Ever wonder what> kind of fees money-management firms collect to administer your 401(k) or other retirement plans? It s the kind of data that providers have historically kept close to the vest -- much to the chagrin of both individual investors and plan sponsors.
Now, though, things are about to change. This summer and fall, the Department of Labor is expected to announce two new sets of requirements for fee disclosure -- one at the sponsor level and one at the participant level -- that will require all providers to make fees more transparent.
On Tuesday, Putnam Investments announced it will begin offering more details on its fees before the regulations become official -- in early June for sponsors (i.e., employers), and in early fall for participants (i.e., employees). Putnam said it will disclose fees for sponsors including investment management, servicing and advisory charges, and record keeping in dollar amounts. Boston-based Putnam said it will also break out asset manager revenue from servicing revenue, and show the amount paid to every investment management firm that offers funds to a retirement plan. The company plans to provide fund expense ratios, transaction fees and other information to participants later in the summer.
That is pretty much in line with what the new requirements will cover for sponsors, says Bridget Bearden, a research analyst with the Financial Research Corporation. It s less clear how specific the requirements will be at the investor level, and whether it will go deeper than what Putnam has created, she says.
While ultimately all firms will be legally required to provide such information, by going early, Putnam gets a competitive advantage, says Bearden, and potentially, the ability to move more aggressively into the defined-contribution plan market. She expects larger rivals to take a wait and see approach, holding off on putting forward resources and capital to enhance transparency until the Department of Labor finalizes regulations.
Putnam's efforts to disclose fees started well over a year ago when it began developing a 401(k) business, says Edmund Murphy, III, head of defined contribution at Putnam. He says the change is a continuation and evolution of what the company s been doing rather than a strike to get ahead of the upcoming regulation. Murphy says Putnam didn t work directly with the Labor Department, but developed it based on what we thought was appropriate based on clearly delineating all of the fees. While Fidelity and Vanguard were unable to comment immediately on their fee policies, T. Rowe Price said it has been providing similar data for some time.
Unveiling fees will shed light on how the management firms do business, though it's unlikely to create any sticker shock, says Bearden. Sponsors already know what they're paying, and any individual s contribution is so small, it is hard to do the math on a larger scale, she adds. What s more, until other money-management firms reveal their fees, it s also unlikely to have an impact on the business, since there will be no numbers to serve as a comparison, she says. Ideally, the Labor Department would collect the data and make it available, so sponsors and investors could compare apples to apples, she says. That may be something they ll consider once they finalize regulations, though it might take a while to get to that point, says Bearden.
Aside from putting pressure on other providers, the efforts toward transparency may lead to some reallocation among portfolios if some fund expenses seem too high, Bearden says. But recent disclosures that have been added to prospectuses haven t had a substantial impact on investor behavior, she adds.