiduciary pursuant to ERISA Sec. 402(c)(3), inherent in the authority to appoint an investment manager, the named fiduciary responsible for appointment of investment managers has the authority to condition the appointment on acceptance of a statement of investment policy. Thus, such a named fiduciary may expressly require, as a condition of the investment management agreement, that an investment manager comply with the terms of a statement of investment policy that sets forth guidelines concerning investments and investment courses of action that the investment manager is authorized or is not authorized to make. Such investment policy may include a policy or guidelines on the voting of proxies on shares of stock for which the investment manager is responsible. Such guidelines must be consistent with the fiduciary obligations set forth in ERISA Sec. 404(a)(1)(A) and (B) and this Interpretive Bulletin, and may not subordinate the economic interests of the plan participants to unrelated objectives. In the absence of such an express requirement to comply with an investment policy, the authority to manage the plan assets placed under the control of the investment manager would lie exclusively with the investment manager. Although a trustee may be subject to the direction of a named fiduciary pursuant to ERISA Sec. 403(a)(1), an investment manager who has authority to make investment decisions, including proxy voting decisions, would never be relieved of its fiduciary responsibility if it followed the direction as to specific investment decisions from the named fiduciary or any other person.

Statements of investment policy issued by a named fiduciary authorized to appoint investment managers would be part of the “documents and instruments governing the plan” within the meaning of ERISA Sec. 404(a)(1)(D). An investment manager to whom such investment policy applies would be required to comply with such policy, pursuant to ERISA Sec. 404(a)(1)(D) insofar as the policy directives or guidelines are consistent with titles I and IV of ERISA. Therefore, if, for example, compliance with the guidelines in a given instance would be imprudent, then the investment manager's failure to follow the guidelines would not violate ERISA Sec. 404(a)(1)(D). Moreover, ERISA Sec. 404(a)(1)(D) does not shield the investment manager from liability for imprudent actions taken in compliance with a statement of investment policy.

The plan document or trust agreement may expressly provide a statement of investment policy to guide the trustee or may authorize a named fiduciary to issue a statement of investment policy applicable to a trustee. Where a plan trustee is subject to an investment policy, the trustee's duty to comply with such investment policy would also be analyzed under ERISA Sec. 404(a)(1)(D). Thus, the trustee would be required to comply with the statement of investment policy unless, for example, it would be imprudent to do so in a given instance.

Maintenance of a statement of investment policy by a named fiduciary does not relieve the named fiduciary of its obligations under ERISA Sec. 404(a) with respect to the appointment and monitoring of an investment manager or trustee. In this regard, the named fiduciary appointing an investment manager must periodically monitor the investment manager's activities with respect to management of the plan assets. Moreover, compliance with ERISA Sec. 404(a)(1)(B) would require maintenance of proper documentation of the activities of the investment manager and of the named fiduciary of the plan in monitoring the activities of the investment manager. In addition, in the view of the Department, a named fiduciary's determination of the terms of a statement of investment policy is an exercise of fiduciary responsibility and, as such, statements may need to take into account factors such as the plan's funding policy and its liquidity needs as well as issues of prudence, diversification and other fiduciary requirements of ERISA.

An investment manager of a pooled investment vehicle that holds assets of more than one employee benefit plan may be subject to a proxy voting policy of one plan that conflicts with the proxy voting policy of another plan. If the investment manager determines that compliance with one of the conflicting voting policies would violate ERISA Sec. 404(a)(1), for example, by being imprudent or not solely in the economic interest of plan participants, the investment manager would be required to ignore the policy and vote in accordance with ERISA's obligations. If, however, the investment manager reasonably concludes that application of each plan's voting policy is consistent with ERISA's obligations, such as when the policies reflect different but reasonable judgments or when the plans have different economic interests, ERISA Sec. 404(a)(1)(D) would generally require the manager, to the extent permitted by applicable law, to vote the proxies in proportion to each plan's interest in the pooled investment vehicle. An investment manager may also require participating investors to accept the investment manager's own investment policy statement, including any statement of proxy voting policy, before they are allowed to invest, which may help to avoid such potential conflicts. As with investment policies originating from named fiduciaries, a policy initiated by an investment manager and adopted by the participating plans would be regarded as an instrument governing the participating plans, and the investment manager's compliance with such a policy would be governed by ERISA Sec. 404(a)(1)(D).

(3) Shareholder Activism

An investment policy that contemplates activities intended to monitor or influence the management of corporations in which the plan owns stock is consistent with a fiduciary's obligations under ERISA where the responsible fiduciary concludes that there is a reasonable expectation that such monitoring or communication with management, by the plan alone or together with other shareholders, will enhance the economic value of the plan's investment in the corporation, after taking into account the costs involved. Such a reasonable expectation may exist in various circumstances, for example, where plan investments in corporate stock are held as long-term investments or where a plan may not be able to easily dispose such an investment. Active monitoring and communication activities would generally concern such issues as the independence and expertise of candidates for the corporation's board of directors and assuring that the board has sufficient information to carry out its responsibility to monitor management. Other issues may include such matters as consideration of the appropriateness of executive compensation, the corporation's policy regarding mergers and acquisitions, the extent of debt financing and capitalization, the nature of long-term business plans, the corporation's investment in training to develop its work force, other workplace practices and financial and non-financial measures of corporate performance that are reasonably likely to affect the economic value of the plan. Active monitoring and communication may be carried out through a variety of methods including by means of correspondence and meetings with corporate management as well as by exercising the legal rights of a shareholder. In creating an investment policy, a fiduciary shall consider only factors that relate to the economic interest of participants and their beneficiaries in plan assets, and shall not use an investment policy to promote myriad public policy preferences.4

4See Advisory Opinion No. 2008-05A (June 27, 2008) and letter from Department of Labor to Jonathan P. Hiatt, General Counsel, AFL-CIO (May 3, 2005).

(4) Socially-Directed Proxy Voting, Investment Policies and Shareholder Activism.

Plan fiduciaries risk violating the exclusive purpose rule when they exercise their fiduciary authority in an attempt to further legislative, regulatory or public policy issues through the proxy process. In such cases, the Department would expect fiduciaries to be able to demonstrate in enforcement actions their compliance with the requirements of section 404(a)(1)(A) and (B). The mere fact that plans are shareholders in the corporations in which they invest does not itself provide a rationale for a fiduciary to spend plan assets to pursue, support, or oppose such proxy proposals. Because of the heightened potential for abuse in such cases, the fiduciaries must be prepared to articulate a clear basis for concluding that the proxy vote, the investment policy, or the activity intended to monitor or influence the management of the corporation is more likely than not to enhance the economic value of the plan's investment before expending plan assets.

The use of pension plan assets by plan fiduciaries to further policy or political issues through proxy resolutions that have no connection to enhancing the economic value of the plan's investment in a corporation would, in the view of the Department, violate the prudence and exclusive purpose requirements of section 404(a)(1)(A) and (B). For example, the likelihood that the adoption of a proxy resolution or proposal requiring corporate directors and officers to disclose their personal political contributions would enhance the economic value of a plan's investment in the corporation appears sufficiently remote that the expenditure of plan assets to further such a resolution or proposal clearly raises compliance issues under section 404(a)(1)(A) and (B).5

5See Advisory Opinion No. 2007-07A (December 21, 2007).

[73 FR 61732, Oct. 17, 2008]

§2509.75-2   Interpretive bulletin relating to prohibited transactions.

On February 6, 1975, the Department of Labor issued an interpretive bulletin, ERISA IB 75-2, with respect to whether a party in interest has engaged in a prohibited transaction with an employee benefit plan where the party in interest has engaged in a transaction with a corporation or partnership (within the meaning of section 7701 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954) in which the plan has invested.

On November 13, 1986 the Department published a final regulation dealing with the definition of “plan assets”. See §2510.3-101 of this title. Under that regulation, the assets of certain entities in which plans invest would include “plan assets” for purposes of the fiduciary responsibility provisions of the Act. Section 2510.3-101 applies only for purposes of identifying plan assets on or after the effective date of that section, however, and §2510.3-101 does not apply to plan investments in certain entities that qualify for the transitional relief provided for in paragraph (k) of that section. The principles discussed in paragraph (a) of this Interpretive Bulletin continue to be applicable for purposes of identifying assets of a plan for periods prior to the effective date of §2510.3-101 and for investments that are subject to the transitional rule in §2510.3-101(k). Paragraphs (b) and (c) of this Interpretive Bulletin, however, relate to matters outside the scope of §2510.3-101, and nothing in that section affects the continuing application of the principles discussed in those parts.

(a) Principles applicable to plan investments to which §2510.3-101 does not apply. Generally, investment by a plan in securities (within the meaning of section 3(20) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974) of a corporation or partnership will not, solely by reason of such investment, be considered to be an investment in the underlying assets of such corporation or partnership so as to make such assets of the entity “plan assets” and thereby make a subsequent transaction between the party in interest and the corporation or partnership a prohibited transaction under section 406 of the Act.

For example, where a plan acquires a security of a corporation or a limited partnership interest in a partnership, a subsequent lease or sale of property between such corporation or partnership and a party in interest will not be a prohibited transaction solely by reason of the plan's investment in the corporation or partnership.

This general proposition, as applied to corporations and partnerships, is consistent with section 401(b)(1) of the Act, relating to plan investments in investment companies registered under the Investment Company Act of 1940. Under section 401(b)(1), an investment by a plan in securities of such an investment company may be made without causing, solely by reason of such investment, any of the assets of the investment company to be considered to be assets of the plan.

(b) [Reserved]

(c) Applications of the fiduciary responsibility rules. The preceding paragraphs do not mean that an investment of plan assets in a security of a corporation or partnership may not be a prohibited transaction. For example, section 406(a)(1)(D) prohibits the direct or indirect transfer to, or use by or for the benefit of, a party in interest of any assets of the plan and section 406(b)(1) prohibits a fiduciary from dealing with the assets of the plan in his own interest or for his own account.

Thus, for example, if there is an arrangement under which a plan invests in, or retains its investment in, an investment company and as part of the arrangement it is expected that the investment company will purchase securities from a party in interest, such arrangement is a prohibited transaction.

Similarly, the purchase by a plan of an insurance policy pursuant to an arrangement under which it is expected that the insurance company will make a loan to a party in interest is a prohibited transaction.

Moreover, notwithstanding the foregoing, if a transaction between a party in interest and a plan would be a prohibited transaction, then such a transaction between a party in interest and such corporation or partnership will ordinarily be a prohibited transaction if the plan may, by itself, require the corporation or partnership to engage in such transaction.

Similarly, if a transaction between a party in interest and a plan would be a prohibited transaction, then such a transaction between a party in interest and such corporation or partnership will ordinarily be a prohibited transaction if such party in interest, together with one or more persons who are parties in interest by reason of such persons' relationship (within the meaning of section 3(14)(E) through (I)) to such party in interest may, with the aid of the plan but without the aid of any other persons, require the corporation or partnership to engage in such a transaction. However, the preceding sentence does not apply if the parties in interest engaging in the transaction, together with one or more persons who are parties in interest by reason of such persons' relationship (within the meaning of section 3(14)(E) through (I)) to such party in interest, may, by themselves, require the corporation or partnership to engage in the transaction.

Further, the Department of Labor emphasizes that it would consider a fiduciary who makes or retains an investment in a corporation or partnership for the purpose of avoiding the application of the fiduciary responsibility provisions of the Act to be in contravention of the provisions of section 404(a) of the Act.

[51 FR 41280, Nov. 13, 1986, as amended at 61 FR 33849, July 1, 1996]

§2509.75-3   Interpretive bulletin relating to investments by employee benefit plans in securities of registered investment companies.

