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Target Date Fund Litigation

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Recent litigation in the US challenging the prudence of plans’ target date fund offerings reiterates the importance of regular holistic reviews of target date funds. Continue reading the article below for more information. 


While Aon does not specifically comment on ongoing litigation, recent ERISA litigation claims challenging the prudence of plans’ target date fund (TDF) offerings reiterate the importance of regular holistic reviews of target date funds consistent with guidance from the Department of Labor1.

Aon recommends that clients regularly review their target date fund manager to verify and document investment prudence for plan participants. We have developed a 5-factor framework for TDF evaluation2 and accompanying demographic analysis3 to help plan fiduciaries determine the most prudent TDF for their plan. There are also several other ways we can help manage fiduciary risk including assistance with meeting minutes, providing fiduciary training, reviewing fiduciary liability insurance, and several other governance-related solutions.


This new litigation trend provides the opportunity for DC Plan Sponsors to revisit current practice compared to guidance provided by the Department of Labor (DOL). In February 2013, the DOL published “Target Date Retirement Funds—Tips for ERISA Fiduciaries,” outlining eight suggestions when selecting and monitoring target date funds, suggesting that fiduciaries consider the “possible significance of other characteristics of the participant population, such as participation in a traditional defined benefit pension plan offered by the employer, salary levels, turnover rates, contribution rates and withdrawal patterns.”1 Recent litigation regarding target date fund selection show the importance of this guidance.

Whether selecting a TDF for the first time, conducting a replacement search, or undertaking a regular review of a plan’s TDFs, it is important to take a holistic view of the solution that includes more than just historical performance and fees.

There are no two TDFs created equally, and many factors affect both absolute performance as well as risk. Even when trying to overly simplify the universe into categories such as To vs. Through4 or Active vs. Passive (there’s no such thing as a passive target date fund5), it becomes obvious that even seemingly similar TDFs require balancing multiple factors – for example, potentially higher fees for a higher level of diversifying assets. This creates a series of trade-offs that must be solved, whether selecting an off-the-shelf product or implementing a custom TDF6 that could be a better solution for participants.

To help fiduciaries consider the prudence of a TDF for their plan population, we have developed a 5-factor framework2 to evaluate each differentiating factor of a target date fund. Further, our demographic analysis3, Population Engineering on Participant Likenesses (PEOPL) is able to determine risk level suitability of a particular glide path for a plan population based on demographic factors such as presence (or absence7) of a defined benefit plan, longevity, retirement age, and income predictability.8

Aon can provide several additional solutions other than investment reviews to help manage fiduciary risk including assisting with draft meeting minutes, providing fiduciary training, reviewing fiduciary liability insurance, and several other governance-related solutions.
To conduct a review of your target date funds or discuss other solutions to manage fiduciary risk, please contact your Aon consultant or a member of Aon’s Qualified Default Investment Alternative (QDIA) Research Team.

Reference Articles

1 A copy of the DOL’s memo can be found at:
2 Set It and Forgot It? Plan Sponsors Need Hands-On Engagement for Review of Solutions that Allow Participants to be Hands-Off
3 Reflecting Demographics in the Risk Level of Target Date Funds
4 Change the TDF Debate from “To vs. Through” to “Stay vs. Leave”
5 No Such Thing as a Passive TDF
6 Are Custom Target Date Funds Right for Your Plan?
7 Why Target Date Funds Should be Lower Risk for Populations without Defined Benefit Plans
8 Government, Education, and Utility Sectors Could be fit for an “Aggressive” Target Date Fund Glide Path

Note: Aon’s services do not constitute legal advice.

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