Administering a 401(k) Plan: Who Does What?

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people working together

Managing a workplace retirement plan is a team effort. Everyone needs to understand their roles and responsibilities to ensure the retirement goals of all employees.

The key players in administering a 401(k) or similar employer-sponsored plan include:

  • The plan sponsor, who appoints an officer or employee of the company as the named fiduciary (plan administrator).
  • The plan administrator, who may outsource certain tasks to service providers, but still retains ultimate responsibility for any outsourced activities.
  • The plan participants, who play a key role in the administration of the plan.
  • Service providers and regulators, who have specific responsibilities related to the plan.

Read on to learn more about how this team functions and how each member plays an important role in ensuring the success of the 401(k) plan.

The Plan Sponsor (The Employer)

The plan sponsor has a legal obligation to act as a fiduciary. This means they must act in the best interest of the plan’s participants, and make informed decisions. 

One of the key responsibilities of the plan sponsor is to conduct regular audits of the plan. This includes reviewing the plan’s financial statements, ensuring compliance with legal and regulatory requirements, and monitoring the performance of the plan’s service providers.

The plan sponsor should also have a process in place for selecting and monitoring service providers, such as investment advisers or recordkeepers. This includes conducting due diligence, reviewing contracts, and monitoring performance on an ongoing basis.

In addition, the plan sponsor should verify the plan has adequate insurance coverage and that all necessary documents, such as the summary plan description and trust agreement, are up to date and in compliance with applicable laws.

It’s important for the plan sponsor to keep themselves informed about the current laws and regulations and make sure that the plan is in compliance. They should also take steps to educate their employees about the plan and the responsibilities of all parties involved.

Named Fiduciary/Plan Administrator

The Named Fiduciary/Plan Administrator is the person chosen by the employer to manage and run the 401(k) plan. 

As a fiduciary, they have a legal duty to act in the best interest of the plan’s participants and make informed decisions. This includes choosing and monitoring service providers like investment advisers or recordkeepers and making sure the plan is following all laws and regulations.

The Named Fiduciary/Plan Administrator’s duties may also include:

  • Filing annual reports and other paperwork
  • Communicating with plan participants and giving them information about the plan
  • Approving transactions and investments
  • Checking financial statements and other reports
  • Keeping the plan’s records and documents
  • Working with service providers to make sure the plan is being run correctly
  • Communicating With the employer, service providers, and participants to make sure the plan is working in their best interest.

Plan Participants

401(k) plan participants have certain rights and responsibilities related to the plan, including the right to contribute, receive information, and direct the investment of their contributions.

Participants can choose how much to contribute, subject to any limitations established by the plan sponsor. They also have the right to change their contribution amount at any time and to direct the investment of their contributions among the options offered under the plan.

401(k) plan participants also have the right to receive certain information about the plan, including the summary plan description,  financial statements, and information about investment options. They also have the right to file a complaint or appeal if they believe their rights under the plan have been violated.

It’s important for 401(k) plan participants to communicate with the plan sponsor and administrator to stay informed about their rights and responsibilities.

Service Providers and Regulators

Service providers and regulators play an important role in the administration of a 401(k) plan. Service providers are companies or organizations that provide various services to the plan, such as investment management, recordkeeping, and trustee services. Regulators are government agencies that oversee and enforce compliance with laws and regulations governing 401(k) plans.

Service providers may include:

  • Investment managers, who manage the plan’s investment options and provide investment advice to the plan sponsor and plan administrator;
  • Recordkeepers, who maintain records of the plan’s assets, transactions and participant account balances;
  • Trustees, who hold the plan’s assets in trust and are responsible for safekeeping the assets;

Learn More About 401(k)Plans

Employers should create an effective 401k communication plan that helps employees make informative decisions for retirement.

Contact RWM today to review your existing 401k or talk through a plan of action to offer retirement savings to your employees. 

This information was developed as a general guide to educate plan sponsors but is not intended as authoritative guidance or tax or legal advice.  Each plan has unique requirements, and you should consult your attorney or tax advisor for guidance on your specific situation.  In no way does the advisor assure that, by using the information provided, the plan sponsor will be in compliance with ERISA regulations.