On March 12, 1975, the Department of Labor issued an interpretive bulletin, ERISA IB 75-3, with regard to its interpretation of section 3(21)(B) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. That section provides that an investment by an employee benefit plan in securities issued by an investment company registered under the Investment Company Act of 1940 shall not by itself cause the investment company, its investment adviser or principal underwriter to be deemed to be a fiduciary or party in interest “except insofar as such investment company or its investment adviser or principal underwriter acts in connection with an employee benefit plan covering employees of the investment company, the investment adviser, or its principal underwriter.”

The Department of Labor interprets this section as an elaboration of the principle set forth in section 401(b)(1) of the Act and ERISA IB 75-2 (issued February 6, 1975) that the assets of an investment company shall not be deemed to be assets of a plan solely by reason of an investment by such plan in the shares of such investment company. Consistent with this principle, the Department of Labor interprets this section to mean that a person who is connected with an investment company, such as the investment company itself, its investment adviser or its principal underwriter, is not to be deemed to be a fiduciary of or party in interest with respect to a plan solely because the plan has invested in the investment company's shares.

This principle applies, for example, to a plan covering employees of an investment adviser to an investment company where the plan invests in the securities of the investment company. In such a case the investment company or its principal underwriter is not to be deemed to be a fiduciary of or party in interest with respect to the plan solely because of such investment.

On the other hand, the exception clause in section 3(21) emphasizes that if an investment company, its investment adviser or its principal underwriter is a fiduciary or party in interest for a reason other than the investment in the securities of the investment company, such a person remains a party in interest or fiduciary. Thus, in the preceding example, since an employer is a party in interest, the investment adviser remains a party in interest with respect to a plan covering its employees.

The Department of Labor emphasized that an investment adviser, principal underwriter or investment company which is a fiduciary by virtue of section 3(21)(A) of the Act is subject to the fiduciary responsibility provisions of part 4 of title I of the Act, including those relating to fiduciary duties under section 404.

[40 FR 31599, July 28, 1975. Redesignated at 41 FR 1906, Jan. 13, 1976]

§2509.75-4   Interpretive bulletin relating to indemnification of fiduciaries.

On June 4, 1975, the Department of Labor issued an interpretive bulletin, ERISA IB 75-4, announcing the Department's interpretation of section 410(a) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, insofar as that section relates to indemnification of fiduciaries. Section 410(a) states, in relevant part, that “any provision in an agreement or instrument which purports to relieve a fiduciary from responsibility or liability for any responsibility, obligation, or duty under this part shall be void as against public policy.”

The Department of Labor interprets this section to permit indemnification agreements which do not relieve a fiduciary of responsibility or liability under part 4 of title I. Indemnification provisions which leave the fiduciary fully responsible and liable, but merely permit another party to satisfy any liability incurred by the fiduciary in the same manner as insurance purchased under section 410(b)(3), are therefore not void under section 410(a).

Examples of such indemnification provisions are:

(1) Indemnification of a plan fiduciary by (a) an employer, any of whose employees are covered by the plan, or an affiliate (as defined in section 407(d)(7) of the Act) of such employer, or (b) an employee organization, any of whose members are covered by the plan; and

(2) Indemnification by a plan fiduciary of the fiduciary's employees who actually perform the fiduciary services.

The Department of Labor interprets section 410(a) as rendering void any arrangement for indemnification of a fiduciary of an employee benefit plan by the plan. Such an arrangement would have the same result as an exculpatory clause, in that it would, in effect, relieve the fiduciary of responsibility and liability to the plan by abrogating the plan's right to recovery from the fiduciary for breaches of fiduciary obligations.

While indemnification arrangements do not contravene the provisions of section 410(a), parties entering into an indemnification agreement should consider whether the agreement complies with the other provisions of part 4 of title I of the Act and with other applicable laws.

[40 FR 31599, July 28, 1975. Redesignated at 41 FR 1906, Jan. 13, 1976]

§2509.75-5   Questions and answers relating to fiduciary responsibility.

On June 25, 1975, the Department of Labor issued an interpretive bulletin, ERISA IB 75-5, containing questions and answers relating to certain aspects of the recently enacted Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (the “Act”).

Pending the issuance of regulations or other guidelines, persons may rely on the answers to these questions in order to resolve the issues that are specifically considered. No inferences should be drawn regarding issues not raised which may be suggested by a particular question and answer or as to why certain questions, and not others, are included. Furthermore, in applying the questions and answers, the effect of subsequent legislation, regulations, court decisions, and interpretative bulletins must be considered. To the extent that plans utilize or rely on these answers and the requirements of regulations subsequently adopted vary from the answers relied on, such plans may have to be amended.

An index of the questions and answers, relating them to the appropriate sections of the Act, is also provided.

Index

key to question prefixes

D—Refers to Definitions.

FR—Refers to Fiduciary Responsibility.

Section No.Question No.
3(21)D-1.
3(38)FR-6, FR-7.
402(a)FR-1, FR-2, FR-3.
402(b)(1)FR-4, FR-5.
402(c)(3)FR-6, FR-7.
404(a)FR-10.
405(a)(3)FR-10.
405(b)(1)(A)FR-10.
406(a)FR-9.
409(a)FR-10.
412(a)FR-8, FR-9.

D-1 Q: Is an attorney, accountant, actuary or consultant who renders legal, accounting, actuarial or consulting services to an employee benefit plan (other than an investment adviser to the plan) a fiduciary to the plan solely by virtue of the rendering of such services, absent a showing that such consultant (a) exercises discretionary authority or discretionary control respecting the management of the plan, (b) exercises authority or control respecting management or disposition of the plan's assets, (c) renders investment advice for a fee, direct or indirect, with respect to the assets of the plan, or has any authority or responsibility to do so, or (d) has any discretionary authority or discretionary responsibility in the administration of the plan?

A: No. However, while attorneys, accountants, actuaries and consultants performing their usual professional functions will ordinarily not be considered fiduciaries, if the factual situation in a particular case falls within one of the categories described in clauses (a) through (d) of this question, such persons would be considered to be fiduciaries within the meaning of section 3(21) of the Act. The Internal Revenue Service notes that such persons would also be considered to be fiduciaries within the meaning of section 4975(e)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954.

FR-1 Q: If an instrument establishing an employee benefit plan provides that the plan committee shall control and manage the operation and administration of the plan and specifies who shall constitute the plan committee (either by position or by naming individuals to the committee), does such provision adequately satisfy the requirement in section 402(a) that a “named fiduciary” be provided for in a plan instrument?

A: Yes. While the better practice would be to state explicitly that the plan committee is the “named fiduciary” for purposes of the Act, clear identification of one or more persons, by name or title, combined with a statement that such person or persons have authority to control and manage the operation and administration of the plan, satisfies the “named fiduciary” requirement of section 402(a). The purpose of this requirement is to enable employees and other interested persons to ascertain who is responsible for operating the plan. The instrument in the above example, which provides that “the plan committee shall control and manage the operation and administration of the plan”, and specifies, by name or position, who shall constitute the committee, fulfills this requirement.

FR-2 Q: In a union negotiated employee benefit plan, the instrument establishing the plan provides that a joint board on which employees and employers are equally represented shall control and manage the operation and administration of the plan. Does this provision adequately satisfy the requirement in section 402(a) that a “named fiduciary” be provided for in a plan instrument?

A: Yes, for the reasons stated in response to question FR-1. The joint board is clearly identified as the entity which has authority to control and manage the operation and administration of the plan, and the persons designated to be members of such joint board would be named fiduciaries under section 402(a).

FR-3 Q: May an employee benefit plan covering employees of a corporation designate the corporation as the “named fiduciary” for purposes of section 402(a)(1) of the Act?

A: Yes, it may. Section 402(a)(2) of the Act states that a “named fiduciary” is a fiduciary either named in the plan instrument or designated according to a procedure set forth in the plan instrument. A fiduciary is a “person” falling within the definition of fiduciary set forth in section 3(21)(A) of the Act. A “person” may be a corporation under the definition of person contained in section 3(9) of the Act. While such designation satisfies the requirement of enabling employees and other interested persons to ascertain the person or persons responsible for operating the plan, a plan instrument which designates a corporation as “named fiduciary” should provide for designation by the corporation of specified individuals or other persons to carry out specified fiduciary responsibilities under the plan, in accordance with section 405(c)(1)(B) of the Act.

FR-4 Q: A defined benefit pension plan's procedure for establishing and carrying out a funding policy provides that the plan's trustees shall, at a meeting duly called for the purpose, establish a funding policy and method which satisfies the requirements of part 3 of title I of the Act, and shall meet annually at a stated time of the year to review such funding policy and method. It further provides that all actions taken with respect to such funding policy and method and the reasons therefor shall be recorded in the minutes of the trustees' meetings. Does this procedure comply with section 402(b)(1) of the Act?

A: Yes. The above procedure specifies who is to establish the funding policy and method for the plan, and provides for a written record of the actions taken with respect to such funding policy and method, including the reasons for such actions. The purpose of the funding policy requirement set forth in section 402(b)(1) is to enable plan participants and beneficiaries to ascertain that the plan has a funding policy that meets the requirements of part 3 of title I of the Act. The procedure set forth above meets that requirement.

FR-5 Q: Must a welfare plan in which the benefits are paid out of the general assets of the employer have a procedure for establishing and carrying out a funding policy set forth in the plan instrument?

A: No. Section 402(b)(1) requires that the plan provide for such a procedure “consistent with the objectives of the plan” and requirements of title I of the Act. In situations in which a plan is unfunded and title I of the Act does not require the plan to be funded, there is no need to provide for such a procedure. If the welfare plan were funded, a procedure consistent with the objectives of the plan would have to be established.

FR-6 Q: May an investment adviser which is neither a bank nor an insurance company, and which is neither registered under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 nor registered as an investment adviser in the State where it maintains its principal office and place of business, be appointed an investment manager under section 402(c)(3) of the Act?

A: No. The only persons who may be appointed an investment manager under section 402(c)(3) of the Act are persons who meet the requirements of section 3(38) of the Act—namely, banks (as defined in the Investment Advisers Act of 1940), insurance companies qualified under the laws of more than one state to manage, acquire and dispose of plan assets, persons registered as investment advisers under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, or persons not registered under the Investment Advisers Act by reason of paragraph 1 of section 203A(a) of that Act who are registered as investment advisers in the State where they maintain their principal office and place of business in accordance with ERISA section 3(38) and who have met the filing requirements of 29 CFR 2510.3-38.

FR-7 Q: May an investment adviser that has a registration application pending for federal registration under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, or pending with the appropriate state regulatory body under State investment adviser registration laws if relying on the provisions of 29 CFR 2510.3-38 to qualify as a state-registered investment manager, function as an investment manager under the Act prior to the effective date of their federal or state registration?

A: No, for the reasons stated in the answer to FR-6 above.

FR-8 Q: Under the temporary bonding regulation set forth in 29 CFR 2550.412-1, must a person who renders investment advice to a plan for a fee or other compensation, direct or indirect, but who does not exercise or have the right to exercise discretionary authority with respect to the assets of the plan, be bonded solely by reason of the provision of such investment advice?

A: No. A person who renders investment advice, but who does not exercise or have the right to exercise discretionary authority with respect to plan assets, is not required to be bonded solely by reason of the provision of such investment advice. Such a person is not considered to be “handling” funds within the meaning of the temporary bonding regulation set forth in 29 CFR 2550.412-1, which incorporates by reference 29 CFR 464.7. For purposes of the temporary bonding regulation, only those fiduciaries who handle funds must be bonded. If, in addition to the rendering of investment advice, such person performs any additional function which constitutes the handling of plan funds under 29 CFR 464.7, the person would have to be bonded.

FR-9 Q: May an employee benefit plan purchase a bond covering plan officials?

