Definition of “plan assets”—insurance company general accounts.
(a) In general.
This section describes, in the case where an insurer issues one or more policies to or for the benefit of an employee benefit plan (and such policies are supported by assets of an insurance company's general account), which assets held by the insurer (other than plan assets held in its separate accounts) constitute plan assets for purposes of Subtitle A, and Parts 1 and 4 of Subtitle B, of Title I of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA or the Act) and section 4975 of the Internal Revenue Code (the Code), and provides guidance with respect to the application of Title I of the Act and section 4975 of the Code to the general account assets of insurers.
Generally, when a plan has acquired a Transition Policy (as defined in paragraph (h)(6) of this section), the plan's assets include the Transition Policy, but do not include any of the underlying assets of the insurer's general account if the insurer satisfies the requirements of paragraphs (c) through (f) of this section or, if the requirements of paragraphs (c) through (f) were not satisfied, the insurer cures the non-compliance through satisfaction of the requirements in paragraph (i)(5) of this section.
For purposes of paragraph (a)(2) of this section, a plan's assets will not include any of the underlying assets of the insurer's general account if the insurer fails to satisfy the requirements of paragraphs (c) through (f) of this section solely because of the takeover of the insurer's operations from management as a result of the granting of a petition filed in delinquency proceedings in the State court where the insurer is domiciled.
(b) Approval by fiduciary independent of the issuer—
(1) In general.
An independent plan fiduciary who has the authority to manage and control the assets of the plan must expressly authorize the acquisition or purchase of the Transition Policy. For purposes of this paragraph, a fiduciary is not independent if the fiduciary is an affiliate of the insurer issuing the policy.
Notwithstanding paragraph (b)(1) of this section, the authorization by an independent plan fiduciary is not required if:
The insurer is the employer maintaining the plan, or a party in interest which is wholly owned by the employer maintaining the plan; and
The requirements of section 408(b)(5) of the Act are met. 1
1 The Department notes that, because section 401(c)(1)(D) of the Act and the definition of Transition Policy preclude the issuance of any additional Transition Policies after December 31, 1998, the requirement for independent fiduciary authorization of the acquisition or purchase of the Transition Policy in paragraph (b) no longer has any application.
(c) Duty of disclosure—
(1) In general.
An insurer shall furnish the information described in paragraphs (c)(3) and (c)(4) of this section to a plan fiduciary acting on behalf of a plan to which a Transition Policy has been issued. Paragraph (c)(2) of this section describes the style and format of such disclosure. Paragraph (c)(3) of this section describes the content of the initial disclosure. Paragraph (c)(4) of this section describes the information that must be disclosed by the insurer at least once per year for as long as the Transition Policy remains outstanding.
(2) Style and format.
The disclosure required by this paragraph should be clear and concise and written in a manner calculated to be understood by a plan fiduciary, without relinquishing any of the substantive detail required by paragraphs (c)(3) and (c)(4) of this section. The information does not have to be organized in any particular order but should be presented in a manner which makes it easy to understand the operation of the Transition Policy.
(3) Initial disclosure.
The insurer must provide to the plan, either as part of an amended policy, or as a separate written document, the disclosure information set forth in paragraphs (c)(3)(i) through (iv) of this section. The disclosure must include all of the following information which is applicable to the Transition Policy:
A description of the method by which any income and any expense of the insurer's general account are allocated to the policy during the term of the policy and upon its termination, including:
A description of the method used by the insurer to determine the fees, charges, expenses or other amounts that are, or may be, assessed against the policyholder or deducted by the insurer from any accumulation fund under the policy, including the extent and frequency with which such fees, charges, expenses or other amounts may be modified by the insurance company;
A description of the method by which the insurer determines the return to be credited to any accumulation fund under the policy, including a description of the method used to allocate income and expenses to lines of business, business segments, and policies within such lines of business and business segments, and a description of how any withdrawals, transfers, or payments will affect the amount of the return credited;
A description of the rights which the policyholder or plan participants have to withdraw or transfer all or a portion of any accumulation fund under the policy, or to apply the amount of a withdrawal to the purchase of guaranteed benefits or to the payment of benefits, and the terms on which such withdrawals or other applications of funds may be made, including a description of any charges, fees, credits, market value adjustments, or any other charges or adjustments, both positive and negative;
A statement of the method used to calculate any charges, fees, credits or market value adjustments described in paragraph (c)(3)(i)(C) of this section, and, upon the request of a plan fiduciary, the insurer must provide within 30 days of the request:
(1) The formula actually used to calculate the market value adjustment, if any, to be applied to the unallocated amount in the accumulation fund upon distribution of a lump sum payment to the policyholder, and
(2) The actual calculation, as of a specified date that is no earlier than the last contract anniversary preceding the date of the request, of the applicable market value adjustment, including a description of the specific variables used in the calculation, the value of each of the variables, and a general description of how the value of each of those variables was determined.
