Mary Samsa and Allison Wilkerson discussed that the majority of ERISA disclosures are in fact employee communications – many of which are viewed as “routine” by employers.  As such, plan sponsors are continually balancing the best way in which to relay complex benefit plan information in a manner to best be understood by employees but equally satisfy the applicable regimented disclosure requirements. Some key takeaways from their presentation included not only the compliance and content requirements, but methods for delivering communications to employees, traps for the unwary (i.e., inconsistent information communicated, the advantage of having these communications reviewed by legal counsel, and oversight of third parties who assist in preparing communications) and some common sense approaches for routine reviews of communications and continuing education to participants so that periodic communications are not always monumental tasks.

View the full presentation.

 

Though the Supreme Court’s 2014 unanimous ruling in Fifth Third Bank v. Dudenhoeffer announced the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) standards for stock valuation in the context of a large public employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), the vast majority of ESOPs are still grappling with valuation issues. ESOPs that hold stock of closely-held corporations—approximately 90% of all ESOPs— remain almost unaffected by Dudenhoeffer’s valuation discussions, and face continued scrutiny by the Department of Labor (DOL). Appraisal of closely-held stock is an inexact science that involves an inherent level of uncertainty in assessing a variety of potential fact patterns.

This article summarizes valuation issues in acquisitions of closely-held corporation stock by ESOPs in the context of Perez v. Bruister, a recently decided Fifth Circuit case. The case stressed the importance of ‘‘process’’ in valuation determinations being utilized for acquisitions of a corporation’s stock by an ESOP. In reviewing the case, this article provides a detail of the process that should be followed to ensure consideration of the appropriate factors by fiduciaries in reviewing valuations for ESOP transactions. The article concludes with a discussion of guidance provided by the court in Bruister that may be instructive as to best practices for ESOP fiduciaries charged with establishing the value to be used by an ESOP holding shares of stock of a private company.

View full report.

Court cases challenging the actions of Employee Retirement Income Security Act fiduciaries have continued unabated since the scandal of Enron in 2002.  Since then, a large number of cases are in the “stock drop” area, which encompasses cases relating to employer securities investments when the stock price drops severely.  The litigation has focused on whether a presumption of prudence exists that protects fiduciaries holding employer securities investments on behalf of a retirement plan.  In June 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer that ERISA doesn’t provide a presumption of prudence to protect fiduciaries of plans investing in employer securities.  Now that the Dudenhoeffer decision resolves the presumption issue, it is reasonable to expect that ERISA cases may return to focus on the fiduciary duties of a directed license.

 Read the full article.

by Maureen O’Brien and Todd A. Solomon

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued a final regulation to extend and align the applicability dates for its retirement plan fee disclosure rules.

On July 16, 2011, an interim final regulation under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) Section 408(b)(2) was published requiring covered service providers of retirement plans to disclose comprehensive information about their fees and potential conflicts of interest to ERISA-covered plan fiduciaries. This regulation was to become effective with respect to plan contracts or arrangements for services in existence on or after July 16, 2011. The new, final rule moves the effective date of the ERISA Section 408(b)(2) regulation to April 1, 2012.

In addition, the DOL published a final participant-level regulation on Oct. 20, 2010, requiring that employers disclose information about plan and investment costs to participants who direct their own investments in ERISA-covered 401(k) and other individual account retirement plans. This regulation, which applies to plan years beginning on or after Nov. 1, 2011, contained a 60-day transition rule that permitted initial compliance no later than 60 days after the beginning of the first plan year on or after Nov. 1.

The new final rule retains a modified version of the 60-day transition rule that works in conjunction with the new effective date of the 408(b)(2) regulation.  For example,
participant-level disclosure regulation becomes applicable on January 1, 2012 for calendar year plans. Pursuant the final transitional rule, such plans must furnish their first set of initial disclosures (all disclosures other than disclosures required at least quarterly) no later than May 31, 2012, which is 60 days after the April 1, 2012 effective date of the 408(b)(2) regulation.

Please contact your regular McDermott attorney with any questions regarding the retirement plan fee disclosure rules.

by Maureen O’Brien, Karen A. Simonsen and Adrienne Walker Porter

Pension plans use swaps to manage interest rate risks and other risks and to reduce volatility with respect to funding obligations.  The Dodd-Frank Act established a comprehensive regulatory framework for swaps.  The legislation was enacted to reduce risk, increase transparency and promote market integrity within the financial system, including the comprehensive regulation and required registration of swap dealers and major swap participants.

The Dodd-Frank Act has introduced new challenges in managing risks and liabilities of pension plans by subjecting ERISA plans to new requirements under the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).  If pension plans are unable to use swaps, plan costs and funding volatility could rise sharply.  This would undermine participants’ retirement security and would force employers to reserve, in the aggregate, billions of additional dollars to address increased funding volatility.  In order to meet the rulemaking objectives specified under the Dodd-Frank Act, regulators and Congress have introduced significant changes that may impact how pension plans manage their funded status.

  • In December of 2010, the CFTC released proposed regulations outlining business conduct standards for swap dealers and major swap participants.  The regulations highlighted the issue that swap dealers engaging in typical business activities with respect to “special entities” could be treated as ERISA fiduciaries.  (The Dodd-Frank Act provides that a special entity includes an employee benefit plan.)  ERISA provides that, generally, any transaction between a fiduciary and the ERISA plan with respect to which it owes fiduciary duties is prohibited.  Therefore, in effect, the proposed regulations may preclude swap dealers from entering into swap transactions with employee benefit plans subject to ERISA. Additionally, the Department of Labor’s proposed rule relating to the definition of the term “fiduciary” under ERISA may include advisors that perform plan asset valuations, which is an activity conducted by swap dealers under the CFTC proposed regulations.
  • On April 12, 2011, the CFTC issued proposed regulations establishing minimum initial and variation margin requirements for non-cleared swaps entered into by CFTC-regulated swap dealers and major swap participants. Under the proposed rules, pension plans would be included in the category of high-risk financial entities, subject to the most stringent requirements.  Such high-risk financial entities are required to post collateral and are limited to the type of assets that may be used to post margin.  This change could significantly increase the cost of managing pension plans.
  • On May 4, 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives Agriculture Committee approved H.R. 1573, legislation providing the CFTC and SEC with 18 additional months to finalize many of the rules relating to swaps.  The rules defining swaps-related products and participants and the rules relating to reporting recordkeeping, however, are to be finalized by July 15, 2011.  The CFTC also recently released a notice reopening the comment period for many of the proposed regulations related to the Dodd-Frank Act. 

Plan sponsors should continue to monitor the regulatory and legislative activity surrounding pension plans’ ability to use swaps under the Dodd-Frank Act.