Setting the Ground Rules: Success for Your Company s 401(k) Plan Starts with the Plan s Investment Strategy and Options

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1 Setting the Ground Rules: Success for Your Company s 401(k) Plan Starts with the Plan s Investment Strategy and Options June 2015 Among the challenges and rewards that are part of our working lives, the company 401(k) can be one of the most underrated and overlooked. Some plan sponsors and participants may not fully embrace the vital role that long-term retirement plans serve toward their future financial security and peace-of-mind. Many employees may dismiss retirement planning altogether as too confusing or unaffordable or something they ll pay attention to later as though the 401(k) were still the supplemental savings plan envisioned when it was invented rather than the fundamental resource it has become. Even those who are diligent about investing their hard-earned money into a 401(k) may not have had the chance or the willingness to make the best investment choices. But before 401(k) participants make their own investment selections, before they re offered a good education program that may provide them with the necessary financial tools and resources, and before their company decides which of the hundreds of fund families to add to the investment menu, a more basic building block for the retirement plan must be set. Plan fiduciaries should determine the investment strategy of the plan itself, an integral part of the entire plan s design and a cornerstone on which other features and elements of the plan are built. The individual investment decisions made by 401(k) participants are based upon a foundational strategy how the organization views its 401(k) plan and how it should be structured and operate so that, using its guiding tenets, clearly defined goals should be achieved. Plan fiduciaries should develop the investment strategy consistent with their fiduciary obligations under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA). This means that plan fiduciaries must act prudently for the exclusive purpose of plan participants and their beneficiaries and pay only reasonable fees from plan assets, among other duties. To that end, fiduciaries may consider participants objectives and how the plan can help their accomplishment; the costs to plan participants; and the procedures to develop, select, monitor, maintain and update the investments through due diligence. So how do plan sponsors who get it who understand the sometimes underappreciated value of a retirement plan, who know the role it can play in attracting and retaining superior employees and who want the 401(k) to fulfill its potential as a premier workplace benefit go about making prudent decisions for an investment strategy that can help maximize the plan s effectiveness? pncfunds.com/dcio

2 BUILD THE FOUNDATION Investment Policy Statement A primary consideration for plan sponsors in setting an investment strategy should be fulfilling their fiduciary duties, knowing what is expected of them and making prudent decisions. Fiduciary best practices take into consideration managing and mitigating financial and legal risk, benefiting from superior professional advice on plan operations and determining a reasonable range for plan fees. The plan s investment strategy can be viewed as a central part of the plan s Investment Policy Statement (IPS). The IPS codifies policies and objectives for the plan its mission The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) defines statement of investment policy as a written statement that provides the fiduciaries who are responsible for plan investments with guidelines on general instructions concerning various types of categories of investment management decisions, which may include proxy voting decisions. and how the success of meeting its goals will be measured. Additional IPS elements may include defining the roles of those who manage and administer the plan, acknowledging ERISA fiduciary standards, setting the investment committee s schedule and rules, keeping written records of committee decisions and processes, establishing procedures for selecting a broker, investment advisor and/or an independent fiduciary and other plan features. In determining the strategy and practices for the plan s investments before the specific menu is assembled sponsors should try to define as clearly as possible the purpose of the plan and the measures of its success. Those definitions will go a long way toward helping plan fiduciaries and/or members of the investment committee understand plan goals, track their progress and practice consistency in their plan oversight and in meeting their fiduciary responsibilities. Diversification Plan fiduciaries should select a diversified array of mutual funds and other investment vehicles, allowing participants to diversify their portfolios regardless of individual investment style. For plans that seek the protection of ERISA s Section 404(c) safe harbor, the DOL regulations under Section 404(c) state that a plan must provide a broad range of investment alternatives including at least three each of which is diversified and has materially different risk and return characteristics. These alternatives must enable the participant to achieve a portfolio with aggregate risk and return characteristics normally appropriate for the participant and tend to minimize the overall risk in the participant s account through diversification. Plan fiduciaries often implement these requirements by including investment alternatives in the categories of capital conservation, income generation and capital appreciation. Some plan fiduciaries provide participants a range of (1) investment choices across the big three asset classes stocks, bonds and cash holdings (some add real estate and commodities, such as gold, as alternative asset classes), and (2) target-date funds and index funds. Basic investment strategy when choosing stock funds (or equity funds) involves three broad approaches: value, growth and a blend of the two. The more conservative value strategy is based on choosing companies or funds that are 2 Setting the Ground Rules: Success for Your Company s 401(k) Plan Starts with the Plan s Investment Strategy and Options