(3) If the formula is based on interest rate guarantees applicable to new contracts of the same class or classes, and the duration of the assets underlying the accumulation fund, the contract must describe the process by which those components are ascertained or obtained. If the formula is based on an interest rate implicit in an index of publicly traded obligations, the identity of the index, the manner in which it is used, and identification of the source or publication where any data used in the formula can be found, must be disclosed;
A statement describing the expense, income and benefit guarantees under the policy, including a description of the length of such guarantees, and of the insurer's right, if any, to modify or eliminate such guarantees;
A description of the rights of the parties to make or discontinue contributions under the policy, and of any restrictions (such as timing, minimum or maximum amounts, and penalties and grace periods for late payments) on the making of contributions under the policy, and the consequences of the discontinuance of contributions under the policy; and
A statement of how any policyholder or participant-initiated withdrawals are to be made: first-in, first-out (FIFO) basis, last-in, first-out (LIFO) basis, pro rata or another basis.
(4) Annual disclosure.
At least annually and not later than 90 days following the period to which it relates, an insurer shall provide the following information to each plan to which a Transition Policy has been issued:
The balance of any accumulation fund on the first day and last day of the period covered by the annual report;
Any deposits made to the accumulation fund during such annual period;
An itemized statement of all income attributed to the policy or added to the accumulation fund during the period, and a description of the method used by the insurer to determine the precise amount of income;
The actual rate of return credited to the accumulation fund under the policy during such period, stating whether the rate of return was calculated before or after deduction of expenses charged to the accumulation fund;
Any other additions to the accumulation fund during such period;
An itemized statement of all fees, charges, expenses or other amounts assessed against the policy or deducted from the accumulation fund during the reporting year, and a description of the method used by the insurer to determine the precise amount of the fees, charges and other expenses;
An itemized statement of all benefits paid, including annuity purchases, to participants and beneficiaries from the accumulation fund;
The dates on which the additions or subtractions were credited to, or deducted from, the accumulation fund during such period;
A description, if applicable, of all transactions with affiliates which exceed 1 percent of group annuity reserves of the general account for the prior reporting year;
A statement describing any expense, income and benefit guarantees under the policy, including a description of the length of such guarantees, and of the insurer's right, if any, to modify or eliminate such guarantees. However, the information on guarantees does not have to be provided annually if it was previously disclosed in the insurance policy and has not been modified since that time;
A good faith estimate of the amount that would be payable in a lump sum at the end of such period pursuant to the request of a policyholder for payment or transfer of amounts in the accumulation fund under the policy after the insurer deducts any applicable charges and makes any appropriate market value adjustments, upward or downward, under the terms of the policy. However, upon the request of a plan fiduciary, the insurer must provide within 30 days of the request the information contained in paragraph (c)(3)(i)(D) as of a specified date that is no earlier than the last contract anniversary preceding the date of the request; and
An explanation that the insurer will make available promptly upon request of a plan, copies of the following publicly available financial data or other publicly available reports relating to the financial condition of the insurer:
National Association of Insurance Commissioners Statutory Annual Statement, with Exhibits, General Interrogatories, and Schedule D, Part 1A, Sections 1 and 2 and Schedule S— Part 3E ;
Rating agency reports on the financial strength and claims-paying ability of the insurer;
Risk adjusted capital ratio, with a brief description of its derivation and significance, referring to the risk characteristics of both the assets and the liabilities of the insurer;
Actuarial opinion of the insurer's Appointed Actuary certifying the adequacy of the insurer's reserves as required by New York State Insurance Department Regulation 126 and comparable regulations of other States; and
The insurer's most recent SEC Form 10K and Form 10Q (stock companies only).
