U.S. target-date fund managers are continuing to find ways to cut costs amid heightened fee scrutiny from plan executives and consultants, increased competition among managers, and a desire among managers to help improve participants' retirement income.
In February, Putnam Investments unveiled a lower-cost share class for its Retirement Advantage Funds, a series of 10 actively managed target-date funds structured as collective investment trusts. The new share class has a management fee of 0.35%, compared with the 0.5% previously charged, a Putnam spokesman said.
Other target-date fund managers that have announced price cuts of 2 basis points or more over the past year include American Century Investments, Fidelity Investments, J.P. Morgan Asset Management, Manning & Napier Inc. and GuideStone.
Consultants and researchers were quick to point out that target-date fund fees have been declining for some time. The average asset-weighted expense ratio for a target-date mutual fund series was 0.71% as of Dec. 31, 2016, down from 1.03% at the end of 2009, according to the most recent data available from Morningstar Inc.
In a news release on Putnam's new share class, Steven P. McKay, head of defined contribution investment only, said the Boston-based firm was "laser-focused on addressing the issues most important to plan sponsors and consultants, including fees, transparency and performance."
David O'Meara, New York-based senior investment consultant at Willis Towers Watson PLC, attributed part of the focus on fees to plan executives' growing appreciation of their fiduciary duty to help participants achieve the "retirement outcomes that they desire and deserve."
Concerns over litigation also have driven plan executives to be increasingly cost conscious, consultants and researchers said. In 2017, more than 30 lawsuits were filed alleging excessive fees in retirement plans, said data on Groom Law Group's website. By comparison, only about 80 excessive-fee lawsuits were filed in the decade prior, the law firm said. The lawsuits addressed not just target-date funds but also other investment options.
Some of the reasons plan executives might be particularly sensitive to target-fund fees, sources said, is their popularity as a qualified default investment option and the heightened visibility that comes with that, along with the ease of comparing expense ratios over target-date features like glidepath design and performance.