A: Yes. The bonding requirement, which applies, with certain exceptions, to every plan official under section 412(a) of the Act, is for the protection of the plan and does not benefit any plan official or relieve any plan official of any obligation to the plan. The purchase of such bond by a plan will not, therefore, be considered to be in contravention of sections 406(a) or (b) of the Act.

FR-10 Q: An employee benefit plan is considering the construction of a building to house the administration of the plan. One trustee has proposed that the building be constructed on a cost plus basis by a particular contractor without competitive bidding. When the trustee was questioned by another trustee as to the basis of choice of the contractor, the impact of the building on the plan's administrative costs, whether a cost plus contract would yield a better price to the plan than a fixed price basis, and why a negotiated contract would be better than letting the contract for competitive bidding, no satisfactory answers were provided. Several of the trustees have argued that letting such a contract would be a violation of their general fiduciary responsibilities. Despite their arguments, a majority of the trustees appear to be ready to vote to construct the building as proposed. What should the minority trustees do to protect themselves from liability under section 409(a) of the Act and section 405(b)(1)(A) of the Act?

A: Here, where a majority of trustees appear ready to take action which would clearly be contrary to the prudence requirement of section 404(a)(1)(B) of the Act, it is incumbent on the minority trustees to take all reasonable and legal steps to prevent the action. Such steps might include preparations to obtain an injunction from a Federal District court under section 502(a)(3) of the Act, to notify the Labor Department, or to publicize the vote if the decision is to proceed as proposed. If, having taken all reasonable and legal steps to prevent the imprudent action, the minority trustees have not succeeded, they will not incur liability for the action of the majority. Mere resignation, however, without taking steps to prevent the imprudent action, will not suffice to avoid liability for the minority trustees once they have knowledge that the imprudent action is under consideration.

More generally, trustees should take great care to document adequately all meetings where actions are taken with respect to management and control of fplan assets. Written minutes of all actions taken should be kept describing the action taken, and stating how each trustee voted on each matter. If, as in the case above, trustees object to a proposed action on the grounds of possible violation of the fiduciary responsibility provisions of the Act, the trustees so objecting should insist that their objections and the responses to such objections be included in the record of the meeting. It should be noted that, where a trustee believes that a cotrustee has already committed a breach, resignation by the trustee as a protest against such breach will not generally be considered sufficient to discharge the trustee's positive duty under section 405(a)(3) to make reasonable efforts under the circumstances to remedy the breach.

[40 FR 31599, July 28, 1975. Redesignated at 41 FR 1906, Jan. 13, 1976; 69 FR 52125, Aug. 24, 2004]

§2509.75-6   Interpretive bulletin relating to section 408(c)(2) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974.

The Department of Labor today announced guidelines for determining when a party in interest with respect to an employee benefit plan may receive an advance for expenses to be incurred on behalf of the plan without engaging in a transaction prohibited by section 406 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. That section prohibits, among other things, any lending of money from a plan to a party in interest, or transfer to, or use by or for the benefit of, a party in interest of any assets of the plan, as well as any act whereby a fiduciary deals with the assets of a plan in his own interest or for his own account.

However, section 408(c)(2) of the Act provides that nothing in section 406 of the Act shall be construed to prohibit the reimbursement by a plan of expenses properly and actually incurred by a fiduciary in the performance of his duties with the plan. Questions have arisen under section 408(c)(2) of the Act as to whether a plan may reimburse a party in interest in the performance of his duties with the plan and as to whether a plan might make an advance to a fiduciary or other party in interest for expenses to be incurred in the future.

The Department of Labor views the relevant provisions of section 408(c)(2) as clarifying the scope of section 406 so as to permit reimbursement of fiduciaries for expenses incurred in the performance of their duties with a plan. Similarly, consistent with section 408(c)(2), section 406 is construed to permit the reimbursement by the plan of expenses properly and actually incurred by a party in interest in the performance of his duties with the plan.

If a plan makes an advance to a fiduciary or other party in interest to cover expenses to be properly and actually incurred by such person in the performance of his duties with the plan, a prohibited transaction within the meaning of section 406 shall not occur when the plan makes the advance if—

(a) The amount of such advance is reasonable with respect to the amount of the expense which is likely to be properly and actually incurred in the immediate future (such as during the next month), and

(b) The party in interest accounts to the plan at the end of the period covered by the advance for the expenses actually incurred (whether computed on the basis of actual expenses incurred or on the basis of actual transportation costs plus a reasonable per diem allowance, where appropriate).

It should be noted, however, that despite the reasonableness of the amount of the advance and of the expenses underlying it, the question of whether incurring such expenses was prudent, and thus whether the advance was for reasonable expenses, is to be judged pursuant to section 404 of the Act (relating to fiduciary responsibilities).

[40 FR 31755, July 29, 1975. Redesignated at 41 FR 1906, Jan. 13, 1976]

§2509.75-8   Questions and answers relating to fiduciary responsibility under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974.

The Department of Labor today issued questions and answers relating to certain aspects of fiduciary responsibility under the Act, thereby supplementing ERISA IB 75-5 (29 CFR 2555.75-5) which was issued on June 24, 1975, and published in the Federal Register on July 28, 1975 (40 FR 31598).

Pending the issuance of regulations or other guidelines, persons may rely on the answers to these questions in order to resolve the issues that are specifically considered. No inferences should be drawn regarding issues not raised which may be suggested by a particular question and answer or as to why certain questions, and not others, are included. Furthermore, in applying the questions and answers, the effect of subsequent legislation, regulations, court decisions, and interpretive bulletins must be considered. To the extent that plans utilize or rely on these answers and the requirements of regulations subsequently adopted vary from the answers relied on, such plans may have to be amended.

An index of the questions and answers, relating them to the appropriate sections of the Act, is also provided.

Index

Key to question prefixes: D—refers to definitions; FR—refers to fiduciary responsibility.

Section No.Question No.
3(21)(A)D-2, D-3, D-4, D-5.
3(38)FR-15.
402(c)(1)FR-12.
402(c)(2)FR-15.
402(c)(3)FR-15.
403(a)(2)FR-15.
404(a)(1)(B)FR-11, FR-17.
405(a)FR-13, FR-14, FR-16.
405(c)(1)FR-12, FR-15.
405(c)(2)D-4, FR-13, FR-14, FR-16.
412D-2.

Note: Questions D-2, D-3, D-4, and D-5 relate to not only section 3(21)(A) of title I of the Act, but also section 4975(e)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (section 2003 of the Act). The Internal Revenue Service has indicated its concurrence with the answers to these questions.

D-2 Q: Are persons who have no power to make any decisions as to plan policy, interpretations, practices or procedures, but who perform the following administrative functions for an employee benefit plan, within a framework of policies, interpretations, rules, practices and procedures made by other persons, fiduciaries with respect to the plan:

(1) Application of rules determining eligibility for participation or benefits;

(2) Calculation of services and compensation credits for benefits;

(3) Preparation of employee communications material;

(4) Maintenance of participants' service and employment records;

(5) Preparation of reports required by government agencies;

(6) Calculation of benefits;

(7) Orientation of new participants and advising participants of their rights and options under the plan;

(8) Collection of contributions and application of contributions as provided in the plan;

(9) Preparation of reports concerning participants' benefits;

(10) Processing of claims; and

(11) Making recommendations to others for decisions with respect to plan administration?

A: No. Only persons who perform one or more of the functions described in section 3(21)(A) of the Act with respect to an employee benefit plan are fiduciaries. Therefore, a person who performs purely ministerial functions such as the types described above for an employee benefit plan within a framework of policies, interpretations, rules, practices and procedures made by other persons is not a fiduciary because such person does not have discretionary authority or discretionary control respecting management of the plan, does not exercise any authority or control respecting management or disposition of the assets of the plan, and does not render investment advice with respect to any money or other property of the plan and has no authority or responsibility to do so.

However, although such a person may not be a plan fiduciary, he may be subject to the bonding requirements contained in section 412 of the Act if he handles funds or other property of the plan within the meaning of applicable regulations.

The Internal Revenue Service notes that such persons would not be considered plan fiduciaries within the meaning of section 4975(e)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954.

D-3 Q: Does a person automatically become a fiduciary with respect to a plan by reason of holding certain positions in the administration of such plan?

A: Some offices or positions of an employee benefit plan by their very nature require persons who hold them to perform one or more of the functions described in section 3(21)(A) of the Act. For example, a plan administrator or a trustee of a plan must, be the very nature of his position, have “discretionary authority or discretionary responsibility in the administration” of the plan within the meaning of section 3(21)(A)(iii) of the Act. Persons who hold such positions will therefore be fiduciaries.

Other offices and positions should be examined to determine whether they involve the performance of any of the functions described in section 3(21)(A) of the Act. For example, a plan might designate as a “benefit supervisor” a plan employee whose sole function is to calculate the amount of benefits to which each plan participant is entitled in accordance with a mathematical formula contained in the written instrument pursuant to which the plan is maintained. The benefit supervisor, after calculating the benefits, would then inform the plan administrator of the results of his calculations, and the plan administrator would authorize the payment of benefits to a particular plan participant. The benefit supervisor does not perform any of the functions described in section 3(21)(A) of the Act and is not, therefore, a plan fiduciary. However, the plan might designate as a “benefit supervisor” a plan employee who has the final authority to authorize or disallow benefit payments in cases where a dispute exists as to the interpretation of plan provisions relating to eligibility for benefits. Under these circumstances, the benefit supervisor would be a fiduciary within the meaning of section 3(21)(A) of the Act.

The Internal Revenue Service notes that it would reach the same answer to this question under section 4975(e)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954.

D-4 Q: In the case of a plan established and maintained by an employer, are members of the board of directors of the employer fiduciaries with respect to the plan?

A: Members of the board of directors of an employer which maintains an employee benefit plan will be fiduciaries only to the extent that they have responsibility for the functions described in section 3(21)(A) of the Act. For example, the board of directors may be responsible for the selection and retention of plan fiduciaries. In such a case, members of the board of directors exercise “discretionary authority or discretionary control respecting management of such plan” and are, therefore, fiduciaries with respect to the plan. However, their responsibility, and, consequently, their liability, is limited to the selection and retention of fiduciaries (apart from co-fiduciary liability arising under circumstances described in section 405(a) of the Act). In addition, if the directors are made named fiduciaries of the plan, their liability may be limited pursuant to a procedure provided for in the plan instrument for the allocation of fiduciary responsibilities among named fiduciaries or for the designation of persons other than named fiduciaries to carry out fiduciary responsibilities, as provided in section 405(c)(2).

The Internal Revenue Service notes that it would reach the same answer to this question under section 4975(e)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954.

D-5 Q: Is an officer or employee of an employer or employee organization which sponsors an employee benefit plan a fiduciary with respect to the plan solely by reason of holding such office or employment if he or she performs none of the functions described in section 3(21)(A) of the Act?

A: No, for the reasons stated in response to question D-2.

The Internal Revenue Service notes that it would reach the same answer to this question under section 4975(e)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954.

FR-11 Q: In discharging fiduciary responsibilities, may a fiduciary with respect to a plan rely on information, data, statistics or analyses provided by other persons who perform purely ministerial functions for such plan, such as those persons described in D-2 above?

A: A plan fiduciary may rely on information, data, statistics or analyses furnished by persons performing ministerial functions for the plan, provided that he has exercised prudence in the selection and retention of such persons. The plan fiduciary will be deemed to have acted prudently in such selection and retention if, in the exercise of ordinary care in such situation, he has no reason to doubt the competence, integrity or responsibility of such persons.

FR-12 Q: How many fiduciaries must an employee benefit plan have?