(d) Alternative separate account arrangements—
(1) In general.
An insurer must provide the plan fiduciary with the following additional information at the same time as the initial disclosure required under paragraph (c)(3) of this section:
A statement explaining the extent to which alternative contract arrangements supported by assets of separate accounts of insurers are available to plans;
A statement as to whether there is a right under the policy to transfer funds to a separate account and the terms governing any such right; and
A statement explaining the extent to which general account contracts and separate account contracts of the insurer may pose differing risks to the plan.
An insurer will be deemed to comply with the requirements of paragraph (d)(1)(iii) of this section if the disclosure provided to the plan includes the following statement:
a. Contractual arrangements supported by assets of separate accounts may pose differing risks to plans from contractual arrangements supported by assets of general accounts. Under a general account contract, the plan's contributions or premiums are placed in the insurer's general account and commingled with the insurer's corporate funds and assets (excluding separate accounts and special deposit funds). The insurance company combines in its general account premiums received from all of its lines of business. These premiums are pooled and invested by the insurer. General account assets in the aggregate support the insurer's obligations under all of its insurance contracts, including (but not limited to) its individual and group life, health, disability, and annuity contracts. Experience rated general account policies may share in the experience of the general account through interest credits, dividends, or rate adjustments, but assets in the general account are not segregated for the exclusive benefit of any particular policy or obligation. General account assets are also available to the insurer for the conduct of its routine business activities, such as the payment of salaries, rent, other ordinary business expenses and dividends.
b. An insurance company separate account is a segregated fund which is not commingled with the insurer's general assets. Depending on the particular terms of the separate account contract, income, expenses, gains and losses associated with the assets allocated to a separate account may be credited to or charged against the separate account without regard to other income, expenses, gains, or losses of the insurance company, and the investment results passed through directly to the policyholders. While most, if not all, general account investments are maintained at book value, separate account investments are normally maintained at market value, which can fluctuate according to market conditions. In large measure, the risks associated with a separate account contract depend on the particular assets in the separate account.
c. The plan's legal rights vary under general and separate account contracts. In general, an insurer is subject to ERISA's fiduciary responsibility provisions with respect to the assets of a separate account (other than a separate account registered under the Investment Company Act of 1940) to the extent that the investment performance of such assets is passed directly through to the plan policyholders. ERISA requires insurers, in administering separate account assets, to act solely in the interest of the plan's participants and beneficiaries; prohibits self-dealing and conflicts of interest; and requires insurers to adhere to a prudent standard of care. In contrast, ERISA generally imposes less stringent standards in the administration of general account contracts which were issued on or before December 31, 1998.
d. On the other hand, State insurance regulation is typically more restrictive with respect to general accounts than separate accounts. However, State insurance regulation may not provide the same level of protection to plan policyholders as ERISA regulation. In addition, insurance company general account policies often include various guarantees under which the insurer assumes risks relating to the funding and distribution of benefits. Insurers do not usually provide any guarantees with respect to the investment returns on assets held in separate accounts. Of course, the extent of any guarantees from any general account or separate account contract will depend upon the specific policy terms.
e. Finally, separate accounts and general accounts pose differing risks in the event of the insurer's insolvency. In the event of insolvency, funds in the general account are available to meet the claims of the insurer's general creditors, after payment of amounts due under certain priority claims, including amounts owed to its policyholders. Funds held in a separate account as reserves for its policy obligations, however, may be protected from the claims of creditors other than the policyholders participating in the separate account. Whether separate account funds will be granted this protection will depend upon the terms of the applicable policies and the provisions of any applicable laws in effect at the time of insolvency.
