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Top 5 Stories in 2017 for the 401k Plan Sponsor and Fiduciary

Top 5 Stories in 2017 for the 401k Plan Sponsor and Fiduciary
December 27
00:03 2017

There are two ways to be really smart. One way requires you to do original research, undertake an original analysis, and derive original conclusions. That’s the hard way to be smart. And it’s fraught with errors of omission. The other way represents a much easier path. You simply piggyback off others who have already gone done the paths you desire to go down. That’s way it’s important to always read what everyone else is reading. Allow the crowd to tell you what you need to know. Of course, the one downside of this strategy is the Lemming Effect. Sometimes the crowd goes down the wrong path. Well, it’s important to know when the crowd is universally wrong, too. That’s when arbitrage opportunities arise.

What was everyone reading in 2017 and what clues does that list offer you? Here’s the countdown for you edification. Read. Enjoy. Learn.

Honorable Mention:
These stories didn’t quite make the cut in the top five, but they were close. Let’s see if you can begin to detect a pattern in them.

Top Stories in 2017 – Honorable Mention #3:401k Rollovers: To Roth or Not to Roth – 7 Fiduciary Questions,” (, August 8, 2017)
Data compiled by the Investment Company Institute states only 1.9% of all Roth IRAs are rollovers. Why aren’t more opting to rollover into Roths? This article explores various reasons for this. And don’t think just because the article was written before the new tax law that it’s outdated. It’s not. You still need to consider the seven questions presented in the piece. The answers may be subtly different, but the questions remain the same.

Top Stories in 2017 – Honorable Mention #2:Retirement Pros Reveal Worst Fears Regarding Tax Reform,” (, October 24, 2017)
Sometimes lemmings don’t follow lemmings, they follow the media. This article came late to the party. It was published weeks after most of the mainstream and trade journals ran stories on a popular rumor going around Washington that the Republicans were going to cut tax-deductible retirement savings. This “policy” was universally panned, and it’s unclear just how serious Washington was about adopting it. Still, a lot of ink was spilled on it. And for good reason. Readers wanted to read those stories, as the popularity of this story attests.

Top Stories in 2017 – Honorable Mention #1:5 Awkward 401k Questions Every Good Fiduciary Must Know the Answer To,” (, November 28, 2017)
This article reflects that classic adage “There is no such thing as a stupid question.” Even more relevant, when someone asks a question, you can be sure at least half the room is also wondering about that same question. They’re just too shy to ask. That’s why fiduciaries need to continually encourage retirement savers to ask questions. In answering these questions, the fiduciary can refute misconceptions and promote good retirement saving decision-making.

The Top Five 2017 Stories:
Here’s the countdown you’ve been waiting for. Why do you think these particular stories were so widely read? What does that fact tell you about the interests of plan sponsors, their service providers, and retirement industry regulators? The articles that caught the greatest interest may indicate not only answers people seek but future directions they intend to go. Let’s take a look.

Top Stories in 2017 – #5:Exclusive Interview: Dale Neibert Explains 21st Century 401k Plan Design,” (, July 18, 2017)
If you want to understand how sophisticated plan sponsors think, you need to talk to sophisticated plan sponsors. For many years, Dale Neibert served as part of a two-man operation that headed one of the nation’s most sophisticated 401k plans. He explains how this plan sponsor incorporated advance behavioral finance techniques, and how it avoided some of today’s most dangerous fads. Can you see why this is such a compelling article for readers? Not only does it provide current benchmarks, but is also hints to what might be happening in the future.

Top Stories in 2017 – #4:Ted Talks! The Benna401k Comes Alive,” (, September 19, 2017)
Ted Benna, the founder of the 401k, sat down for this exclusive interview in the first-ever video report from Beyond the pure novelty of that, the content was fascinating, as Benna explains why we see so much in the 401k arena that we do. He also outlines his “Benna 401k” idea, which, for those thinking of what happens next, might just provide a template for them to forge a new path.

Top Stories in 2017 – #3:What’s the Immediate Impact of the DOL Fiduciary Rule on 401k Plan Sponsors?” (, June 6, 2017)
What’s amazing is that this wasn’t the top story. You’d think the implementation of the DOL’s new Conflict-of-Interest Rule would have been the most widely read story. While it’s revealing to discover what stories topped it, it’s still relevant that readers were thinking about this topic. In fact, what’s unique about this piece compared to most of the articles on this top is its point of view. Rather than focus on the Rule’s impact on service providers, this story discussed the Rule in terms of the plan sponsor, an often overlooked idea. “Hopefully,” says Reese, “this past year gave employers a better understanding of what they need to look out for to act as fiduciaries for their plan participants.”

Top Stories in 2017 – #2:Why aren’t 401k Plan Sponsors and Participants Asking These Questions?” (, January 10, 2017)
Notice the similarity – and the difference – between this article and the #1 Honorable Mention story. While both deal with questions plan sponsors must answer, this one in particular concentrates on the questions that aren’t being asked – but should. Apparently, there’s a great appreciation for understanding that it’s not what you know that’s important, but it’s knowing that you don’t know what’s important that’s important.

Top Stories in 2017 – #1:Tax Reform Surprise: Congress Slips in 401k MEP Broadside,” (, November 7, 2017)
An article on MEP 401k plans scored among the most popular BenefitsPro stories in 2016, so is it really a surprise that a story on the same topic was number one among stories in 2017? MEPs have been the Holy Grail for the industry for several years now. It appears we’re finally getting closer, but will they merely be the Godot we’ll forever wait for?

If you think the matters discussed in these articles are important, just wait until next week when we present the top ten All-Time articles!

Christopher Carosa is a keynote speaker, journalist, and the author of  401(k) Fiduciary SolutionsHey! What’s My Number? How to Improve the Odds You Will Retire in Comfort and several other books on innovative retirement solutions, practical business tips, and the history of the wonderful Western New York region. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. 

Mr. Carosa is available for keynote speaking engagements, especially in venues located in the Northeast, MidAtantic and Midwestern regions of the United States and in the Toronto region of Canada

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Christopher Carosa, CTFA

Christopher Carosa, CTFA

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