While requests for proposal (RFPs) are a common practice among large companies and government organizations, very few small businesses use them, especially for a 401(k) plan. However, much can be learned from the process of an RFP and what questions should be asked of both the current service provider and any other service providers you may be considering.
At the start of the service provider review process, it is important to have internal consensus on what the objectives of 1) the plan, and 2) the RFP are.
Here are the most common goals for the plan:
- Better investment platform with more investment choices (open architecture)
- Better participant tools (including a better education program from the advisor)
- Improving plan design (for tax planning purposes or compensation strategy)
- Addressing service issues with current provider
- Evaluating overall services received for the fees being paid
The last point brings up additional questions, which can be addressed by the RFP:
- What services are we receiving?
- What services do we want to be receiving?
- Is the price we pay fair relative to the services we are receiving?
- Do we even know the true cost of our plan?
- What price is fair for the services we want to be receiving?
The fairness of fees is quite subjective. There are no guidelines. The Department of Labor gives plan sponsors enough leeway to make the judgment. But it should be a documented process. Fiduciary best practices are based on sound processes. Ultimately, it will depend on your goals and the level of service you expect. We tend to quote Warren Buffett, who said, “Price is what you pay, value is what you get.”
While the above is not an exhaustive list of questions and goals, it is a starting point. There are some tools out there that try to streamline a process for evaluating service providers. I haven’t tried any of them, so I won’t comment on them. But I will say that they shouldn’t be the sole decision making tool or process.