3 perceived as undervalued and are expected to show long-term increases. Portfolios emphasizing growth funds generally have above-average earnings potential but often come with more risk and possible expense. Blend funds steer a middle course by incorporating value and growth. Each of the three approaches is applied to funds that group companies according to their overall worth, or market capitalization large-cap, mid-cap and small-cap, which are categories within asset classes. These traditional groupings give investors nine areas of choice in stock funds, which can cover domestic, international and emergingmarket equities. Further diversity derives from including bond funds, fixed-income (such as stable value) funds and cash vehicles that add to the objective of a balanced portfolio. As with equity funds, there are many choices of bond and fixed-income funds with varying levels of risk and return from high-quality/low-yield to lower quality/ higher yield. Another fundamental investment component is cash and cash equivalents, such as money market funds. These are lower-return options, but may provide very high security for investors. Table 1 provides a view of the 10-year performance of asset class categories. TABLE 1 ANNUAL RETURNS FOR KEY ASSET CLASSES % 35.06% 11.81% 12.39% 58.21% 29.09% 9.02% 18.06% 43.30% 12.65% 12.13% 7.05% 5.26% 4.71% 4.15% 2.74% 2.65% 1.42% 26.86% 23.48% 22.25% 15.26% 13.35% 11.87% 9.07% 4.49% 3.48% 11.63% 8.66% 7.05% 5.60% 5.60% 1.88% -0.17% -9.78% % -2.76% % % % % 27.99% % % % % Small-cap growth stocks are represented by the Russell 2000 Index Small-cap value stocks are represented by the Russell 2000 Index Mid-cap stocks are represented by the Russell Midcap Index stocks are represented by the MSCI EAFE Index Real estate investment trusts are represented by the NAREIT Index Large-cap value stocks are represented by the Russell 1000 Index Large-cap growth stocks are represented by the Russell 1000 Index High yield bonds are represented by the Barclays Bond Index bonds are represented by the Barclays Capital U.S. Intermediate Credit Index bonds are represented by the Barclays Bond Index Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Diversification does not ensure a profit or guarantee against a loss. Returns supplied by Zephyr StyleADVISOR. Indices are unmanaged and should not be considered indicative of any PNC Funds investment. It is not possible to invest directly in an index. Unlike a mutual fund, the performance of an index does not reflect the effects of taxes, transaction costs, management fees, or other expenses. Source: PNC Capital Advisors, LLC and Zephyr StyleADVISOR, % 37.21% 34.47% 32.46% 20.58% 19.69% 15.93% -2.20% 27.96% 8.29% 25.48% 24.50% 16.71% 15.51% 15.12% 8.21% 7.76% 5.52% 5.37% 4.98% 2.64% 0.39% -1.55% -2.91% -5.50% % 18.05% 17.90% 17.51% 17.28% 15.81% 15.26% 14.59% 8.10% 2.02% 34.76% 34.52% 33.48% 32.53% 23.29% 7.44% 2.47% -0.17% -2.60% % 13.45% 13.22% 13.05% 5.60% 4.92% 4.22% 2.52% 2.46% -4.91% Best Worst 3 Setting the Ground Rules: Success for Your Company s 401(k) Plan Starts with the Plan s Investment Strategy and Options

4 Target date funds, which have maintained popularity in the defined contribution space, reset the mix of asset classes in a portfolio while aiming at a future retirement date. Each fund is managed for investors who plan to begin withdrawing assets from their account around the fund s specified target date. The asset allocation mix of the fund automatically shifts as the target date approaches. The advantage of investing in any target date fund is that with minimal effort you gain broad asset class diversification and professional portfolio management in a single investment. Target date funds offer simplified decision-making by selecting just one fund based on your age and expected retirement date. Percent of plans that offer a target date fund as an investment options: 68.2% (2013) v. 66.8% (2012) Source: PSCA Annual Survey of Profit Sharing and 401(k) Plan Total investments in target date funds surpassed $700 billion at the end of 2014, nearly 17% growth from a year earlier. Source: Morningstar Index funds, with generally lower fees through passive management, are built to match the performances of given indexes, such as Standard & Poor s 500, small companies, the overall stock market, the bond market or international stocks. Part of a plan sponsor s fiduciary duty under ERISA is to defray reasonable expenses of administering the plan and to minimize the risk of large losses 1. Index funds can help meet that mandate and can play an important role in a participant s portfolio because of several factors: Lower costs than many actively managed funds: minimal or no management fees Transparent turnover and performance: changes in the fund s portfolio are based on changes in the index A clearly stated objective: to track the applicable index Diversification (for broader indexes): built-in stock and sector selection As a result, with the regulatory focus on fees and transparency, index funds may be an attractive option for participants. Diversified offerings may allow participants with vastly different levels of investment knowledge and with different investment objectives to pursue anything from a rapid-growth strategy to one designed more for relative safety and preservation. The average retirement plan has 60.6% of its assets in equities, according to an annual survey by Plan Sponsor Council of America (Chart 1). CHART 1 AVERAGE PLAN ASSET ALLOCATION Others 20.5% Active Managed Equity 25.6% In choosing the specific asset classes and categories as options for plan participants, plan fiduciaries should lay out in the IPS criteria for the selection of funds and other vehicles and minimum performance standards for each option. Fund options should be vetted by examining performance, fees and other pertinent information. Stable 7.8% Active Managed Bond 7.1% Source: PSCA Target Date 16.7% Domestic Index 10.4% Other Equity 12.0% Manageable Choice of Options The average number of fund offerings in a plan is between 18 and 24 (and many plans now offer 25 or more choices) 2, sometimes many options in the same asset class, which can be overwhelming to plan participants. Yet 91% of plan sponsors believe they offer the appropriate number of investment options 2. The concern is that an excessive number of offerings may stifle employee participation and cause employees to choose not to choose or avoid managing the assets in the portfolio. It s critical to offer a broad, diversified lineup for the benefit of participants but also to maintain a manageable number of options to encourage the greatest possible employee engagement with the plan. 4 Setting the Ground Rules: Success for Your Company s 401(k) Plan Starts with the Plan s Investment Strategy and Options

