Wal-Mart Answers Excessive 401(k) Fee Allegations

In response to participant allegations, Wal-Mart said ERISA doesn’t require fiduciaries to select the cheapest option.

In a 35-page retort to a class action lawsuit over excessive fees in its 401(k) plan, Wal-Mart said disclosures about such things as how investments options were selected or revenue sharing arrangements are “demonstrably immaterial to any investment decision faced by participants.’

According to a Workforce Management news report, Wal-Mart added that participant Jeremy Braden, who filed the suit, did not suggest that he would have invested his 401(k) assets differently if such disclosures were provided. The retail giant called the employees’ allegations little more than “mere speculation,” lacking any substance, the news report said.

In addition, Wal-Mart accused the suit of disregarding the relation of the fees to the overall costs of administering the plan and ignoring “the economics of participant directed individual account plans.’ The company pointed out that the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) does not call for plan fiduciaries to consider only price when selecting investment options or select the least expensive options.

Among other things, Braden claimed in his suit that the company cost participants $60 million in unnecessary expenses over six years by offering what he said were expensive mutual funds and not their less expensive alternatives (see Participant Files Excessive 401(k) Fee Suit Against Wal-Mart). The suit also accuses Wal-Mart of failing to inform participants about the impact that the allegedly excessive fees would have on their savings, why particular investments options were chosen, or that less expensive options were available.