Pension Administration - Keeping up with current trends

One of reasons I’m passionate about pension administration is that the rules are complex and ever-changing.  I have to stay on my toes!  This week three of us from Benefit Resources will be attending the Western Benefits Conference in Seattle.  I’m very excited about the program, and also look forward to heading to a city with cooler weather for three days!

This conference is a joint effort between two of our trade associations – the Western Pension & Benefits Conference, and the American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries.  We’ll be swimming in a full-fledged pension administration geek-fest for a few days!  I’m very excited to hearing what my friends in the industry are saying about the current trends.


Included in the list of current topics at this year’s conference are the following:

  • Fee disclosures.  Now that the fee disclosure rules are in effect, we’ll discuss how Employers, Employees, and providers will all be impacted by the new rules.  I’m particularly interested in learning more about how to make the process as easy to understand and streamlined with technology solutions as possible.
  • How plans are changing in this recovering economy.  The economy is improving, albeit slowly, and employers are responding by restoring matching contributions, and adding employees.  I’m anxious to learn about the increasing trend toward automatic enrollment and whether or not employee behavior is also improving.
  • Pension plan calculations.  Actuarial calculations are complicated enough, but a new law that was signed on July 6, 2012 changed the interest rate rules again.  In this ever revolving art/science I just try to keep up with the discussion of the actuaries in the room.
  • ERISA accounts.  Custodians have been embracing the trend of establishing ERISA accounts within a Plan.  Service reimbursements, and 12(b)-1 fees are deposited to this account, and then the funds in this account can be used to pay for plan services.  I want to learn more about the best practices for using these ERISA accounts.
  • Health Reform.  This conference isn’t just about pensions, but about welfare plans too.  Now that the Supreme Court upheld most of the Affordable Care Act, there will be sessions on where we are and what we can expect over the next couple of years.  Related sessions include Wellness programs, managing costs with HRA, FSA and HSA, and handling domestic and same-sex partner issues.



Some topics are featured every year.  Some of these favorites include:

  • Distribution and loans.  Participants always want their money tomorrow, and providers want to make sure that paperwork and calculations are complete and accurate before making payment.  Who gets paid when and how much are common topics. 
  • Plan correction programs.  Mistakes happen.  The good news is that with most plan administration mistakes, the IRS and Department of Labor (DOL) have programs under which we can self-correct or submit a correction request.  The fee, if any, is fairly modest and is much more palatable than if the mistake is discovered in audit.  I’m hoping that the new 403(b) plan correction guidance will be discussed at the conference.
  • Retirement outcomes.  How participants invest the funds in their retirement accounts, the vehicles that are available to them, and how they receive their funds from the plan are all factors that impact a participant’s retirement outcome.  The success of each participant is important for every plan.
  • ERISA litigation.  It is always interesting to learn about court cases and decisions that include pension administration issues.  Most cases involve very large plans and employers, but it’s important for us to understand how the courts are deciding on them.
  • Related employers.  Every year I run into at least one company that is a Controlled Group, or an Affiliated Service Group.  They often don’t understand how these rules impact retirement plans, and most are not in compliance with those rules. 



  • MEP and MEWA.  Multiple Employer Plans and Multiple Employer Welfare Arrangements are topics of discussion at this year’s conference.  The DOL seems to have a problem with these arrangements under current law.  I’m hoping to find out if those ERISA laws may be under review to open the door to allowing these arrangements on a broad basis.
  • Electronic communications.  We live in an electronic world, and there are specific rules about delivering information to plan participants via electronic media.  I want to make sure that I understand all of these rules so that we can update our clients who want to use this new procedure for the multitude of communications that are required for plans.
  • Data security.  As pension administrators we handle a lot of personal and sensitive data, so it is imperative that we keep it safe.  I’m looking forward to hearing how other TPA firms are setting up their security protocols.


I’ll follow up next week with my take-aways from the conference.  You can follow my Tweets @bethkharrington for periodic updates while I’m gone.