Hey Joel! – Answers from a recovering former practicing ERISA attorney

Welcome to Hey Joel! This forum answers plan sponsor questions from all over the country by our in-house former practicing ERISA attorney.

Hey Joel,

Should we consider life insurance in our retirement plan?

~ Beefin’ up my plan in Buffalo

 

Dear Beefin’,

I’m not a fan of having this type of “investment” within a retirement plan. I often explain my position by asking a client what the purpose of their retirement plan is. Most will answer that it is a vehicle that helps their participants save towards retirement at or around age 65. When you introduce insurance into the plan, you are increasing your fiduciary liability by offering a product that in most cases becomes an important investment after your retirement. In other words, you’re introducing a product that is designed to assist during the payout period, which could be measured in 10-20 years (or more) beyond when they actually worked for you. You have to monitor the insurance product, just like a mutual fund. If it doesn’t perform well, as a fiduciary, you may have to choose an alternative. In addition the credit worthiness of the insurance provider can come under question, and this can happen many years after introducing the product. This becomes problematic if participants have accrued a benefit in an insurance product that they may lose if a change takes place. If a mutual fund has an issue it is very easy to change it.

I do feel there is a place for insurance for many people, but let them do it outside of their retirement plan. Once that money leaves the plan, it is no longer a concern of fiduciaries.

One of the benefits of having life insurance in the plan is that it provides a “floor” value for a participant’s account that can limit the impact of market downturns. The fees are so high though, that the investments score a watch-list amount. Performance is mediocre at best. Those that offer it often see the exposure it adds to their plan – sometimes their outside counsel also will have concerns, sometimes the plan sponsor must consider a freeze of this and no longer allow participants to add to the product and sometimes they experience poor service with their recordkeeper, who is also the insurance provider, and this is limiting their ability to find a new recordkeeper. If the plan sponsor leaves, they may force participants to cash out of this. These companies may use this to lock in a client and it becomes difficult to do anything different.

Pumpin’ up plans,

Joel Shapiro, JD, LLM

 

About Joel Shapiro, JD, LLM

As a former practicing ERISA attorney Joel works to ensure that plan sponsors stay fully informed on all legislative and regulatory matters. Joel earned his Bachelor of Arts from Tufts University and his Juris Doctor from Washington College of Law at the American University.

If you have a question for Joel, please send it to your plan advisor. It may be featured in a future issue!

 


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