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Small DC plans see big drops in fees

Small defined contribution plans, those with fewer than 1,000 participants, decreased the median per-participant fee $13 in 2017 from 2016's median, according to NEPC's 2017 DC plan survey. Larger plans, those with more than 10,000 participants, have seemed to squeeze their providers to their limits as median fees were unchanged.

Scale has always been the driver of costs for both providers and plan sponsors. The four largest providers -- Fidelity, TIAA, Empower and Vanguard -- have controlled more than 50% of all DC assets covering more than 40% of all participants, allowing low prices to plans, particularly if their funds are used. Large plan sponsors have been able to leverage the large participant bases and consequently large assets balances to negotiate lower per-participant fees. It appears that smaller plans are getting more traction on fee negotiations as providers are more willing to accept lower fees to compete for assets.