You Can’t Know Enough: The Importance of Knowing Your Fiduciary Responsibility

Paul McEwan | July 25th, 2014

You may find that the spotlight isn’t for you. But as the fiduciary of your company’s retirement plan, the spotlight is all on you. The Department of Labor (DOL) has placed a major emphasis on fiduciary responsibility in the past few years and continues to push the matter in its initiatives. So it’s important that you understand what you’re responsible for.

To meet your fiduciary responsibilities as a retirement plan sponsor, you need to understand the fiduciary standards of conduct as adopted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). With these fiduciary responsibilities, there is also potential liability. Fiduciaries that don’t follow the basic standards of conduct may be personally liable to restore any losses to the plan. Pretty serious, right? To help ease your mind, here’s what you need to know.

Identifying Your Plan Fiduciaries

A plan’s fiduciaries will ordinarily include the named trustee in the document, investment advisors and all individuals exercising discretion in the administration of the plan. Under ERISA regulations, fiduciaries are responsible for:

  • Loyalty to the plan participants – acting in their exclusive best interest
  • Prudence – documenting expertise and a decision-making process
  • Following the plan documents
  • Diversifying plan assets
  • Paying only reasonable expenses for necessary services

Mitigating Your Risk As A Fiduciary

As a fiduciary of your business’s retirement plan, you should consider these items and answer these questions to ensure that you comply with ERISA regulations:

  • If participants in your plan make their own investment decisions, have you provided sufficient information for them to exercise control in making those decisions? Regulations under ERISA list the information and process required to be provided to participants in order to legally shift the responsibility for making investment decisions to the participants. Are you making the required participant fee and fund performance disclosures required annually by ERISA of all plans permitting participant investment direction?
  • How frequently do you deposit participants’ contributions in the plan, and have you made sure it complies with the law? Participant contributions, including loan repayments, are required to be remitted on a timely, consistent basis. Not remitting these funds in a timely manner is considered a misuse of plan assets, which is a prohibited transaction. Not meeting this requirement creates penalties for the plan sponsor.
  • If you’re hiring third-party service providers, including investment advisors, have you looked at several providers, given each potential provider the same information, and considered whether the fees are reasonable for the services provided? It’s required that you receive fee and service disclosures from all plan service providers, and you should also receive written acknowledgements from service providers serving in a fiduciary capacity. Here are some other items to consider relating to third-party service providers:

1. Have you documented your service provider hiring process?
2. Are you prepared to monitor your plan’s service providers, including investment fund performance?
3. Do you have a process in place to determine that the fees paid to service providers remain reasonable for the services provided?

  • Have you reviewed your plan document in light of current plan operations and made necessary updates? Have you provided participants with an updated summary plan description (SPD) or summary of material modifications (SMM)? Plans are required to operate according to the provisions stated in the plan document and these provisions must be communicated to participants. Changes are generally permitted, but again are required to be communicated to participants. If the plan is not operating in accordance with the written plan document, the plan could be disqualified, which would result in negative tax implications for you, the plan sponsor, and the participants.
  • Are individuals handling plan assets covered by a fidelity bond as required by ERISA?  Have you considered purchasing fiduciary insurance to mitigate the personal risk of loss to those employees you identified that are serving as plan fiduciaries? While a fidelity bond and fiduciary insurance are slightly different, both are a form of coverage to provide protection in regards to plans. The bond insures the assets of the plan in the event of employee misconduct and the fiduciary insurance provides personal protection to fiduciaries in the event of any claims for alleged errors, omissions, or breach of fiduciary duties.

Being a plan fiduciary comes with enormous responsibility. Don’t take your fiduciary responsibilities lightly. If you’re interested in learning more about what you’re responsible for as a retirement plan fiduciary, consider registering for a FREE seminar all about knowing your fiduciary responsibility. Rea & Associates has partnered with the Human Resources Association of Central Ohio (HRACO) to provide an all-day seminar dedicated to helping fiduciaries understand their responsibilities. The seminar will feature speakers from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the DOL. It will be held on Tuesday, August 26 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at BMI Federal Credit Union Event Center in Dublin, Ohio. More details, including a schedule, can be found here. Click here to register for this free event.

