Providing independent advice could fortify 401(k) system, congressman says

401(k) system needs targeted fixes, not major overhaul, says head of House Subcommittee on Health, Employment Labor and Pensions

Apr 7, 2009 @ 2:01 pm

By Mark Bruno

A key lawmaker involved in setting retirement policy is angling to strengthen the 401(k) system by providing individual investors with increased access to independent investment advice.

Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., speaking at a retirement seminar by Barclays Global Investors of San Francisco this morning in New York, said that despite more than $2 trillion in losses over the last year, the 401(k) system is not broken — it just needs some minor, and rather immediate, adjustments to empower individual investors, said Mr. Andrews, who is also the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Health, Employment Labor and Pensions

He plans to push an agenda through Congress that will strengthen the defined contribution system by encouraging employers to hire more independent investment advisers for their 401(k) participants.

In a 401(k) system, participants essentially are asked to act as their own "pension board of trustees" and make key investment decisions almost entirely on their own, Mr. Andrews said.

"Yet most of us are woefully equipped to do this," he said.

If more companies provided employees with access to independent investment advice, 401(k) participants would make better fundamental decisions about managing their retirement savings accounts and ultimately have more confidence in the 401(k) system, Mr. Andrews said.

"I don't think we should confuse a lack of confidence in the economy with a lack of confidence in the [401(k)] system," he said, contradicting the notion that the 401(k) system needs an overhaul to prevent workers from sustaining massive losses in their retirement accounts.

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