Wells Fargo’s 401(k) Practices Probed by Labor Department

Wells Fargo’s 401(k) Practices Probed by Labor Department

The Labor Department is analyzing whether or not

Wells Fargo


WFC -1.04%

& Co. has been pushing individuals in low-cost company 401(okay) plans to roll their holdings into dearer particular person retirement accounts on the financial institution, in accordance with an individual acquainted with the inquiry.

Labor Department investigators are also considering whether or not Wells Fargo’s retirement-plan companies unit pressed account holders to purchase in-house funds, producing extra income to the financial institution, the particular person stated.

A brand new federal investigation is unwelcome information for Wells Fargo, which has been coping with an array of regulatory points over the previous two years. Just final week, it agreed to pay a $1 billion fine over claims of misconduct in its auto and mortgage lending companies.

At situation within the Labor Department’s investigation is how Wells Fargo handles its purchasers’ retirement financial savings. Under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, entities that serve these accounts are supposed to place their purchasers’ pursuits forward of their very own.

Wells Fargo managers have pressed workers within the financial institution’s retirement division to advocate that purchasers open dearer particular person retirement accounts after they retire or go away their jobs, in accordance with one other particular person acquainted with the financial institution’s operation.

The financial institution provides workers asset retention targets meant to maintain these retirement accounts in-house, this particular person stated, including that Wells Fargo staff usually generated larger charges for the financial institution by placing purchasers into mutual-fund shares that carried a front-end “load,” or price.

A Labor Department spokesman didn’t reply to a request for remark. Its Employee Benefits Security Administration enforces the Erisa legislation with the Internal Revenue Service and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

There are two forms of penalties for Erisa violations. Civil penalties might embrace fines or a requirement that an entity change its procedures or make a fee to a plan beneficiary. Criminal penalties might contain fines in addition to imprisonment.

In a press release, Wells Fargo stated the corporate is “committed to thorough reviews of Wealth and Investment Management,” including: “We are making significant progress in our work to identify and fix any issues, make things right, and build a better, stronger company.”

In its annual monetary report filed final month, Wells Fargo referred briefly to new federal inquiries involving practices in its 401(okay) plan rollover enterprise.

The financial institution stated its board is reviewing sure actions to evaluate “whether there have been inappropriate referrals or recommendations, including with respect to rollovers for 401(k) plan participants, certain alternative investments, or referrals of brokerage customers to the company’s investment and fiduciary services business”; the evaluation is at a preliminary stage.

The Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission are also analyzing the financial institution’s retirement-plan practices alongside a broader gross sales practices probe, folks acquainted with the matter stated.

A whistleblower has come ahead to talk with regulators about Wells Fargo’s IRA rollover actions, in accordance with the particular person acquainted with the inquiry, alleging that the financial institution breached its fiduciary duties to purchasers.

Wells Fargo’s Institutional Retirement and Trust division provides record-keeping, trustee and custody companies to firms offering 401(okay) plans to their workers. Among the businesses whose 401(okay) plans are served by Wells Fargo are

Cardinal Health
,

Caleres
,

Inc., a shoe producer, and the

Lowe’s Companies
,

regulatory filings present.

Wells Fargo advisers make suggestions for purchasers on quite a lot of platforms with funding choices. One of these Wells Fargo platforms for managed mutual-fund asset allocation consists of the financial institution’s proprietary merchandise and different choices. In latest months, Wells Fargo lowered the charges for a few of its 401(okay) plan merchandise, present workers stated.

Wells Fargo isn’t alone in working to hold onto buyer property in 401(okay) plans. Other banks, together with

Morgan Stanley
,

have applications geared toward rolling over current 401(okay) plans into IRAs utilizing proprietary merchandise or third-party choices which have revenue-sharing agreements that generate charges to the agency.

Bank of America
Corp.’s

Merrill Lynch used to have an analogous program however modified it in June 2017 in anticipation of recent DOL guidelines governing fiduciary obligation.

The Labor Department’s investigation is the newest regulatory headache for Wells Fargo.

Last week, the financial institution stated it had agreed to pay $1 billion to settle with regulators on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. The advantageous facilities on the financial institution’s failure to handle danger, together with its yearslong observe of forcing tens of 1000’s of debtors to purchase automotive insurance coverage they didn’t want in addition to improprieties involving mortgage mortgage rate-locks.

Write to Gretchen Morgenson at [email protected] and Emily Glazer at [email protected]

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