A: There is no required number of fiduciaries that a plan must have. Each plan must, of course, have at least one named fiduciary who serves as plan administrator and, if plan assets are held in trust, the plan must have at least one trustee. If these requirements are met, there is no limit on the number of fiduciaries a plan may have. A plan may have as few or as many fiduciaries as are necessary for its operation and administration. Under section 402(c)(1) of the Act, if the plan so provides, any person or group of persons may serve in more than one fiduciary capacity, including serving both as trustee and administrator. Conversely, fiduciary responsibilities not involving management and control of plan assets may, under section 405(c)(1) of the Act, be allocated among named fiduciaries and named fiduciaries may designate persons other than named fiduciaries to carry out such fiduciary responsibilities, if the plan instrument expressly provides procedures for such allocation or designation.

FR-13 Q: If the named fiduciaries of an employee benefit plan allocate their fiduciary responsibilities among themselves in accordance with a procedure set forth in the plan for the allocation of responsibilities for operation and administration of the plan, to what extent will a named fiduciary be relieved of liability for acts and omissions of other named fiduciaries in carrying out fiduciary responsibilities allocated to them?

A: If named fiduciaries of a plan allocate responsibilities in accordance with a procedure for such allocation set forth in the plan, a named fiduciary will not be liable for acts and omissions of other named fiduciaries in carrying out fiduciary responsibilities which have been allocated to them, except as provided in section 405(a) of the Act, relating to the general rules of co-fiduciary responsibility, and section 405(c)(2)(A) of the Act, relating in relevant part to standards for establishment and implementation of allocation procedures.

However, if the instrument under which the plan is maintained does not provide for a procedure for the allocation of fiduciary responsibilities among named fiduciaries, any allocation which the named fiduciaries may make among themselves will be ineffective to relieve a named fiduciary from responsibility or liability for the performance of fiduciary responsibilities allocated to other named fiduciaries.

FR-14 Q: If the named fiduciaries of an employee benefit plan designate a person who is not a named fiduciary to carry out fiduciary responsibilities, to what extent will the named fiduciaries be relieved of liability for the acts and omissions of such person in the performance of his duties?

A: If the instrument under which the plan is maintained provides for a procedure under which a named fiduciary may designate persons who are not named fiduciaries to carry out fiduciary responsibilities, named fiduciaries of the plan will not be liable for acts and omissions of a person who is not a named fiduciary in carrying out the fiduciary responsibilities which such person has been designated to carry out, except as provided in section 405(a) of the Act, relating to the general rules of co-fiduciary liability, and section 405(c)(2)(A) of the Act, relating in relevant part to the designation of persons to carry out fiduciary responsibilities.

However, if the instrument under which the plan is maintained does not provide for a procedure for the designation of persons who are not named fiduciaries to carry out fiduciary responsibilities, then any such designation which the named fiduciaries may make will not relieve the named fiduciaries from responsibility or liability for the acts and omissions of the persons so designated.

FR-15 Q: May a named fiduciary delegate responsibility for management and control of plan assets to anyone other than a person who is an investment manager as defined in section 3(38) of the Act so as to be relieved of liability for the acts and omissions of the person to whom such responsibility is delegated?

A: No. Section 405(c)(1) does not allow named fiduciaries to delegate to others authority or discretion to manage or control plan assets. However, under the terms of sections 403(a)(2) and 402(c)(3) of the Act, such authority and discretion may be delegated to persons who are investment managers as defined in section 3(38) of the Act. Further, under section 402(c)(2) of the Act, if the plan so provides, a named fiduciary may employ other persons to render advice to the named fiduciary to assist the named fiduciary in carrying out his investment responsibilities under the plan.

FR-16 Q: Is a fiduciary who is not a named fiduciary with respect to an employee benefit plan personally liable for all phases of the management and administration of the plan?

A: A fiduciary with respect to the plan who is not a named fiduciary is a fiduciary only to the extent that he or she performs one or more of the functions described in section 3(21)(A) of the Act. The personal liability of a fiduciary who is not a named fiduciary is generally limited to the fiduciary functions, which he or she performs with respect to the plan. With respect to the extent of liability of a named fiduciary of a plan where duties are properly allocated among named fiduciaries or where named fiduciaries properly designate other persons to carry out certain fiduciary duties, see question FR-13 and FR-14.

In addition, any fiduciary may become liable for breaches of fiduciary responsibility committed by another fiduciary of the same plan under circumstances giving rise to co-fiduciary liability, as provided in section 405(a) of the Act.

FR-17 Q: What are the ongoing responsibilities of a fiduciary who has appointed trustees or other fiduciaries with respect to these appointments?

A: At reasonable intervals the performance of trustees and other fiduciaries should be reviewed by the appointing fiduciary in such manner as may be reasonably expected to ensure that their performance has been in compliance with the terms of the plan and statutory standards, and satisfies the needs of the plan. No single procedure will be appropriate in all cases; the procedure adopted may vary in accordance with the nature of the plan and other facts and circumstances relevant to the choice of the procedure.

[40 FR 47491, Oct. 9, 1975. Redesignated at 41 FR 1906, Jan. 13, 1976]

§2509.75-9   Interpretive bulletin relating to guidelines on independence of accountant retained by Employee Benefit Plan.

The Department of Labor today announced guidelines for determining when a qualified public accountant is independent for purposes of auditing and rendering an opinion on the financial information required to be included in the annual report filed with the Department.

Section 103(a)(3)(A) requires that the accountant retained by an employee benefit plan be “independent” for purposes of examining plan financial information and rendering an opinion on the financial statements and schedules required to be contained in the annual report.

Under the authority of section 103(a)(3)(A) the Department of Labor will not recognize any person as an independent qualified public accountant who is in fact not independent with respect to the employee benefit plan upon which that accountant renders an opinion in the annual report filed with the Department of Labor. For example, an accountant will not be considered independent with respect to a plan if:

(1) During the period of professional engagement to examine the financial statements being reported, at the date of the opinion, or during the period covered by the financial statements, the accountant or his or her firm or a member thereof had, or was committed to acquire, any direct financial interest or any material indirect financial interest in such plan, or the plan sponsor, as that term is defined in section 3(16)(B) of the Act.

(2) During the period of professional engagement to examine the financial statements being reported, at the date of the opinion, or during the period covered by the financial statements, the accountant, his or her firm or a member thereof was connected as a promoter, underwriter, investment advisor, voting trustee, director, officer, or employee of the plan or plan sponsor except that a firm will not be deemed not independent in regard to a particular plan if a former officer or employee of such plan or plan sponsor is employed by the firm and such individual has completely disassociated himself from the plan or plan sponsor and does not participate in auditing financial statements of the plan covering any period of his or her employment by the plan or plan sponsor. For the purpose of this bulletin the term “member” means all partners or shareholder employees in the firm and all professional employees participating in the audit or located in an office of the firm participating in a significant portion of the audit;

(3) An accountant or a member of an accounting firm maintains financial records for the employee benefit plan.

However, an independent, qualified public accountant may permissably engage in or have members of his or her firm engage in certain activities which will not have the effect of removing recognition of his or her independence. For example, (1) an accountant will not fail to be recognized as independent if at or during the period of his or her professional engagement with the employee benefit plan the accountant or his or her firm is retained or engaged on a professional basis by the plan sponsor, as that term is defined in section 3(16)(B) of the Act. However, to retain recognition of independence under such circumstances the accountant must not violate the prohibitions against recognition of independence established under paragraphs (1), (2) or (3) of this interpretive bulletin; (2) the rendering of services by an actuary associated with an accountant or accounting firm shall not impair the accountant's or accounting firm's independence. However, it should be noted that the rendering of services to a plan by an actuary and accountant employed by the same firm may constitute a prohibited transaction under section 406(a)(1)(C) of the Act. The rendering of such multiple services to a plan by a firm will be the subject of a later interpretive bulletin that will be issued by the Department of Labor.

In determining whether an accountant or accounting firm is not, in fact, independent with respect to a particular plan, the Department of Labor will give appropriate consideration to all relevant circumstances, including evidence bearing on all relationships between the accountant or accounting firm and that of the plan sponsor or any affiliate thereof, and will not confine itself to the relationships existing in connection with the filing of annual reports with the Department of Labor.

Further interpretive bulletins may be issued by the Department of Labor concerning the question of independence of an accountant retained by an employee benefit plan.

[40 FR 53998, Nov. 20, 1975, as amended at 40 FR 59728, Dec. 30, 1975. Redesignated at 41 FR 1906, Jan. 13, 1976]

§2509.75-10   Interpretive bulletin relating to the ERISA Guidelines and the Special Reliance Procedure.

On November 5, 1975, the Department of Labor (the “Department”) and the Internal Revenue Service (the “Service”) announced the publication of a compendium of authoritative rules (hereinafter referred to as the “ERISA Guidelines”) relating to ERISA requirements. See T.I.R. No. 1415 (November 5, 1975) issued by the Service. These rules were published in recognition of the need to provide an immediate and complete set of interim guidelines to facilitate (1) adoption of new employee pension benefit plans (hereinafter referred to as “plans”), and (2) prompt amendment of existing plans, in conformance with the applicable requirements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”) pending the issuance of final regulations or other rules. These rules govern the application of (1) the qualification requirements of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 (the “Code”) added or amended by ERISA, and (2) the requirements of the provisions of parts 2 and 3 of title I of ERISA paralleling such qualification requirements (both such sets of requirements hereinafter referred to collectively as the “new qualification requirements”).

The ERISA Guidelines incorporate by reference the documents relating to the new qualification requirements heretofore published by the Department and by the Service as temporary or proposed regulations, revenue rulings, revenue procedures, questions and answers, technical information releases, and other issuances. The ERISA Guidelines also incorporate additional documents published on November 5, 1975, or to be published forthwith, which are necessary to complete the interim guidelines relating to the new qualification requirements. See the schedule set forth below for a complete list and brief description of the documents comprising the ERISA Guidelines.

The Department and the Service emphasized that the ERISA Guidelines constitute the entire set of interim rules of the Department and the Service for satisfying the new qualification requirements, and thus provide authoritative guidance in respect of the new statutory requirements bearing on qualification. These rules are applicable to individually designed plans and to multiemployer (or other multiple employer) plans, and may be relied upon until amended or supplemented by final regulations or other rules. Moreover, the Department and the Service announced that any provisions of final regulations or other rules which amend or supplement the rules contained in the ERISA Guidelines will generally be prospective only, from the date of publication. Further, in the case of employee plan provisions adopted or amended before the date of such publication which satisfy the ERISA Guidelines, such final regulations or other rules will generally be made effective for plan years commencing after such date, except in unusual circumstances.

The Service further announced that the ERISA Guidelines incorporate the procedures that will enable employers to obtain determination letters as to the qualification of pension, annuity, profit sharing, stock bonus and bond purchase plans which satisfy the requirements of sections 401(a), 403(a) and 405(a) of the Code, as amended by ERISA. The Service also pointed out that the ERISA Guidelines will enable sponsors of master and prototype plans (whether newly established or amended) to obtain opinion letters as to the acceptability of the form of such plans, and further, that employers who establish plans designed to meet the requirements of section 301(d) of the Tax Reduction Act of 1975 (relating to employee stock ownership plans) will be able to obtain determination letters as to the acceptability of such plans (whether or not such plans are intended to be qualified).