(e) Termination procedures.
Within 90 days of written notice by a policyholder to an insurer, the insurer must permit the policyholder to exercise the right to terminate or discontinue the policy and to elect to receive without penalty either:
A lump sum payment representing all unallocated amounts in the accumulation fund. For purposes of this paragraph (e)(1), the term penalty does not include a market value adjustment (as defined in paragraph (h)(7)of this section) or the recovery of costs actually incurred which would have been recovered by the insurer but for the termination or discontinuance of the policy, including any unliquidated acquisition expenses, to the extent not previously recovered by the insurer; or
A book value payment of all unallocated amounts in the accumulation fund under the policy in approximately equal annual installments, over a period of no longer than 10 years, together with interest computed at an annual rate which is no less than the annual rate which was credited to the accumulation fund under the policy as of the date of the contract termination or discontinuance, minus 1 percentage point. Notwithstanding paragraphs (e)(1) and (e)(2) of this section, the insurer may defer, for a period not to exceed 180 days, amounts required to be paid to a policyholder under this paragraph for any period of time during which regular banking activities are suspended by State or federal authorities, a national securities exchange is closed for trading (except for normal holiday closings), or the Securities and Exchange Commission has determined that a state of emergency exists which may make such determination and payment impractical.
(f) Insurer-initiated amendments.
In the event the insurer makes an insurer-initiated amendment (as defined in paragraph (h)(8) of this section), the insurer must provide written notice to the plan at least 60 days prior to the effective date of the insurer-initiated amendment. The notice must contain a complete description of the amendment and must inform the plan of its right to terminate or discontinue the policy and withdraw all unallocated funds without penalty by sending a written request within such 60 day period to the name and address contained in the notice. The plan must be offered the election to receive either a lump sum or an installment payment as described in paragraph (e)(1) and (e)(2) of this section. An insurer-initiated amendment shall not apply to a contract if the plan fiduciary exercises its right to terminate or discontinue the contract within such 60 day period and to receive a lump sum or installment payment.
An insurer shall manage those assets of the insurer which are assets of such insurer's general account (irrespective of whether any such assets are plan assets) with the care, skill, prudence and diligence under the circumstances then prevailing that a prudent man acting in a like capacity and familiar with such matters would use in the conduct of an enterprise of a like character and with like aims, taking into account all obligations supported by such enterprise. This prudence standard applies to the conduct of all insurers with respect to policies issued to plans on or before December 31, 1998, and differs from the prudence standard set forth in section 404(a)(1)(B) of the Act. Under the prudence standard provided in this paragraph, prudence must be determined by reference to all of the obligations supported by the general account, not just the obligations owed to plan policyholders. The more stringent standard of prudence set forth in section 404(a)(1)(B) of the Act continues to apply to any obligations which insurers may have as fiduciaries which do not arise from the management of general account assets, as well as to insurers' management of plan assets maintained in separate accounts. The terms of this section do not modify or reduce the fiduciary obligations applicable to insurers in connection with policies issued after December 31, 1998, which are supported by general account assets, including the standard of prudence under section 404(a)(1)(B) of the Act.
For purposes of this section:
An affiliate of an insurer means:
Any person, directly or indirectly, through one or more intermediaries, controlling, controlled by, or under common control with the insurer,
Any officer of, director of, 5 percent or more partner in, or highly compensated employee (earning 5 percent or more of the yearly wages of the insurer) of, such insurer or of any person described in paragraph (h)(1)(i) of this section including in the case of an insurer, an insurance agent or broker thereof (whether or not such person is a common law employee) if such agent or broker is an employee described in this paragraph or if the gross income received by such agent or broker from such insurer exceeds 5 percent of such agent's gross income from all sources for the year, and
Any corporation, partnership, or unincorporated enterprise of which a person described in paragraph (h)(1)(ii) of this section is an officer, director, or a 5 percent or more partner.
The term control means the power to exercise a controlling influence over the management or policies of a person other than an individual.