5 A 2009 study showed that most 401(k) plans do offer a mix of investment options that should allow participants to create a diversified and efficient portfolio but that many participants were making poor choices or not diversifying enough. The study suggested that instead of simply adding funds to a plan menu, it is preferable to design a smarter menu and get participants to select the right set of fund choices. 3 ATTRIBUTES OF GOOD INVESTMENT MANAGERS Plan participants may never see them or know their names, but they are the key players in how plan investments perform each year the men and women who manage each fund offered in the lineup. Fund managers want your trust and your assets, so plan sponsors should dig into their experience, while weighing the risk parameters for a fund. Hiring and firing managers is a critical responsibility of a plan sponsor and due diligence of managers should not be avoided (Chart 2). CHART 2 LAST TIME PLAN SPONSORS REPLACED A FUND MANAGER DUE TO POOR PERFORMANCE 6% 5 years or more 7% Never 19% 26% years Style Purity years Source: Deloitte Annual 401(k) Benchmarking Survey, Edition Demonstrated Experience The capabilities of the manager(s) are crucial when appraising the quality of a fund as an investment option. Sponsors should seek fund management teams with long tenure, low personnel turnover, and strong professional credentials. A strong track record of performance above the fund s stated benchmark is also a significant consideration for the plan sponsor. The tools and resources from most plan providers can assist the sponsor in identifying well-performing funds, and many providers offer access to additional resources to help the sponsor select the fund line up. This is a phrase that has had its share of attention over the years. Funds that supposedly invest in an asset class category often can have a sizeable percentage of investments outside that category. When asset allocation is paramount for a portfolio, plans want to be sure the manager is practicing style purity. Focus on Risk Management Fund managers should have a strong background in risk management and a culture that emphasizes its importance at all levels of the organization investment, operational, and compliance. A fund manager should take on only those risks that align with stated investment goals and that can be managed and monitored effectively. Fees and Charges 42% Within last year All mutual funds have fees, and higher fees do not necessarily mean better performance. Sales fees and management fees are set by each fund provider and are not regulated. Even in this age of full fee disclosure mandated by the DOL, some costs can still be buried in the fine print. Among the fees that should be investigated are expense ratios, 12b-1 fees and sales charges, and trading costs. In addition, there may be special fees that are unique to certain types of investment options. Some sponsors may be satisfied when the costs to the company are minimal because participants pay the fund fees, but fiduciaries are obligated to minimize or avoid fees and other expenses that are not justified or reasonable. 5 Setting the Ground Rules: Success for Your Company s 401(k) Plan Starts with the Plan s Investment Strategy and Options

