Why you have bad funds in 401(k) plans

A few years ago, researchers from the business schools at the University of Indiana and the University of Texas at Austin looked at some data to try to figure out why many poor 401(k) investment choices linger on fund lineups. The researchers identified one fairly clear explanation: a sub-par fund is much more likely to stay on the menu if it’s managed by the mutual-fund company that’s helping administering the plan.


While it’s very easy to point to the mutual fund companies turned bundled plan providers of the world to blame, the fact is that regardless of whether you are dealing with a bundled or unbundled product, poor investment options are dependent on the work or lack thereof of the financial advisors and/or the plan fiduciaries.


My old law firm was using an open architecture platform where they hand a fund lineup that hadn’t changed for 10 years. The culprit? The fact that they never bothered to hire a financial advisor until I told them it was a good idea.


There are too many plan sponsors who don’t have a financial advisor and there are too many financial advisors who don’t do enough of a credible job to merit the fee they are getting.


Perhaps plans on mutual fund company platforms are more likely to have stinky fund lineups, but it’s still dependent on a plan sponsor and/or financial advisor sleeping at the end.


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