To facilitate further the adoption of new plans and the prompt amendment of existing plans in conformance with the new qualification requirements, the Service announced on November 5, 1975, the adoption of a special procedure (hereinafter referred to as the “Special Reliance Procedure”) pursuant to which the adoption, on or before May 30, 1976, of new plans and amendments of existing plans may be effectuated with full reliance upon the rules which comprise the ERISA Guidelines and without regard to any amendment or supplementation of such rules before such date. Therefore, except in unusual circumstances (described in Technical Information Release No. 1416 (November 5, 1975)), plans which comply with the Special Reliance Procedure shall generally be considered by the Service as satisfying the qualification requirements of the Code added or amended by ERISA for plan years commencing on or before December 31, 1976, to which such requirements are applicable, notwithstanding the date when final regulations or other rules hereafter published which amend or supplement the rules comprising the ERISA Guidelines may otherwise be made effective. Reference is hereby made to Technical Information Release No. 1416 (November 5, 1975) for a description of the Special Reliance Procedure.

The Department announced that plans which comply with the Special Reliance Procedure will be considered by the Department as satisfying the requirements of the provisions of parts 2 and 3 of title I of ERISA which parallel the qualification requirements of the Code added or amended by ERISA to the same extent as such plans are considered by the Service as satisfying, in accordance with the terms of the Special Reliance Procedure, such qualification requirements.

The availability of the Special Reliance Procedure will substantially diminish the occasions for plans to avail themselves of the right to satisfy, for tax purposes, the qualification requirements of the Code (added or amended by ERISA) by retroactive amendments adopted during or after the close of a plan year, in accordance with section 401(b) of the Code and the temporary regulations thereunder. The Department pointed out that no explicit parallel provision to section 401(b) of the Code is contained in title I of ERISA. Nevertheless, to the extent retroactive amendments to a plan are made to satisfy the requirements of parts 2 and 3 of title I of ERISA which parallel the qualification requirements of the Code added or amended by ERISA, the Department noted that such plan will be in compliance with such requirements if such an amendment designed to satisfy such requirements (1) is adopted by the end of the plan year to which such requirements are applicable, and (2) is made effective for all purposes for such entire plan year.

The schedule of documents comprising the ERISA Guidelines follows.

ERISA Guidelines—Schedule of Documents

Publication date 1975DocumentSubjectCode and ERISA sections
Jan. 8TIR 1334Questions and answers relating to defined contribution plans subject to ERISA410, 411, et al.
Apr. 2140 FR 17576Notice of proposed rulemaking: Qualification (and other aspects) of HR-10 plans401(c), 401(d), 401(e), 46, 50A, 72, 404(e), 901, and 1379.
June 4T.D. 7358Temporary regulations: Notification of interested parties7476.
July 14T.D. 7367Temporary regulations: Notice of determination of qualification7476.
Sept. 840 FR 41654Department of Labor—Minimum standards for hours of service, years of service, and breaks in service relating to participation, vesting, and accrual of benefits401(a)(3)(B), 411(a)(5)(C), and ERISA secs. 202, 203, and 204.
Sept. 17TIR 1403Questions and answers relating mainly to defined benefit plans subject to ERISA (addition to TIR 1334)410, 411, et al.
Sept. 1840 FR 43034Notice of proposed rulemaking: Definitions of multi-employer plan and plan administrator414(f) and (g).
Sept. 29T.D. 7377Temporary regulations: Certain retroactive amendments of employee plans401(b).
Oct. 3T.D. 7379Temporary regulations: Qualified joint and survivor annuities401(a)(11).
   T.D. 7380Temporary regulations: Minimum participation standards410.
Oct. 8T.D. 7381Temporary regulations: Commencement of benefits401(a)(14).
Oct. 15T.D. 7382Temporary regulations: Requirement that benefits under a qualified plan are not decreased on account of certain social security increases401(a)(15).
Oct. 16T.D. 7383Temporary regulations: Nonbank trustees of pension and profit sharing trusts benefiting owner-employees401(d)(1).
   40 FR 48517Notice of proposed rulemaking: Certain custodial accounts401(f).
Oct. 30TIR 1408Questions and answers relating to mergers, consolidations, etc401(a)(12) and 414(1).
Nov. 3Rev. Rul. 75-480, 1975-44 IRBUpdating of Rev. Rul. 71-446 to reflect changes mandated by ERISA401(a)(5).
   Rev. Rul. 75-481, 1975-44 IRBGuidelines for determining whether contributions or benefits under plan satisfy the limitations of sec. 415 of the code401(a)(16) and 415.
   TIR 1411, Rev. Proc. 75-49, 1975-48 IRBVesting and discrimination401(a)(4) and 411(d)(1).
Nov. 4TIR 1413Questions and answers relating to employee stock ownership plans401, 4975, and sec. 301(d) of the Tax Reduction Act of 1975.
Nov. 5T.D. 7387Temporary regulations on minimum vesting standards411.
   T.D. 7388Controlled groups, businesses under common control, etc414(b) and (c).
(1)TIRNonforfeiture of employee derived accrued benefit upon death411(a)(1).
(1)Department of Labor—Interpretive bulletin: Definition of seasonal industries410(a)(3)(B), 411(a)(5)(C), and ERISA secs. 202(a)(3)(C), 203(b)(2)(C).
Nov. 740 FR 52008Department of Labor—additional requirements applicable to definition of multiemployer plan414(f) and ERISA sec. 3(37).
(1)Department of Labor—suspension of benefits upon reemployment of retiree411(a)(3)(B) and ERISA sec. 203(a)(3)(A).
Dec. 3TIR 1422Assignment or alienation of plan benefits401(a)(13).
Dec. 9TIR 1424, Rev. Proc. 76-1, 1976-1 IRB.Vesting and discrimination401(a)(4) and 411(d)(1).
(1)TIR, Rev. RulAppropriate conversion factor411(c)(2)(B)(ii).

1To be published forthwith.

[41 FR 3289, Jan. 22, 1976]

§2509.78-1   Interpretive bulletin relating to payments by certain employee welfare benefit plans.

The Department of Labor today announced its interpretation of certain provisions of part 4 of title I of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), as those sections apply to a payment by multiple employer vacation plans of a sum of money to which a participant of beneficiary of the plan is entitled to a party other than the participant or beneficiary.1

1Multiple employer vacation plans generally consist of trust funds to which employers are obligated to make contributions pursuant to collective bargaining agreements. Benefits are generally paid at specified intervals (usually annually or semi-annually) and such benefits are neither contingent upon the occurrence of a specified event nor restricted to use for a specified purpose when paid to the participant.

Section 402(b)(4) of ERISA requires every employee benefit plan to specify the basis on which payments are made to and from the plan.

Section 403(c)(1) of ERISA generally requires the assets of an employee benefit plan to be held for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits to participants in the plan and their beneficiaries2 and defraying reasonable expenses of administering the plan. Similarly, section 404(a)(1)(A) requires a plan fiduciary to discharge his duties with respect to a plan solely in the interest of the participants and beneficiaries of the plan and for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits to participants and their beneficiaries and defraying reasonable expenses of administering the plan. Section 404(a)(1)(D) further requires the fiduciary to act in accordance with the documents and instruments governing the plan insofar as such documents and instruments are consistent with the provisions of title I of ERISA.

2Section 403 (c) and (d) provide certain exceptions to this requirement, not here relevant.

In addition, section 406(a) of ERISA specifically prohibits a fiduciary with respect to a plan from causing the plan to engage in a transaction if he knows or should know that such transaction constitutes, inter alia, a direct or indirect: furnishing of goods, services or facilities between the plan and a party in interest (section 406(a)(1)(C)); or transfer to, or use by or for the benefit of, a party in interest of any assets of the plan (section 406(a)(1)(D)). Section 406(b)(2) of ERISA prohibits a plan fiduciary from acting in any transaction involving the plan on behalf of a party, or representing a party, whose interests are adverse to the interests of the plan or of its participants or beneficiaries.

In this regard, however, Prohibited Transaction Exemptions 76-1, Part C, (41 FR 12740, March 26, 1976) and 77-10 (42 FR 33918, July 1, 1977) exempt from the prohibitions of section 406(a) and 406(b)(2), respectively, the provision of administrative services by a multiple employer plan if specified conditions are met. These conditions are: (a) the plan receives reasonable compensation for the provision of the services (for purposes of the exemption, “reasonable compensation” need not include a profit which would ordinarily have been received in an arm's length transaction, but must be sufficient to reimburse the plan for its costs); (b) the arrangement allows any multiple employer plan which is a party to the transaction to terminate the relationship on a reasonably short notice under the circumstances; and (c) the plan complies with certain recordkeeping requirements. It should be noted that plans not subject to Prohibited Transaction Exemptions 76-1 and 77-10—i.e., plans that are not multiple employer plans—cannot rely upon these exemptions.

A payment by a vacation plan of all or any portion of benefits to which a plan participant or beneficiary is entitled to a party other than the participant or beneficiary will comply with the above-mentioned sections of ERISA if the arrangement pursuant to which payments are made does not constitute a prohibited transaction under ERISA and:

(1) The plan documents expressly state that benefits payable under the plan to a participant or beneficiary may, at the direction of the participant or beneficiary, be paid to a third party rather than to the participant or beneficiary;

(2) The participant or beneficiary directs in writing that the plan trustee(s) shall pay a named third party all or a specified portion of the sum of money which would otherwise be paid under the plan to him or her; and

(3) A payment is made to a third party only when or after the money would otherwise be payable to the plan participant or beneficiary.

In the case of a multiple employer plan (as defined in Prohibited Transaction Exemption 76-1, Part C, Section III), if the arrangement to make payments to a third party is a prohibited transaction under ERISA, the arrangement will comply with the above-mentioned sections of ERISA if the conditions of Prohibited Transaction Exemptions 76-1, Part C, and 77-10 and the above three paragraphs are met. In this regard, it is the view of the Department that the mere payment of money to which a participant or beneficiary is entitled, at the direction of the participant or beneficiary, to a third party who is a party in interest would not constitute a transfer of plan assets prohibited under section 406(a)(1)(D). It is also the view of the Department that if a trustee or other fudiciary of a plan, in addition to his duties with respect to the plan, serves in a decisionmaking capacity with another party, the mere fact that the fiduciary effects payments to such party of money to which a participant is entitled at the direction of the participant and in accordance with specific provisions of governing plan documents and instruments, does not amount to a prohibited transaction under section 406(b)(2).

It should be noted that the interpretation set forth herein deals solely with the application of the provisions of title I of ERISA to the arrangements described herein. It does not deal with the application of any other statute to such arrangements. Specifically, no opinion is expressed herein as to the application of section 302 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 1947 or the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 (particularly the provisions of section 501(c)(9) of the Code).

[43 FR 58565, Dec. 15, 1978]

§2509.94-3   Interpretive bulletin relating to in-kind contributions to employee benefit plans.

(a) General. This bulletin sets forth the views of the Department of Labor (the Department) concerning in-kind contributions (i.e., contributions of property other than cash) in satisfaction of an obligation to contribute to an employee benefit plan to which part 4 of title I of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) or a plan to which section 4975 of the Internal Revenue Code (the Code) applies. (For purposes of this document the term “plan” shall refer to either or both types of such entities as appropriate). Section 406(a)(1)(A) of ERISA provides that a fiduciary with respect to a plan shall not cause the plan to engage in a transaction if the fiduciary knows or should know that the transaction constitutes a direct or indirect sale or exchange of any property between a plan and a “party in interest” as defined in section 3(14) of ERISA. The Code imposes a two-tier excise tax under section 4975(c)(1)(A) an any direct or indirect sale or exchange of any property between a plan and a “disqualified person” as defined in section 4975(e)(2) of the Code. An employer or employee organization that maintains a plan is included within the definitions of “party in interest” and “disqualified person.”1

1Under Reorganization Plan No. 4 of 1978 (43 FR 47713, October 17, 1978), the authority of the Secretary of the Treasury to issue rulings under the prohibited transactions provisions of section 4975 of the Code has been transferred, with certain exceptions not here relevant, to the Secretary of Labor. Except with respect to the types of plans covered, the prohibited transaction provisions of section 406 of ERISA generally parallel the prohibited transaction of provisions of section 4975 of the Code.

In Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Keystone Consolidated Industries, Inc., __ U.S. __, 113 S. Ct. 2006 (1993), the Supreme Court held that an employer's contribution of unencumbered real property to a tax-qualified defined benefit pension plan was a sale or exchange prohibited under section 4975 of the Code where the stated fair market value of the property was credited against the employer's obligation to the defined benefit pension plan. The parties stipulated that the property was contributed to the plan free of encumbrances and the stated fair market value of the property was not challenged. 113 S. Ct. at 2009. In reaching its holding the Court construed section 4975(f)(3) of the Code (and therefore section 406(c) of ERISA), regarding transfers of encumbered property, not as a limitation but rather as extending the reach of section 4975(c)(1)(A) of the Code (and thus section 406(a)(1)(A) of ERISA) to include contributions of encumbered property that do not satisfy funding obligations. Id. at 2013. Accordingly, the Court concluded that the contribution of unencumbered property was prohibited under section 4975(c)(1)(A) of the Code (and thus section 406(a)(1)(A) of ERISA) as “at least both an indirect type of sale and a form of exchange, since the property is exchanged for diminution of the employer's funding obligation.” 113 S. Ct. at 2012.

(b) Defined benefit plans. Consistent with the reasoning of the Supreme Court in Keystone, because an employer's or plan sponsor's in-kind contribution to a defined benefit pension plan is credited to the plan's funding standard account it would constitute a transfer to reduce an obligation of the sponsor or employer to the plan. Therefore, in the absence of an applicable exemption, such a contribution would be prohibited under section 406(a)(1)(A) of ERISA and section 4975(c)(1)(A) of the Code. Such an in-kind contribution would constitute a prohibited transaction even if the value of the contribution is in excess of the sponsor's or employer's funding obligation for the plan year in which the contribution is made and thus is not used to reduce the plan's accumulated funding deficiency for that plan year because the contribution would result in a credit against funding obligations which might arise in the future.

(c) Defined contribution and welfare plans. In the context of defined contribution pension plans and welfare plans, it is the view of the Department that an in-kind contribution to a plan that reduces an obligation of a plan sponsor or employer to make a contribution measured in terms of cash amounts would constitute a prohibited transaction under section 406(a)(1)(A) of ERISA (and section 4975(c)(1)(A) of the Code) unless a statutory or administrative exemption under section 408 of ERISA (or sections 4975(c)(2) or (d) of the Code) applies. For example, if a profit sharing plan required the employer to make annual contributions “in cash or in kind” equal to a given percentage of the employer's net profits for the year, an in-kind contribution used to reduce this obligation would constitute a prohibited transaction in the absence of an exemption because the amount of the contribution obligation is measured in terms of cash amounts (a percentage of profits) even though the terms of the plan purport to permit in-kind contributions.

Conversely, a transfer of unencumbered property to a welfare benefit plan that does not relieve the sponsor or employer of any present or future obligation to make a contribution that is measured in terms of cash amounts would not constitute a prohibited transaction under section 406(a)(1)(A) of ERISA or section 4975(c)(1)(A) of the Code. The same principles apply to defined contribution plans that are not subject to the minimum funding requirements of section 302 of ERISA or section 412 of the Code. For example, where a profit sharing or stock bonus plan, by its terms, is funded solely at the discretion of the sponsoring employer, and the employer is not otherwise obligated to make a contribution measured in terms of cash amounts, a contribution of unencumbered real property would not be a prohibited sale or exchange between the plan and the employer. If, however, the same employer had made an enforceable promise to make a contribution measured in terms of cash amounts to the plan, a subsequent contribution of unencumbered real property made to offset such an obligation would be a prohibited sale or exchange.

(d) Fiduciary standards. Independent of the application of the prohibited transaction provisions, fiduciaries of plans covered by part 4 of title I of ERISA must determine that acceptance of an in-kind contribution is consistent with ERISA's general standards of fiduciary conduct. It is the view of the Department that acceptance of an in-kind contribution is a fiduciary act subject to section 404 of ERISA. In this regard, sections 406(a)(1)(A) and (B) of ERISA require that fiduciaries discharge their duties to a plan solely in the interests of the participants and beneficiaries, for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits and defraying reasonable administrative expenses, and with the care, skill, prudence, and diligence under the circumstances then prevailing that a prudent person acting in a like capacity and familiar with such matters would use in the conduct of an enterprise of a like character and with like aims. In addition, section 406(a)(1)(C) requires generally that fiduciaries diversify plan assets so as to minimize the risk of large losses. Accordingly, the fiduciaries of a plan must act “prudently,” “solely in the interest” of the plan's participants and beneficiaries and with a view to the need to diversify plan assets when deciding whether to accept in-kind contributions. If accepting an in-kind contribution is not “prudent,” not “solely in the interest” of the participants and beneficiaries of the plan, or would result in an improper lack of diversification of plan assets, the responsible fiduciaries of the plan would be liable for any losses resulting from such a breach of fiduciary responsibility, even if a contribution in kind does not constitute a prohibited transaction under section 406 of ERISA. In this regard, a fiduciary should consider any liabilities appurtenant to the in-kind contribution to which the plan would be exposed as a result of acceptance of the contribution.

[59 FR 66736, Dec. 28, 1994]

§2509.95-1   Interpretive bulletin relating to the fiduciary standards under ERISA when selecting an annuity provider for a defined benefit pension plan.

(a) Scope. This Interpretive Bulletin provides guidance concerning certain fiduciary standards under part 4 of title I of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1104-1114, applicable to the selection of an annuity provider for the purpose of benefit distributions from a defined benefit pension plan (hereafter “pension plan”) when the pension plan intends to transfer liability for benefits to an annuity provider. For guidance applicable to the selection of an annuity provider for benefit distributions from an individual account plan see 29 CFR 2550.404a-4.

(b) In General. Generally, when a pension plan purchases an annuity from an insurer as a distribution of benefits, it is intended that the plan's liability for such benefits is transferred to the annuity provider. The Department's regulation defining the term “participant covered under the plan” for certain purposes under title I of ERISA recognizes that such a transfer occurs when the annuity is issued by an insurance company licensed to do business in a State. 29 CFR 2510.3-3(d)(2)(ii). Although the regulation does not define the term “participant” or “beneficiary” for purposes of standing to bring an action under ERISA §502(a), 29 U.S.C. 1132(a), it makes clear that the purpose of a benefit distribution annuity is to transfer the plan's liability with respect to the individual's benefits to the annuity provider.

Pursuant to ERISA section 404(a)(1), 29 U.S.C. 1104(a)(1), fiduciaries must discharge their duties with respect to the plan solely in the interest of the participants and beneficiaries. Section 404(a)(1)(A), 29 U.S.C. 1104(a)(1)(A), states that the fiduciary must act for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits to the participants and beneficiaries and defraying reasonable plan administration expenses. In addition, section 404(a)(1)(B), 29 U.S.C. 1104(a)(1)(B), requires a fiduciary to act with the care, skill, prudence and diligence under the prevailing circumstances that a prudent person acting in a like capacity and familiar with such matters would use.

(c) Selection of Annuity Providers. The selection of an annuity provider for purposes of a pension benefit distribution, whether upon separation or retirement of a participant or upon the termination of a plan, is a fiduciary decision governed by the provisions of part 4 of title I of ERISA. In discharging their obligations under section 404(a)(1), 29 U.S.C. 1104(a)(1), to act solely in the interest of participants and beneficiaries and for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits to the participants and beneficiaries as well as defraying reasonable expenses of administering the plan, fiduciaries choosing an annuity provider for the purpose of making a benefit distribution must take steps calculated to obtain the safest annuity available, unless under the circumstances it would be in the interests of participants and beneficiaries to do otherwise. In addition, the fiduciary obligation of prudence, described at section 404(a)(1)(B), 29 U.S.C. 1104(a)(1)(B), requires, at a minimum, that plan fiduciaries conduct an objective, thorough and analytical search for the purpose of identifying and selecting providers from which to purchase annuities. In conducting such a search, a fiduciary must evaluate a number of factors relating to a potential annuity provider's claims paying ability and creditworthiness. Reliance solely on ratings provided by insurance rating services would not be sufficient to meet this requirement. In this regard, the types of factors a fiduciary should consider would include, among other things:

(1) The quality and diversification of the annuity provider's investment portfolio;

(2) The size of the insurer relative to the proposed contract;

(3) The level of the insurer's capital and surplus;

(4) The lines of business of the annuity provider and other indications of an insurer's exposure to liability;

(5) The structure of the annuity contract and guarantees supporting the annuities, such as the use of separate accounts;

(6) The availability of additional protection through state guaranty associations and the extent of their guarantees. Unless they possess the necessary expertise to evaluate such factors, fiduciaries would need to obtain the advice of a qualified, independent expert. A fiduciary may conclude, after conducting an appropriate search, that more than one annuity provider is able to offer the safest annuity available.

(d) Costs and Other Considerations. The Department recognizes that there are situations where it may be in the interest of the participants and beneficiaries to purchase other than the safest available annuity. Such situations may occur where the safest available annuity is only marginally safer, but disproportionately more expensive than competing annuities, and the participants and beneficiaries are likely to bear a significant portion of that increased cost. For example, where the participants in a terminating pension plan are likely to receive, in the form of increased benefits, a substantial share of the cost savings that would result from choosing a competing annuity, it may be in the interest of the participants to choose the competing annuity. It may also be in the interest of the participants and beneficiaries to choose a competing annuity of the annuity provider offering the safest available annuity is unable to demonstrate the ability to administer the payment of benefits to the participants and beneficiaries. The Department notes, however, that increased cost or other considerations could never justify putting the benefits of annuitized participants and beneficiaries at risk by purchasing an unsafe annuity.

In contrast to the above, a fiduciary's decision to purchase more risky, lower-priced annuities in order to ensure or maximize a reversion of excess assets that will be paid solely to the employer-sponsor in connection with the termination of an over-funded pension plan would violate the fiduciary's duties under ERISA to act solely in the interest of the plan participants and beneficiaries. In such circumstances, the interests of those participants and beneficiaries who will receive annuities lies in receiving the safest annuity available and other participants and beneficiaries have no countervailing interests. The fiduciary in such circumstances must make diligent efforts to assure that the safest available annuity is purchased.

Similarly, a fiduciary may not purchase a riskier annuity solely because there are insufficient assets in a defined benefit plan to purchase a safer annuity. The fiduciary may have to condition the purchase of annuities on additional employer contributions sufficient to purchase the safest available annuity.

(e) Conflicts of Interest. Special care should be taken in reversion situations where fiduciaries selecting the annuity provider have an interest in the sponsoring employer which might affect their judgment and therefore create the potential for a violation of ERISA §406(b)(1). As a practical matter, many fiduciaries have this conflict of interest and therefore will need to obtain and follow independent expert advice calculated to identify those insurers with the highest claims-paying ability willing to write the business.

[60 FR 12329, Mar. 6, 1995, as amended at 72 FR 52006, Sept. 12, 2007; 73 FR 58447, Oct. 7, 2008]

§2509.96-1   Interpretive bulletin relating to participant investment education.

(a) Scope. This interpretive bulletin sets forth the Department of Labor's interpretation of section 3(21)(A)(ii) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA), and 29 CFR 2510.3-21(c) as applied to the provision of investment-related educational information to participants and beneficiaries in participant-directed individual account pension plans (i.e., pension plans that permit participants and beneficiaries to direct the investment of assets in their individual accounts, including plans that meet the requirements of the Department's regulations at 29 CFR 2550.404c-1).

