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Changes to Fiduciary Rules for Retirement Plans and the Impact on Communications

Upcoming U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) changes to the fiduciary disclosure rules for retirement plans are going to force plan providers big and small—as well as registered investment advisors—to update nearly all of their investor and participant communications, and this means both marketing and servicing documents. Participant communications in particular will be significantly impacted.

The challenge, of course, is that thousands of discrete templates will need to be updated to clarify the structure of fees. This will involve updates to disclosures at the bottom of statements, text within email notifications, and various web pages on investor portals. And for most of our financial services clients, the various communication artifacts exist in 10+ different publishing, composition, and letter-writing systems. The resources needed to go into each system and make the changes may or may not be easy to identify, given the age of many of the systems—thus further complicating an already labor-intensive process.

All of this highlights the need to rethink how communications are authored, published, and managed in aggregate. While a firm might need to just muscle through these current DOL changes, forward-looking organizations will use this opportunity to consolidate and re-platform their communications firm-wide. While doing so, they will formally document their publishing processes (across the various channels, including paper, email, web, and mobile). They will also crisp up their roles and responsibilities: What is Compliance responsible for, what about Operations, what about IT? They will also create a formal information architecture—the hierarchy and structure of the communications library, defining naming conventions and how content is reused and assembled.

Accomplishing all of these tasks will enable a firm to publish content anywhere from 30 to 50 percent more efficiently.

Imagine—if the DOL changes currently will cost $5million to $7 million in expense to implement (just for communications re-write, testing, and deployment), if a modern process and platform were in place, the savings would be approximately $2 million. And implementing those changes could get done in 3 months, rather than 9 to 12 months.

The DOL changes to fiduciary disclosure rules for retirement plans are significant for the investment services industry, forcing radical changes to sales strategies and positioning, as well as increasing the costs of compliance. Communications play a supporting role. And while they are not likely to be the first worry for many executives, sooner or later someone is going to highlight the mess of communications that needs to be updated as a result of the changes. Sure, the updates will get made, but it will be painful. Why not use this opportunity to rethink the underlying process? After all, this is just the latest wave of regulation to hit the industry. You might as well get your communications platform in shape now—in preparation for when the next wave hits.

James Watson
James Watson
I’m President and co-founder of Doculabs, serving as executive sponsor on consulting engagements for financial services clients.