When a participant does not provide investment information upon enrollment, ERISA section 404(c) provides protection to plan fiduciaries who utilize certain "default" investment options and follow certain guidelines regarding participant investment offerings. The use of lifecycle and certain balanced fund options in workplace plans has been greatly expanded over the years. The Regulations provide protection for plan fiduciaries through the use of Qualified Default Investment Alternatives (“QDIAs”).
The default investment should include a mix of asset classes consistent with capital preservation, or long-term capital appreciation or a blend of both. Additionally, the plan must offer a "broad range of investment alternatives" for participants to choose among in order to qualify for protection. Participants must be able to direct investments out of the default investment into one of these other funds no less frequently than quarterly. A communication to employees explaining their investment rights as well as outlining the default fund investment objectives must be provided 30 days before the first investment and annually thereafter. This notice must be easy to understand and explain how assets will be invested in the absence of an election. The notice must communicate that the participant has the right to determine allocation of assets in their account and not rely on the default investment option. The default investment option must limit fees imposed upon participants who opt out of the default fund.
There are several common types of QDIAs:
A QDIA must be managed by an investment manager, plan trustee or plan sponsor who is a named fiduciary, or be an investment company registered under the Investment Company Act of 1940. The plan fiduciary must prudently select and monitor an investment fund, model portfolio or investment management service within any category of qualified default investment alternatives in accordance with ERISA’s general fiduciary rules.
A QDIA generally may not invest participant contributions in employer securities.
A plan is not required to use a QDIA, but if the plan sponsor would like additional protection, it is available by following the requirements of QDIA. Default investments are typically required for plans with Automatic Enrollment.
A QDIA Notice must contain:
For additional information regarding default investment options available to your Plan, contact your investment advisor.