(b) General. Fiduciaries of an employee benefit plan are charged with carrying out their duties prudently and solely in the interest of participants and beneficiaries of the plan, and are subject to personal liability to, among other things, make good any losses to the plan resulting from a breach of their fiduciary duties. ERISA sections 403, 404 and 409, 29 U.S.C. 1103, 1104, and 1109. Section 404(c) of ERISA provides a limited exception to these rules for a pension plan that permits a participant or beneficiary to exercise control over the assets in his or her individual account. The Department of Labor's regulation, at 29 CFR 2550.404c-1, describes the kinds of plans to which section 404(c) applies, the circumstances under which a participant or beneficiary will be considered to have exercised independent control over the assets in his or her account, and the consequences of a participant's or beneficiary's exercise of such control.1

1The section 404(c) regulation conditions relief from fiduciary liability on, among other things, the participant or beneficiary being provided or having the opportunity to obtain sufficient investment information regarding the investment alternatives available under the plan in order to make informed investment decisions. Compliance with this condition, however, does not require that participants and beneficiaries be offered or provided either investment advice or investment education, e.g., regarding general investment principles and strategies, to assist them in making investment decisions. 29 CFR 2550.404c-1(c)(4).

With both an increase in the number of participant-directed individual account plans and the number of investment options available to participants and beneficiaries under such plans, there has been an increasing recognition of the importance of providing participants and beneficiaries, whose investment decisions will directly affect their income at retirement, with information designed to assist them in making investment and retirement-related decisions appropriate to their particular situations. Concerns have been raised, however, that the provision of such information may in some situations be viewed as rendering “investment advice for a fee or other compensation,” within the meaning of ERISA section 3(21)(A)(ii), thereby giving rise to fiduciary status and potential liability under ERISA for investment decisions of plan participants and beneficiaries.

In response to these concerns, the Department of Labor is clarifying herein the applicability of ERISA section 3(21)(A)(ii) and 29 CFR 2510.3-21(c) to the provision of investment-related educational information to participants and beneficiaries in participant directed individual account plans.2 In providing this clarification, the Department does not address the “fee or other compensation, direct or indirect,” which is a necessary element of fiduciary status under ERISA section 3(21)(A)(ii).3

2Issues relating to the circumstances under which information provided to participants and beneficiaries may affect a participant's or beneficiary's ability to exercise independent control over the assets in his or her account for purposes of relief from fiduciary liability under ERISA section 404(c) are beyond the scope of this interpretive bulletin. Accordingly, no inferences should be drawn regarding such issues. See 29 CFR 2550.404c-1(c)(2). It is the view of the Department, however, that the provision of investment-related information and material to participants and beneficiaries in accordance with paragraph (d) of this interpretive bulletin will not, in and of itself, affect the availability of relief under section 404(c).

3The Department has expressed the view that, for purposes of section 3(21)(A)(ii), such fees or other compensation need not come from the plan and should be deemed to include all fees or other compensation incident to the transaction in which the investment advise has been or will be rendered. See A.O. 83-60A (Nov. 21, 1983); Reich v. McManus, 883 F. Supp. 1144 (N.D. Ill. 1995).

(c) Investment Advice. Under ERISA section 3(21)(A)(ii), a person is considered a fiduciary with respect to an employee benefit plan to the extent that person “renders investment advice for a fee or other compensation, direct or indirect, with respect to any moneys or other property of such plan, or has any authority to do so *  *  *.” The Department issued a regulation, at 29 CFR 2510.3-21(c), describing the circumstances under which a person will be considered to be rendering “investment advice” within the meaning of section 3(21)(A)(ii). Because section 3(21)(A)(ii) applies to advice with respect to “any moneys or other property” of a plan and 29 CFR 2510.3-21(c) is intended to clarify the application of that section, it is the view of the Department of Labor that the criteria set forth in the regulation apply to determine whether a person renders “investment advice” to a pension plan participant or beneficiary who is permitted to direct the investment of assets in his or her individual account.

Applying 29 CFR 2510.3-21(c) in the context of providing investment-related information to participants and beneficiaries of participant-directed individual account pension plans, a person will be considered to be rendering “investment advice,” within the meaning of ERISA section 3(21)(A)(ii), to a participant or beneficiary only if: (i) the person renders advice to the participant or beneficiary as to the value of securities or other property, or makes recommendations as to the advisability of investing in, purchasing, or selling securities or other property (2510.3-21(c)(1)(i); and (ii) the person, either directly or indirectly, (A) has discretionary authority or control with respect to purchasing or selling securities or other property for the participant or beneficiary (2510.3-21(c)(1)(ii)(A)), or (B) renders the advice on a regular basis to the participant or beneficiary, pursuant to a mutual agreement, arrangement or understanding (written or otherwise) with the participant or beneficiary that the advice will serve as a primary basis for the participant's or beneficiary's investment decisions with respect to plan assets and that such person will render individualized advice based on the particular needs of the participant or beneficiary (2510.3-21(c)(1)(ii)(B)).4

4This IB does not address the application of 29 CFR 2510.3-21(c) to communications with fiduciaries of participant-directed individual account pension plan plans.

Whether the provision of particular investment-related information or materials to a participant or beneficiary constitutes the rendering of “investment advice,” within the meaning of 29 CFR 2510.3-21(c)(1), generally can be determined only by reference to the facts and circumstances of the particular case with respect to the individual plan participant or beneficiary. To facilitate such determinations, however, the Department of Labor has identified, in paragraph (d), below, examples of investment-related information and materials which if provided to plan participants and beneficiaries would not, in the view of the Department, result in the rendering of “investment advice” under ERISA section 3(21)(A)(ii) and 29 CFR 2510.3-21(c).

(d) Investment Education. For purposes of ERISA section 3(21)(A)(ii) and 29 CFR 2510.3-21(c), the Department of Labor has determined that the furnishing of the following categories of information and materials to a participant or beneficiary in a participant-directed individual account pension plan will not constitute the rendering of “investment advice,” irrespective of who provides the information (e.g., plan sponsor, fiduciary or service provider), the frequency with which the information is shared, the form in which the information and materials are provided (e.g., on an individual or group basis, in writing or orally, or via video or computer software), or whether an identified category of information and materials is furnished alone or in combination with other identified categories of information and materials.

(1) Plan Information. (i) Information and materials that inform a participant or beneficiary about the benefits of plan participation, the benefits of increasing plan contributions, the impact of preretirement withdrawals on retirement income, the terms of the plan, or the operation of the plan; or

(ii) information such as that described in 29 CFR 2550.404c-1(b)(2)(i) on investment alternatives under the plan (e.g., descriptions of investment objectives and philosophies, risk and return characteristics, historical return information, or related prospectuses).5

5Descriptions of investment alternatives under the plan may include information relating to the generic asset class (e,g,, equities, bonds, or cash) of the investment alternatives. 29 CFR 2550.404c-1 (b)(2)(i)(B)(1)(ii).

The information and materials described above relate to the plan and plan participation, without reference to the appropriateness of any individual investment option for a particular participant or beneficiary under the plan. The information, therefore, does not contain either “advice” or “recommendations” within the meaning of 29 CFR 2510.3-21(c)(1)(i). Accordingly, the furnishing of such information would not constitute the rendering of “investment advice” for purposes of section 3(21)(A)(ii) of ERISA.

(2) General Financial and Investment Information. Information and materials that inform a participant or beneficiary about: (i) General financial and investment concepts, such as risk and return, diversification, dollar cost averaging, compounded return, and tax deferred investment; (ii) historic differences in rates of return between different asset classes (e.g., equities, bonds, or cash) based on standard market indices; (iii) effects of inflation; (iv) estimating future retirement income needs; (v) determining investment time horizons; and (vi) assessing risk tolerance.

The information and materials described above are general financial and investment information that have no direct relationship to investment alternatives available to participants and beneficiaries under a plan or to individual participants or beneficiaries. The furnishing of such information, therefore, would not constitute rendering “advice” or making “recommendations” to a participant or beneficiary within the meaning of 29 CFR 2510.3-21(c)(1)(i). Accordingly, the furnishing of such information would not constitute the rendering of “investment advice” for purposes of section 3(21)(A)(ii) of ERISA.

(3) Asset Allocation Models. Information and materials (e.g., pie charts, graphs, or case studies) that provide a participant or beneficiary with models, available to all plan participants and beneficiaries, of asset allocation portfolios of hypothetical individuals with different time horizons and risk profiles, where: (i) Such models are based on generally accepted investments theories that take into account the historic returns of different asset classes (e.g., equities, bonds, or cash) over define periods of time; (ii) all material facts and assumptions on which such models are based (e.g., retirement ages, life expectancies, income levels, financial resources, replacement income ratios, inflation rates, and rates of return) accompany the models; (iii) to the extent that an asset allocation model identifies any specific investment alternative available under the plan, the model is accompanied by a statement indicating that other investment alternatives having similar risk and return characteristics may be available under the plan and identifying where information on those investment alternatives may be obtained; and (iv) the asset allocation models are accompanied by a statement indicating that, in applying particular asset allocation models to their individual situations, participants or beneficiaries should consider their other assets, income, and investments (e.g., equity in a home, IRA investments, savings accounts, and interests in other qualified and non-qualified plans) in addition to their interests in the plan.

Because the information and materials described above would enable a participant or beneficiary to assess the relevance of an asset allocation model to his or her individual situation, the furnishing of such information would not constitute a “recommendation” within the meaning of 29 CFR 2510.3-21(c)(1)(i) and, accordingly, would not constitute “investment advice” for purposes of section 3(21)(A)(ii) of ERISA. This result would not, in the view of the Department, be affected by the fact that a plan offers only one investment alternative in a particular asset class identified in an asset allocation model.

(4) Interactive Investment Materials. Questionnaires, worksheets, software, and similar materials which provide a participant or beneficiary the means to estimate future retirement income needs and assess the impact of different asset allocations on retirement income, where: (i) Such materials are based on generally accepted investment theories that take into account the historic returns of different asset classes (e.g., equities, bonds, or cash) over defined periods of time; (ii) there is an objective correlation between the asset allocations generated by the materials and the information and data supplied by the participant or beneficiary; (iii) all material facts and assumptions (e.g., retirement ages, life expectancies, income levels, financial resources, replacement income ratios, inflation rates, and rates of return) which may affect a participant's or beneficiary's assessment of the different asset allocations accompany the materials or are specified by the participant or beneficiary; (iv) to the extent that an asset allocation generated by the materials identifies any specific investment alternative available under the plan, the asset allocation is accompanied by a statement indicating that other investment alternatives having similar risk and return characteristics may be available under the plan and identifying where information on those investment alternatives may be obtained; and (v) the materials either take into account or are accompanied by a statement indicating that, in applying particular asset allocations to their individual situations, participants or beneficiaries should consider their other assets, income, and investments (e.g., equity in a home, IRA investments, savings accounts, and interests in other qualified and non-qualified plans) in addition to their interests in the plan.

The information provided through the use of the above-described materials enables participants and beneficiaries independently to design and assess multiple asset allocation models, but otherwise these materials do not differ from asset allocation models based on hypothetical assumptions. Such information would not constitute a “recommendation” within the meaning of 29 CFR 2510.3-21(c)(1)(i) and , accordingly, would not constitute “investment advice” for purposes of section 3(21)(A)(ii) of ERISA.

The Department notes that the information and materials described in subparagraphs (1)-(4) above merely represent examples of the type of information and materials which may be furnished to participants and beneficiaries without such information and materials constituting “investment advice.” In this regard, the Department recognizes that there may be many other examples of information, materials, and educational services which, if furnished to participants and beneficiaries, would not constitute “investment advice.” Accordingly, no inferences should be drawn from subparagraphs (1)-(4), above, with respect to whether the furnishing of any information, materials or educational services not described therein may constitute “investment advice.” Determinations as to whether the provision of any information, materials or educational services not described herein constitutes the rendering of “investment advice” must be made by reference to the criteria set forth in 29 CFR 2510. 3-21(c)(1).