The term guaranteed benefit policy means a policy described in section 401(b)(2)(B) of the Act and any regulations promulgated thereunder.
The term insurer means an insurer as described in section 401(b)(2)(A) of the Act.
The term accumulation fund means the aggregate net considerations (i.e., gross considerations less all deductions from such considerations) credited to the Transition Policy plus all additional amounts, including interest and dividends, credited to such Transition Policy less partial withdrawals, benefit payments and less all charges and fees imposed against this accumulated amount under the Transition Policy other than surrender charges and market value adjustments.
The term Transition Policy means:
A policy or contract of insurance (other than a guaranteed benefit policy) that is issued by an insurer to, or on behalf of, an employee benefit plan on or before December 31, 1998, and which is supported by the assets of the insurer's general account.
A policy will not fail to be a Transition Policy merely because the policy is amended or modified:
To comply with the requirements of section 401(c) of the Act and this section; or
Pursuant to a merger, acquisition, demutualization, conversion, or reorganization authorized by applicable State law, provided that the premiums, policy guarantees, and the other terms and conditions of the policy remain the same, except that a membership interest in a mutual insurance company may be eliminated from the policy in exchange for separate consideration (e.g., shares of stock or policy credits).
For purposes of this section, the term market value adjustment means an adjustment to the book value of the accumulation fund to accurately reflect the effect on the value of the accumulation fund of its liquidation in the prevailing market for fixed income obligations, taking into account the future cash flows that were anticipated under the policy. An adjustment is a market value adjustment within the meaning of this definition only if the insurer has determined the amount of the adjustment pursuant to a method which was previously disclosed to the policyholder in accordance with paragraph (c)(3)(i)(D) of this section, and the method permits both upward and downward adjustments to the book value of the accumulation fund.
The term insurer-initiated amendment is defined in paragraphs (h)(8)(i), (ii) and (iii) of this section as:
An amendment to a Transition Policy made by an insurer pursuant to a unilateral right to amend the policy terms that would have a material adverse effect on the policyholder; or
Any of the following unilateral changes in the insurer's conduct or practices with respect to the policyholder or the accumulation fund under the policy that result in a material reduction of existing or future benefits under the policy, a material reduction in the value of the policy or a material increase in the cost of financing the plan or plan benefits:
A change in the methodology for assessing fees, expenses, or other charges against the accumulation fund or the policyholder;
A change in the methodology used for allocating income between lines of business, or product classes within a line of business;
A change in the methodology used for determining the rate of return to be credited to the accumulation fund under the policy;
A change in the methodology used for determining the amount of any fees, charges, expenses, or market value adjustments applicable to the accumulation fund under the policy in connection with the termination of the contract or withdrawal from the accumulation fund;
A change in the dividend class to which the policy or contract is assigned;
A change in the policyholder's rights in connection with the termination of the policy, withdrawal of funds or the purchase of annuities for plan participants; and
A change in the annuity purchase rates guaranteed under the terms of the contract or policy, unless the new rates are more favorable for the policyholder.
For purposes of this definition, an insurer-initiated amendment is material if a prudent fiduciary could reasonably conclude that the amendment should be considered in determining how or whether to exercise any rights with respect to the policy, including termination rights.
For purposes of this definition, the following amendments or changes are not insurer-initiated amendments:
Any amendment or change which is made with the affirmative consent of the policyholder;
Any amendment or change which is made in order to comply with the requirements of section 401(c) of the Act and this section; or
Any amendment or change which is made pursuant to a merger, acquisition, demutualization, conversion, or reorganization authorized by applicable State law, provided that the premiums, policy guarantees, and the other terms and conditions of the policy remain the same, except that a membership interest in a mutual insurance company may be eliminated from the policy in exchange for separate consideration (e.g., shares of stock or policy credits).
(i) Limitation on liability.
