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401k Plan Sponsor and Fiduciary Top 5 All-Time Most Popular “Must-Read” Articles

401k Plan Sponsor and Fiduciary Top 5 All-Time Most Popular “Must-Read” Articles
December 26
00:03 2018

Since our founding in 2009, has published more than 1,000 articles written specifically for 401k plan sponsors and fiduciaries. These stories have over the decade helped attain more than on million page-views. Which articles stand out as the most popular, the ones we may rightfully call “Fiduciary Fundamentals”? In many ways, we see these same themes repeated in other articles. Indeed, it may very well be that, in some cases, the article represents the “first take” on the subject matter.

The fact that readers return to these articles reveals two things. First, has achieved its objective of writing content that doesn’t go stale. Second, these thought-provoking pieces contain essential knowledge and insights that all 401k plan sponsors and fiduciaries value. Why else would they continue to read them? Here are the top five (and three “Honorable Mentions” as a bonus for those who have reader this far):

Honorable Mention:
Though they didn’t make the top five, these articles have proven quite popular. It’s important to understand why some many plan sponsors and fiduciaries are reading them.

All-Time Top Stories – Honorable Mention #3:A 401k Must Read: Mutual Fund Expense Ratio Myth Busted,” (, October 9, 2012)
While it’s not the most read article of all time, this myth-busting article represents the most important “must read” on this list. It explains, using actual data, why one cannot include mutual fund expense ratios in any “fee” analysis. Expense ratios are a function of the investment objective and portfolio make-up of a mutual fund and less so a “fee” as the term is normally used. In fact, the SEC does not categorize them as “fees” but as “operating costs.” As the article points out, they only become relevant when comparing similar funds, and opportunity arises on only very rare occasions.

All-Time Top Stories – Honorable Mention #2:Is the Fiduciary Liability of Self-Directed Brokerage Options Too Great for 401k Plan Sponsors?” (, June 11, 2013)
Here’s a question that has perplexed 401k plan sponsors for some time (as you can see from the date of the article). Who’s responsible if an employee hangs his own retirement? The employee who made the poor decision, or the plan sponsor who provided the rope. This article explores the pros and cons of self-directed brokerage options in terms of plan sponsor fiduciary liability. Though the self-directed option was once very popular, it’s found mainly today among executives of small professional firms. Hmm, we’re not saying this article had anything to do with this, but the themes brought up in the piece did take a very different view from the way others broached the topic at the time of publication.

All-Time Top Stories – Honorable Mention #1:Ex-Employees Who Don’t Rollover – Will 401k Fees Increase Plan Sponsor Liability?” (, June 28, 2011)
The contrarian view espoused in the previous Honorable Mention article has long been the mainstay of We take an investigative approach to our journalism the way only a veteran industry insider can. Perhaps this is why mass media reporters often tell us they enjoy reading our articles. This article represents another example of our questioning the validity of generally accepted practices. In this case, it’s often said (and still is) that employees are better off staying in the ex-employers’ 401k plan. As this article brings up, remaining in a former employers’ plan may not be in the best interest of either the ex-employee or the former employer. This is as valid today – when some would say there’s a conflict-of-interest to encourage ex-employees to rollover their retirement assets from their former employer – as it was when this article was originally published.

The All-Time Top Five Stories:
What articles to 401k plan sponsors and fiduciaries keep returning to year after year? These are the stories that tell us what is most on the forefront of the minds of those most involved in the retirement plan industry. It tells us both what questions they’re asking and, perhaps, why they’re asking them. Articles that make this list don’t represent fads, but the never-ending hard reality in the everyday world of 401k plan sponsors and fiduciaries.

All-Time Top Storie – #5:5 Fiduciary Facts the DOL Wants Every 401k Plan Sponsor to Know,” (, April 2, 2013)
One of the great things about regulators is, once they decide on a pattern of compliance, they usually stick to it. That changed slightly, though not fundamentally, when the DOL issued its now-vacated Fiduciary Rule. This article takes the language provided by the DOL that pre-dates that Rule. In effect, this remains the operative language now that the Rule has been vacated. Unfortunately, the DOL changed its site content since this article was published, so it may be difficult or even impossible to find this exact wording on the DOL site. The good news, however, is that, by published the DOL content on its pages, has, in effect, “archived” this information that continues to be as valuable today as it was when it was originally published.

All-Time Top Stories – #4:Fact or Fiction? Slaying the Myth of the 401k Tax Advantage Myth,” (, September 10, 2013)
When a myth is a myth, what does that make it? Mark Twain is noted for saying, among other things, “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Mathematics – the source of statistics – has very fungible properties. There are ways to use it to give the appears that either side of an argument can be correct. Yet, the numbers themselves never lie, and if you strip out all the hocus-pocus, you can find the truth. That’s what this article does.

All-Time Top Stories – #3:What is the 401k Average Deferral Rate?” (, June 24, 2014)
The final three articles on the list reveal the meat and potatoes of what every 401k plan sponsor wants to know. These questions may seem specific, but the real question plan sponsors seek to find the answer to is “How does my plan stack up against other plans?” The first benchmarking element we see deals with deferral rates. As the article shows, the answer to this particular question depends on the circumstances. Deferral rates are different from industry to industry, from earnings ranges, and from experience ranges. In other words, there can never be one definitive answer to this question. It’s situational, and it’s best to consider deferral rates within the context of the specific company and the specific employee.

All-Time Top Stories – #2:What’s a Fair Fee to Pay a Fiduciary?” (, October 2, 2012)
This article addresses the broader question of what types of fees should be paid. Although it does attempt to speak to those fees in terms of actual numbers, it focuses on the issue of “conflicts-of-interest.” The article also emphasizes the importance of the service or valued received in exchange for the fees paid. Just because one firm charges more than another doesn’t mean that firm is overcharging. It could simply mean that firm provides greater value to the client. “Fair,” therefore, isn’t determined by the fee alone, but by the fee in conjunction with the service provided.

All-Time Top Stories – #1:What is an Appropriate Fee that a 401k Plan Should Pay?” (, August 6, 2013)
While the #2 All-Time Top story above takes a conceptual approach to the subject of fees, the #1 All-Time Top Story maintains a very practical attitude. This in part reflects a different intent for the piece, but also the stark reality of the debate then currently going on within the industry. At the time “high fees” where the favorite target of policy advocates. It was important to differentiate the difference not between “high” and “low” fees, but between “appropriate” and “inappropriate” fee levels. This article relies heavily on major retirement plan industry thoughtleaders, including ERISA attorneys to help solve this question. In the end, though, the article concludes “appropriateness” is like pornography – you’ll know it when you see it.

Distilling a million separate page-views down to a handful of articles is a very difficult process. We trust you’ve found the worth of these articles and, over the years past and the years to come, that you have taken and will continue to take from them something of value from

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, From Cradle to Retirement: The Child IRA – How to start a newborn on the road to a comfortable retirement while still in a cozy cradle, 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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