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“If you're a plan sponsor with these legacy contracts, frequently they'll throw their hands up in the air and the participant is left alone,” said Mr. Participant inertia also takes over, and advisers will find that it's only the most engaged participants who will make the move. Moslander noted that generally, plan sponsors kick off a re-enrollment into the plan when they cut down the number of providers available, giving workers the opportunity to choose from the options available in the consolidated 403(b).

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It's been five years since regulations from the IRS heaped greater responsibility on 403(b) plan sponsors, leading to heightened awareness of plan features and fees, but advisers say moving employers to lower-cost options remains difficult and expensive.

There's also an impact on the structure of these 403(b) plans: a movement to mutual fund products from group variable annuities, a greater focus on fees and a move toward consolidating the number of vendors available in a given plan.

“That's instigated by the penetration of advisers who have played an important role in educating 403(b) plan sponsors about fiduciary responsibilities, investment policy statements, investment menus and monitoring,” Mr. Plan-level fees have crept downward for 403(b)s when accounting for record keeping, investment management and custodial fees.

“A 7.5% surrender charge is more reflective of legacy contracts,” Mr. “What you see more of now are equity washes or a one-, three- or five-year period of time that it takes to get the money out, which enables companies to manage disintermediation risk.” Regardless of the uncertain fate of the Department of Labor's fiduciary rule and its provisions, many advisors are finding themselves under increasing pressure to meet a new level of client expectations and potentially answer some awkward...