6 DRIVING PARTICIPANT BEHAVIOR What behaviors do plan sponsors hope to encourage through their investment strategy? Do the sponsors care about the level of participation or contribution rates or deferrals? The choices that sponsors make can reverberate through a plan with positive results. It s also very important to understand the demographics of your employees that should be a factor in the types of funds you choose for your plan. Practices that Encourage Desired Responses Many plans are taking a more proactive stance to enhance participation through education engaging advisors for investment counseling and advice, calculating individual retirement-income projections and holding financial education events so employees can make informed decisions. Another strategy builds automatic features into plan designs automatic enrollment, automatic increases in contributions and default investments for those participants who have not made, or don t want to make, their own choices (Table 2). Plan participants should make decisions about the investments in their 401(k) plan as diligently as they might manage other financial accounts. Set it and forget it is not a good practice. Rebalancing, appropriate asset allocations, and consistent investing behavior regardless of market conditions often yield the best results; and participant education can go a long way toward increasing the chances of participants individual success and overall plan success. TABLE 2 IMPACT OF AUTO ENROLLMENT ON PARTICIPANT BEHAVIOR Avg. Plan Contribution Participation Participant Rate Rate Awareness Positive impact 56% 79% 57% Negative impact 7% 0% 0% No change 31% 16% 39% Too soon to tell 6% 5% 4% Source: Deloitte Annual 401(k) Benchmarking Survey, Edition Weigh the Self-Directed Brokerage Option Some plans offer a self-directed brokerage account to allow participants to make investments outside the plan s standard investment lineup. This option is typically made available through a single broker selected by the plan fiduciary, and investments in mutual funds and ETFs are usually permitted (sometimes investments in other publicly traded securities or even private investments are permitted). Plan sponsors may mistakenly believe they are absolved of fiduciary liability by allowing employees the freedom and responsibility to make their own choices in such cases. But the sponsors clearly would not be off the hook from a liability standpoint. There is still a duty to act prudently in selecting and monitoring the broker. And the DOL has expressed fiduciary concerns with respect to plans that may eliminate all other investment alternatives and offer only a self-directed brokerage option. Therefore, offering self-directed accounts in retirement plans requires examination. The selfdirect option most often appears in small plans with professionals such as lawyers, doctors and dentists. STAYING ON TOP OF YOUR PLAN Regardless of the frequency of fund performance reviews, prudent management via regular assessments of the fund lineup is critical. Some organizations conduct reviews annually so that longer-term perspectives can guide decision-making rather than a habit of chasing performance and adding or dropping investment options too often. Annual assessments give plan sponsors the opportunity to tailor fund lineups for reasons of performance, diversity and adherence to investment objectives. A recent study showed that 95% of plans surveyed conduct a regularly scheduled investment review, with 69% conducting a quarterly review. 2 6 Setting the Ground Rules: Success for Your Company s 401(k) Plan Starts with the Plan s Investment Strategy and Options

7 Just as an individual s investment strategy should align with personal goals and be closely monitored by the investor, the plan s investment strategy should align with the plan s goals and the plan fiduciary s purpose for sponsoring a retirement plan and the strategy should be closely monitored. Sponsors have a fiduciary obligation to make decisions in the best interest of plan participants and no one else. The long horizon for retirement plans requires a steady hand from decision-makers. But that doesn t mean putting a plan on auto-pilot for years. Neglecting a plan can be as detrimental as actively making poor decisions. The consideration of plan changes, updates and improvements are part of prudent oversight. A typical investment strategy requires at least annual review of mutual funds in each asset class, as well as other investment vehicles, and authorizes plan fiduciaries to change offerings as deemed necessary and consistent with investment philosophy and goals. Performance standards vary, of course, since some funds can be expected to outperform others. Plan sponsors should determine and document in the IPS what review process will be used to measure the continuing appropriateness of each offering, what sort of benchmark is most appropriate and who will participate. They also need to install a review process for investment managers, specifying frequency and criteria. Best practices require regular review of plan documents, such as the IPS, in addition to plan performance and investment managers. But don t forget the plan s investment strategy. It is organic, not carved in stone. The strategy that guides so many other plan decisions also should be reviewed and updated at appropriate intervals. Significant changes in the organization, such as employee make-up, could have an impact on the plan. Developments at the company, in the industry or in the national or global economy can change plan objectives and call for new initiatives and new directions. 7 Setting the Ground Rules: Success for Your Company s 401(k) Plan Starts with the Plan s Investment Strategy and Options

8 SETTING THE GROUND RULES: SUCCESS FOR YOUR COMPANY S 401(K) PLAN STARTS WITH THE PLAN S INVESTMENT STRATEGY AND OPTIONS 1 Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended, Title 29, Chapter 18, Subchapter 1, Subtitle B, Part 4, Section Deloitte Annual 401(k) Benchmarking Survey, Edition. 3 The Efficiency of Pension Menus and Individual Portfolio Choice in 401(k) Pensions, Ning Tang, Olivia S. Mitchell, Gary Mottola, and Steve Utkus. August The material presented in this paper is of a general nature and does not constitute the provision by PNC of investment, legal, tax or accounting advice to any person, or a recommendation to buy or sell any security or adopt any investment strategy. Opinions expressed herein are subject to change without notice. The information was obtained from sources deemed reliable. Such information is not guaranteed as to its accuracy. You should consider the investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses of the PNC Funds carefully before investing. A prospectus or summary prospectus with this and other information may be obtained at FUND (3863) or pncfunds.com. Please read it carefully before investing. PNC Capital Advisors, LLC, a subsidiary of The PNC Financial Services Group Inc., serves as investment adviser and co-administrator to PNC Funds and receives fees for its services. PNC Funds are distributed by PNC Funds Distributor, LLC, which is not affiliated with the adviser and is not a bank. The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. All rights reserved. NOT FDIC INSURED NO BANK GUARANTEE MAY LOSE VALUE pncfunds.com/dcio

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