No person shall be subject to liability under Parts 1 and 4 of Title I of the Act or section 4975 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 for conduct which occurred prior to the applicability dates of the regulation on the basis of a claim that the assets of an insurer (other than plan assets held in a separate account) constitute plan assets. Notwithstanding the provisions of this paragraph (i)(1), this section shall not:
Apply to an action brought by the Secretary of Labor pursuant to paragraphs (2) or (5) of section 502(a) of ERISA for a breach of fiduciary responsibility which would also constitute a violation of Federal or State criminal law;
Preclude the application of any Federal criminal law; or
Apply to any civil action commenced before November 7, 1995.
Nothing in this section relieves any person from any State law regulating insurance which imposes additional obligations or duties upon insurers to the extent not inconsistent with the provisions of this section. Therefore, nothing in this section should be construed to preclude a State from requiring insurers to make additional disclosures to policyholders, including plans. Nor does this section prohibit a State from imposing additional substantive requirements with respect to the management of general accounts or from otherwise regulating the relationship between the policyholder and the insurer to the extent not inconsistent with the provisions of this section.
Nothing in this section precludes any claim against an insurer or other person for violations of the Act which do not require a finding that the underlying assets of a general account constitute plan assets, regardless of whether the violation relates to a Transition Policy.
If the requirements in paragraphs (c) through (f) of this section are not met with respect to a plan that has purchased or acquired a Transition Policy, and the insurer has not cured the non-compliance through satisfaction of the requirements in paragraph (i)(5) of this section, the plan's assets include an undivided interest in the underlying assets of the insurer's general account for that period of time for which the requirements are not met. However, an insurer's failure to comply with the requirements of this section with respect to any particular Transition Policy will not result in the underlying assets of the general account constituting plan assets with respect to other Transition Policies if the insurer is otherwise in compliance with the requirements contained in this section.
Notwithstanding paragraphs (a)(2) and (i)(4) of this section, a plan's assets will not include an undivided interest in the underlying assets of the insurer's general account if the insurer made reasonable and good faith attempts at compliance with each of the requirements of paragraphs (c) through (f) of this section, and meets each of the following conditions:
The insurer has in place written procedures that are reasonably designed to assure compliance with the requirements of paragraphs (c) through (f) of this section, including procedures reasonably designed to detect any instances of non-compliance.
No later than 60 days following the earlier of the insurer's detection of an instance of non-compliance or the receipt of written notice of non-compliance from the plan, the insurer complies with the requirements of paragraphs (c) through (f) of this section. If the insurer has failed to pay a plan the amounts required under paragraphs (e) or (f) of this section within 90 days of receiving written notice of termination or discontinuance of the policy, the insurer must make all corrections and adjustments necessary to restore to the plan the full amounts that the plan would have received but for the insurer's non-compliance within the applicable 60 day period; and
The insurer makes the plan whole for any losses resulting from the non-compliance as follows:
If the insurer has failed to comply with the disclosure or notice requirements set forth in paragraphs (c), (d) and (f) of this section, then the insurer must make the plan whole for any losses resulting from its non-compliance within the earlier of 60 days of detection by the insurer or sixty days following the receipt of written notice from the plan; and
If the insurer has failed to pay a plan any amounts required under paragraphs (e) or (f) of this section within 90 days of receiving written notice of termination or discontinuance of the policy, the insurer must pay to the plan interest on any amounts restored pursuant to paragraph (i)(5)(ii) of this section at the “underpayment rate” as set forth in 26 U.S.C. sections 6621 and 6622. Such interest must be paid within the earlier of 60 days of detection by the insurer or sixty days following receipt of written notice of non-compliance from the plan.
(j) Applicability dates—
(1) In general.
Except as provided in paragraphs (j)(2) through (4) of this section, this section is applicable on July 5, 2001.
Paragraph (c) relating to initial disclosures and paragraph (d) relating to separate account disclosures are applicable on July 5, 2000.
The first annual disclosure required under paragraph (c)(4) of this section shall be provided to each plan not later than 18 months following January 5, 2000.
Paragraph (f), relating to insurer-initiated amendments, is applicable on January 5, 2000.
(k) Effective date.
This section is effective January 5, 2000.
[65 FR 639, Jan. 5, 2000]