401k plan changes post preceeded by LRPC's Plan Sponsor Insight image.

If you intend to review your 401k plan fees and/or providers this year, now is the time to get started. Most plan sponsors who decide to make 401k plan changes like to have those new features in place by January 1 of the new plan year. Following are a few things to consider.

Potential 401k Plan Changes


Every aspect of 401k plan administration and consulting is under intense fee pressure. If you haven’t reviewed your provider fees within the last three to five years (as the Department of Labor recommends), you will be surprised at the changes. Fees have come down, so it is reasonable to expect a fee reduction for each piece of business you evaluate.


The 401k plan market is hyper-competitive. Investment advisers, trustees, custodians, recordkeepers and consultants are constantly adding new features to better serve their clients. Make sure you at least consider the following 401k plan changes:

  • Roth 401k contributions
  • A Roth in-plan conversion option
  • Financial wellness education
  • More than one participant investment advice option
  • Mutual fund share classes that have no revenue sharing
  • ESG investment options
  • Auto-enrollment
  • Auto-escalation


During your review process, take time to evaluate your fund line-up. Make sure that you offer a balanced investment option, like target date funds. Talk to your investment advisor about bolstering the conservative options in your plan. Interest rates will continue rising — will your fixed-income options perform well in a rising interest rate environment?

Correlations are finally starting to diverge. Do you offer the right actively managed funds to take advantage of a more normalized investment environment? It is clear Millennials look at ESG criteria when investing. Does your plan provide ESG information and investment options?


Make sure that the investment adviser you work with has signed on to your plan as a fiduciary. It is uncommon nowadays for plan sponsors to work with investment advisors who are not fiduciaries.

Many investment advisors who work for brokerage firms, banks, and insurance companies are unable to sign on to 401k plans without limitations. If you work with an advisor from one of these organizations, find out what the limitations are.

If you wish to work with an investment adviser who will sign on to your 401k plan without fiduciary limitations, hire an adviser employed by a Registered Investment Advisory (RIA) firm. If your investment advisor can’t or won’t act as a fiduciary, find another one.


Work with providers that are right for your culture. You have a tremendous amount of choice in the 401k world. Your providers should make your 401k plan easier for you to understand and be fun to work with!

Time is running out! Generally, all provider 401k plan changes need to be finalized by October 31 to preserve a January 1, 2018 effective date.


About the Author

Robert C. Lawton, AIF, CRPS is the founder and President of Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC. Mr. Lawton is an award-winning 401(k) investment adviser with over 30 years of experience. He has consulted with many Fortune 500 companies, including: Aon Hewitt, Apple, AT&T, First Interstate Bank, Florida Power & Light, General Dynamics, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, IBM, John Deere, Mazda Motor Corporation, Northwestern Mutual, Northern Trust Company, Trek Bikes, Tribune Company, Underwriters Labs and many others. Mr. Lawton may be contacted at (414) 828-4015 or bob@lawtonrpc.com.

About Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC

Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC is a Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based independent, objective Registered Investment Adviser (RIA) providing investment advisory, fiduciary compliance, employee education, provider management and plan design services to 401(k) plan sponsors. The firm currently has contracts in place to provide consulting services on more than $400 million in plan assets. For more information, please contact Robert C. Lawton at (414) 828-4015 or bob@lawtonrpc.com or visit the firm’s website at: http://www.lawtonrpc.com. Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC is a Wisconsin Registered Investment Adviser.

Important Disclosures

This information was developed as a general guide to educate plan sponsors and is not intended as authoritative guidance, tax, legal or investment advice. Each plan has unique requirements and you should consult your attorney or tax adviser for guidance on your specific situation. In no way does Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC assure that, by using the information provided, plan sponsor will be in compliance with ERISA regulations. Investors should carefully consider investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses. The statements in this publication are the opinions and beliefs of the commentator expressed when the commentary was made and are not intended to represent that person’s opinions and beliefs at any other time. The commentary does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC and should not be construed as recommendations or investment advice. Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC offers no tax, legal or accounting advice, and any advice contained herein is not specific to any individual, entity or retirement plan, but rather general in nature and, therefore, should not be relied upon for specific investment situations. Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC is a Wisconsin Registered Investment Adviser and accepts clients outside of Wisconsin based upon applicable state registration regulations and the “de minimus” exception.