Fiduciary Responsibility Help

If you need assistance navigating the responsibilities of being a fiduciary, contact Rea & Associates or speak with one of our financial advisors.

Author: Paul McEwan, CPA, MT, AIFA (New Philadelphia office)

This article was originally published in Retirement Plan Insights, a Rea & Associates, Inc. newsletter on Monday, July 21, 2014.

 

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Be On Guard For IRS Phone Scams

Maribeth Wright | July 17th, 2014

You get a call from a man who said he was from the IRS and was informing you that criminal activity was found after the IRS performed an audit on your past taxes. Then he asks if you had a criminal lawyer to represent you. And as you tried to get a word in edgewise, he told you not to interrupt him because the IRS and local authorities were recording your phone call. Pretty unnerving, right?

Well, unfortunately, this phone call actually took place with a client. And these types of phone calls are happening constantly. Back in April, the IRS issued a warning for consumers about phone scams targeting taxpayers. During the 2013 tax filing season numerous phone scams occurred, but the IRS has seen an increase in these scams since then. Because the IRS believes that these incidents will continue to plague taxpayers, it’s important to be vigilant for these kinds of calls.

The 4-1-1 On These IRS Phone Scams

  • Some taxpayers who received these calls were told they’re entitled to a big tax refund, or that they owe a lot of money to the IRS that needs to be paid immediately. Don’t be fooled. The IRS won’t contact you via phone about these matters. If you ever owe the IRS money, you’ll be sent a written notification via mail.
  • The IRS will never ask you for personal financial information over the phone, such as your credit or debit card information. If you’re asked for this information from someone claiming they’re from the IRS, don’t give it and report the incident immediately to the IRS.
  • Some IRS scammers use fake names/surnames (most of the time these names are common) and IRS badge numbers when they identify themselves.
  • It’s possible that a scammer knows and can tell you the last four digits of your Social Security number.
  • The phone number that a scammer calls you from could look like it’s from the IRS toll-free number.
  • If you take one of these scam calls, you may receive a bogus follow-up email to make it look like it is a legitimate inquiry from the IRS.
  • You may be threatened with jail time or driver’s license suspension from one of these scammers. They may then hang up on you and then call back pretending to be the police or DMV, further trying to prove their claim to you.

What Should You Do If You Get One Of These Calls?

So have you received one of these calls? If so, and you’re not sure the next step, here’s what you should do:

  • If you think you might owe taxes or there may be an issue with your taxes, call the IRS at 1.800.829.1040. Someone at the line can help you determine if you indeed have a payment due.
  • If you feel you received this call unexpectedly and know you have no IRS issues, call and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1.800.366.4484.

In light of these increasing incidents, be on the lookout and don’t fall prey to these scams. Hang up if you’re uncomfortable with the call. And know that the IRS would never ask for personal financial information over the phone or in an email. If you receive any suspicious emails, forward the email to phishing@irs.gov.

Ohio Tax Help

If you’re ever unsure about anything you received from the IRS, whether it be a letter, a phone call or email, contact Rea & Associates. Our team of Ohio tax professionals can help you determine if the inquiry is legitimate, and assist you with responding.

Author: Maribeth Wright, CPA (Cambridge office)

 

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Is Your Business Running On Microsoft 2003 Servers? It’s Time To Update

Joe Welker | July 16th, 2014

As a business owner, you have a lot to be concerned about. Ensuring that your business is bringing in revenue. Providing quality customer service. Retaining quality employees. The list goes on and on. Is maintaining and keeping your IT systems anywhere near the top of your list? If not, you might want to think again.

Microsoft To Stop Supporting Microsoft 2003 Servers

Back in April, Microsoft announced it was no longer supporting its Windows XP workstation software … this means that Microsoft is not providing any security patches or upgrades to computers using Windows XP software. Despite this news, many companies are still using the non-supported operating system. This leaves a huge hole in your operating system security. While many entities are planning to replace their XP workstations, we now find that Microsoft has some additional changes coming.