(e) Selection and Monitoring of Educators and Advisors. As with any designation of a service provider to a plan, the designation of a person(s) to provide investment educational services or investment advice to plan participants and beneficiaries is an exercise of discretionary authority or control with respect to management of the plan; therefore, persons making the designation must act prudently and solely in the interest of the plan participants and beneficiaries, both in making the designation(s) and in continuing such designation(s). See ERISA sections 3(21)(A)(i) and 404(a), 29 U.S.C. 1002 (21)(A)(i) and 1104(a). In addition, the designation of an investment advisor to serve as a fiduciary may give rise to co-fiduciary liability if the person making and continuing such designation in doing so fails to act prudently and solely in the interest of plan participants and beneficiaries; or knowingly participates in, conceals or fails to make reasonable efforts to correct a known breach by the investment advisor. See ERISA section 405(a), 29 U.S.C. 1105(a). The Department notes, however, that, in the context of an ERISA section 404(c) plan, neither the designation of a person to provide education nor the designation of a fiduciary to provide investment advice to participants and beneficiaries would, in itself, give rise to fiduciary liability for loss, or with respect to any breach of part 4 of title I of ERISA, that is the direct and necessary result of a participant's or beneficiary's exercise of independent control. 29 CFR 2550.404c-1(d). The Department also notes that a plan sponsor or fiduciary would have no fiduciary responsibility or liability with respect to the actions of a third party selected by a participant or beneficiary to provide education or investment advice where the plan sponsor or fiduciary neither selects nor endorses the educator or advisor, nor otherwise makes arrangements with the educator or advisor to provide such services.

[61 FR 29588, June 11, 1996]

§2509.99-1   Interpretive Bulletin Relating to Payroll Deduction IRAs.

(a) Scope. This interpretive bulletin sets forth the Department of Labor's (the Department's) interpretation of section 3(2)(A) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended, (ERISA) and 29 CFR 2510.3-2(d), as applied to payroll deduction programs established by employers1 for the purpose of enabling employees to make voluntary contributions to individual retirement accounts or individual retirement annuities (IRAs) described in section 408(a) or (b) or section 408A of the Internal Revenue Code (the Code).

1The views expressed in this Interpretive Bulletin with respect to payroll deduction programs of employers are also generally applicable to dues checkoff programs of employee organizations.

(b) General. It has been the Department's long-held view that an employer who simply provides employees with the opportunity for making contributions to an IRA through payroll deductions does not thereby establish a “pension plan” within the meaning of section 3 (2) (A) of ERISA. In this regard, 29 CFR 2510.3-2 (d) sets forth a safe harbor under which IRAs will not be considered to be pension plans when the conditions of the regulation are satisfied. Thus, an employer may, with few constraints, provide to its employees an opportunity for saving for retirement, under terms and conditions similar to those of certain other optional payroll deduction programs, such as for automatic savings deposits or purchases of United States savings bonds, without thereby creating a pension plan under Title I of ERISA. The guidance provided herein is intended to clarify the application of the IRA safe harbor set forth at 29 CFR 2510.3-2 (d) and, thereby, facilitate the establishment of payroll deduction IRAs.

(c) Employee communications. (1) It is the Department's view that, so long as an employer maintains neutrality with respect to an IRA sponsor in its communications with its employees, the employer will not be considered to “endorse” an IRA payroll deduction program for purposes of 29 CFR 2510.3-2(d).2 An employer may encourage its employees to save for retirement by providing general information on the IRA payroll deduction program and other educational materials that explain the advisability of retirement savings, including the advantages of contributing to an IRA, without thereby converting the program under which the employees' wages are withheld for contribution into the IRAs into an ERISA covered plan. However, the employer must make clear that its involvement in the program is limited to collecting the deducted amounts and remitting them promptly to the IRA sponsor and that it does not provide any additional benefit or promise any particular investment return on the employee's savings.

2The Department has specifically stated, in its Advisory Opinions, that an employer may demonstrate its neutrality with respect to an IRA sponsor in a variety of ways, including (but not limited to) by ensuring that any materials distributed to employees in connection with an IRA payroll deduction program clearly and prominently state, in language reasonably calculated to be understood by the average employee, that the IRA payroll deduction program is completely voluntary; that the employer does not endorse or recommend either the sponsor or the funding media; that other IRA funding media are available to employees outside the payroll deduction program; that an IRA may not be appropriate for all individuals; and that the tax consequences of contributing to an IRA through the payroll deduction program are generally the same as the consequences of contributing to an IRA outside the program. The employer would not be considered neutral, in the Department's view, to the extent that the materials distributed to employees identified the funding medium as having as one of its purposes investing in securities of the employer or its affiliates or the funding medium in fact has any significant investments in such securities. If the IRA program were a result of an agreement between the employer and an employee organization, the Department would view informational materials that identified the funding medium as having as one of its purposes investing in an investment vehicle that is designed to benefit an employee organization by providing more jobs for its members, loans to its members, or similar direct benefits (or the funding medium's actual investments in any such investment vehicles) as indicating the employee organization's involvement in the program in excess of the limitations of 29 CFR 2510.3-2 (d).

(2) The employer may also do the following without converting a payroll deduction IRA program into an ERISA plan: An employer may answer employees' specific inquiries about the mechanics of the IRA payroll deduction program and may refer other inquiries to the appropriate IRA sponsor. An employer may provide to employees informational materials written by the IRA sponsor describing the sponsor's IRA programs or addressing topics of general interest regarding investments and retirement savings, provided that the material does not itself suggest that the employer is other than neutral with respect to the IRA sponsor and its products; the employer may request that the IRA sponsor prepare such informational materials and it may review such materials for appropriateness and completeness. The fact that the employer's name or logo is displayed in the informational materials in connection with describing the payroll deduction program would not in and of itself, in the Department's view, suggest that the employer has “endorsed” the IRA sponsor or its products, provided that the specific context and surrounding facts and circumstances make clear to the employees that the employer's involvement is limited to facilitating employee contributions through payroll deductions.3

3For example, if the employer whose logo appeared on the promotional materials provided a statement along the lines of in the first sentence of footnote 5, the employer would not be considered to have endorsed the IRA product.

(d) Employer Limitations on the number of IRA sponsors offered under the program. The Department recognizes that the cost of permitting employees to make IRA contributions through payroll deductions may be significantly affected by the number of IRA sponsors to which the employer must remit contributions. It is the view of the Department that an employer may limit the number of IRA sponsors to which employees may make payroll deduction contributions without exceeding the limitations of 29 CFR 2510.3-2(d), provided that any limitations on, or costs or assessments associated with an employee's ability to transfer or roll over IRA contributions to another IRA sponsor is fully disclosed in advance of the employee's decision to participate in the program. The employer may select one IRA sponsor as the designated recipient for payroll deduction contributions, or it may establish criteria by which to select IRA sponsors, e.g., standards relating to the sponsor's provision of investment education, forms, availability to answer employees' questions, etc., and may periodically review its selectees to determine whether to continue to designate them. However, an employer may be considered to be involved in the program beyond the limitations set forth in 29 CFR 2510.3-2(d) if the employer negotiates with an IRA sponsor and thereby obtains special terms and conditions for its employees that are not generally available to similar purchasers of the IRA. The employer's involvement in the IRA program would also be in excess of the limitations of the regulation if the employer exercises any influence over the investments made or permitted by the IRA sponsor.

(e) Administrative fees. The employer may pay any fee the IRA sponsor imposes on employers for services the sponsor provides in connection with the establishment and maintenance of the payroll deduction process itself, without exceeding the limitations of 29 CFR 2510.3-2(d). Further, the employer may assume the internal costs (such as for overhead, bookkeeping, etc) of implementing and maintaining the payroll deduction program without reimbursement from either employees or the IRA sponsor without exceeding the limits of the regulation. However, if an employer pays, in connection with operating an IRA payroll deduction program, any administrative, investment management, or other fee that the IRA sponsor would require employees to pay for establishing or maintaining the IRA, the employer would, in the view of the Department, fall outside the safe harbor and, as a result, may be considered to have established a “pension plan” for its employees.

(f) Reasonable Compensation for Services. 29 CFR 2510.3-2(d) provides that an employer may not receive any consideration in connection with operating an IRA payroll deduction program, but may be paid “reasonable compensation for services actually rendered in connection with payroll deductions or dues checkoffs.” Employers have asked whether “reasonable compensation” under section 2510.3-2(d) includes payments from an IRA sponsor to an employer for the employer's cost of operating the IRA payroll deduction program. It is the Department's view that the IRA sponsor may make such payments, to the extent that they constitute compensation for the actual costs of the program to the employer. However, “reasonable compensation” does not include any profit to the employer. See 29 CFR 2510.3-1(j), relating to group or group-type insurance programs. For example, if an IRA sponsor offers to pay an employer an amount equal to a percentage of the assets contributed by employees to IRAs through payroll deduction, such an arrangement might exceed “reasonable compensation” for the services actually rendered by the employer in connection with the IRA payroll deduction program. An employer will also be considered to have received consideration that is not “reasonable compensation” if the IRA sponsor agrees to make or to permit particular investments of IRA contributions in consideration for the employer's agreement to make a payroll deduction program available to its employees, or if the IRA sponsor agrees to extend credit to or for the benefit of the employer in return for the employer's making payroll deduction available to the employees.

(g) Additional rules when employer is IRA sponsor or affiliate of IRA sponsor. Under certain circumstances, an employer that offers IRAs in the normal course of its business to the general public or that is an affiliate4 of an IRA sponsor may provide its employees with the opportunity to make contributions to IRAs sponsored by the employer or the affiliate through a payroll deduction program, without exceeding the limitations of §2510.3-2(d). If the IRA products offered to the employees for investment of the payroll deduction contributions are identical to IRA products the sponsor offers the general public in the ordinary course of its business, and any management fees, sales commissions, and the like charged by the IRA sponsor to employees participating in the payroll deduction program are the same as those charged by the sponsor to employees of non-affiliated employers that establish an IRA payroll deduction program, the Department has generally taken the position that this alone will not cause the employer to be sufficiently involved in the IRA program as an employer or to have received consideration of the type prohibited under §2510.2(d)(iv) to warrant the program being considered outside the safe harbor of the regulation.5 Under such circumstances, the employer, in offering payroll deduction contribution opportunities to its employees, would appear to be acting generally as an IRA sponsor, rather than as the employer of the individuals who make the contributions.6

4For purposes of this interpretive bulletin, the definition of “affiliate” in ERISA section 407(d)(7) applies.

5While the funding medium offered by an employer that is an IRA sponsor or an affiliate of an IRA sponsor might be considered an employer security when offered to its own employees, the fact that informational materials provided to employees identify the funding medium as having as one of its purposes investing in securities of the employer would not, in the Department's view, involve the employer beyond the limits of 29 CFR 2510.3-2(d). Neither would the fact that the funding medium may actually be so invested. However, the Department would consider that an employer may have exceeded the limitation of 2510.3-2(d) if the informational materials the employer provides to employees suggest that the employer, in providing the IRA payroll deduction program for purposes of investing in employer securities, is acting as an employer in relation to persons who participate in the program, rather than as an IRA sponsor acting in the course of its ordinary business of making IRA products available to the public.

6However, if an employer that is an IRA sponsor waives enrollment and management fees for its employees' IRAs, and it normally charges those fees to members of the public who purchase IRAs, the employer would be considered to be so involved in the program as to be outside the safe harbor of the regulation.

[64 FR 33001, June 18, 1999]



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