May 30, 2007
The 12b-1 issue is, to say the least, very sticky.
The proper use of 12b-1 fees to assist companies in paying for the services of administering their pension plans is welcome among the corporate world. This, however, does bring about the ability of the administrator to hide these charges often appearing on the surface to charge less than commercial bank trust departments, such as the one I work for. Our trust services department takes pride in the fact that our clients know exactly what they are paying for and how much they are paying unlike the "free" services provided by the brokerage houses and by large plan providers who use 12b-1 fees.
What needs to be done, in my opinion, is to enlighten the plan sponsors and participants in such a way that shows the before and after 12b-1 values of their respective accounts and to require that providers that use 12b-1 fees to "lessen" the fee load on companies, to disclose these fees in total and combine them with the hard-dollar fees they charge. Doing so would bring about more parity in the pension provider field where a plan sponsor chooses a provider based upon more than fees and would clarify the fee issues for plan participants.