Microsoft recently announced that it has posted end of life for its Microsoft Server 2003 and Server 2003 R2 systems. These two server operating systems will no longer be supported after July 14, 2015. So if your business uses these systems, you have a little under a year to plan and implement a replacement strategy for these servers. The consequence for not replacing? Serious security issues.

In many industries the use of these operating systems on servers could lead to non-compliance issues.  When looking at your upgrade options, consider using virtualization software such as VMWare or Hyper V or server operating systems like Linux, UNIX, Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2012.

What You Can Do To Prepare For The Microsoft 2003 Server Expiration

It’s important you work with your application vendors to make sure that your current applications will transfer over and operate correctly on the replacement server operating system you decide upon. It is recommended that your entity do an analysis of critical business applications currently being used on Microsoft Windows 2003 and Windows 2003 R2 servers and determine the best replacement option as well as conversion process.

IT Audit Help

Not sure what server(s) your business is running on? Or are you unsure how this Microsoft server expiration will affect your business? Contact Rea & Associates. Our IT audit team can assess your business’s IT systems and help you determine how these changes will affect you moving forward. Don’t delay in updating your servers. It could be the difference between a safe IT environment and an unsecured one.

Author: Joe Welker, CISA (New Philadelphia office)

 

Looking for more information on how you can keep your business environment safe? Check out these blog posts:

8 Tips For Crafting A Strong Password

Do You Know Who Has Access To Your IT Network?

How Can I Protect My Business From A Data Security Breach?

 

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Why It’s Important To Have A Good Banker As Part of Your Business Advisory Team

Chris Roush | July 3rd, 2014

You want the best for your business, so it only makes sense that you surround yourself with like-minded individuals. As a business owner it’s important to get support from business advisors who have expertise in specific areas to help you make your business successful. Your CPA plays a critical role for you, but don’t forget about the others. It’s also important to cultivate relationships with a business attorney and business banker.

Your CPA can make sure that you have systems to capture and report timely, reliable financial information and, if needed, even provide assurance regarding your financial statements. A good attorney can help safeguard your business assets and provide assistance in drafting agreements, contracts and other legal proceedings. A business banker can provide lines of credit or loans to help meet the cash flow needs of your business.

The Importance of Your Banking Relationship

Strong banking relationships are built over time through regular two-way communication. You should be well-versed in upcoming cash needs, such as expanding inventory or the increased needs of personnel cost, and communicate these to your banker. As you keep them informed of business decisions and trends, this helps to build a lender’s confidence in your ability to manage your business. A well-informed and communicative business owner may be given extra consideration when business financial issues arise.

Four Key Indicators That Help Bankers Evaluate Your Ability To Repay

Banking is a low-risk industry and they have one major concern when lending money: your repayment. They evaluate your ability to repay based on these four areas:

  1. Cash Flow – This is a key indicator of your ability to repay the original loan. If you have strong cash flow, the chances are high that you are able to repay your loan.
  2. Collateral – When a loan is originated, it’s never the goal for the loan to be foreclosed on and collateral seized, but it is required as security.
  3. Credit – Another key indicator is your credit history and track record of your past ability and willingness to fulfill prior financial obligations. If you have a good credit score, you’ll be given more favorable treatment in both the receipt of a loan and the amount of interest charged.
  4. Character – Your relationship with your banker allows them to consider your integrity.  It’s critical to let your actions meet or exceed the expectations your words establish on a regular basis.

A good business banker is your advocate – they’re in your corner. Like CPAs, business bankers are exposed to multiple businesses and industries and they can be a great sounding board for ideas and help you strategize on ways to reach your financial objectives.

Business Relationship Help

Need to round out your business advisory team? Contact Rea & Associates. We can provide accounting services and business consulting services to your business, but we can also connect you to other business professionals that can help you complete your business advisory team.

Author: Chris Roush, CPA (Millersburg office)

 

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