Service Provider’s Auto-Portability Proposal Receives DOL Blessing

The Department of Labor’s Employee Benefit Security Administration (EBSA) has published in the Federal Register a prohibited transaction exemption (PTE) granted to a service provider that has proposed what it describes as an automatic portability program for retirement plan assets.

This exemption—PTE 2019-02—was considered necessary so that Retirement Clearinghouse (RCH) could receive fee compensation in connection with the services it intends to provide in this automatic portability program. In general, receipt of such fees would be considered a prohibited transaction, but the EBSA will approve individual applications for exemptions when they meet certain criteria. PTE 2019-02 is granted to RCH for a period of five years.

The RCH program contains essentially two elements.

  • Based on agreements between RCH, participating employer plans, and participating third-party recordkeepers, certain retirement plan small balance cash-out amounts and terminating plan accounts would be automatically rolled over to an “RCH default IRA,” or to a “default IRA” of a participating recordkeeper; this would occur unless the plan participant affirmatively elected otherwise.
  • Subsequently, RCH would—by means of data matching searches—determine whether the IRA owner is participating in another employer plan that accepts rollovers. If the default IRA owner does not affirmatively consent or object, the IRA balance would be automatically rolled over to that new employer’s plan.


Process Began With EBSA Advisory Opinion

In November 2018, RCH applied to EBSA for an advisory opinion that would address not the receipt of fees, but instead asked EBSA to address the fiduciary status of RCH and other parties to the auto-rollover program.

The EBSA answered RCH’s inquiry on fiduciary status in Advisory Opinion 2018-01A, published in the November 5, 2018, Federal Register. EBSA simultaneously published in the Federal Register a notice of proposed prohibited transaction exemption (PTE), and invited comments on this PTE request, which it accepted through December 24, 2018.

In its granting of PTE 2019-02 now to RCH, the EBSA noted that there were several commenters who objected to an exemption, these stating that there are multiple reasons why such asset transfers should be done only as affirmative actions on the part of an account owner.

In explaining its decision to grant PTE 2019-02, the EBSA noted that its regulations permit fiduciaries to transfer small account balances to default IRAs “only if protective conditions are met,” and that the exemption now being granted contains “additional conditions applicable for [such] transfers … under the RCH program.”

PTE 2019-02 also prescribes the following.

  • A plan fiduciary that is independent of RCH must review the terms of the RCH program and determine, consistent with its duties under Section 404 of ERISA, that the plan’s participation in the RCH program is prudent.
  • All fees must be approved by the responsible plan fiduciary of the old employer plan.
  • RCH has no authority to unilaterally change these fees, and all fees under the RCH program must not exceed reasonable compensation.