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Retirement Plan Risks for Physician-Employers

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Advantages Well Known – Disadvantages Not So

By Brian J. Knabe, MD

[Certified Medical Planner™ candidate]

A source of risk often overlooked by the physician-employer is the risk involved in offering a retirement plan.

Medical practice owners, like other small business owners, find several advantages to starting a retirement plan. The plan can be used to allow the owners to save money in a tax-advantaged manner, and a generous retirement plan can help to attract and retain quality employees.

Administration Risks 

The recent “Great Recession” and turbulence in the stock market have highlighted the risks involved in administering these plans. There is a long history of fraud and neglect in the field of retirement savings plans, and a series of legislative efforts have been enacted to counter these abuses.

Current standards are based primarily on four federal laws, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the Uniform Prudent Investors Act (UPIA), the Management of Public Employee Retirement Systems Act (MPERS), and the Pension Protection Act of 2006 (PPA).

ERISA Standards 

According to ERISA standards, you may be considered a fiduciary for a retirement plan if you meet any of the following tests:

  • You exercise discretionary authority or control over plan assets or plan management.
  • You are specifically identified in the written documents of a plan as a named fiduciary.
  • You have discretionary responsibility in the administration of the plan.
  • You manage the plan or its assets or render investment advice for a fee.

Recent court decisions have found fiduciaries to be personally liable, even for acts of which they were unaware or in areas not considered within their scope of responsibility. Acting with good intentions or in good faith is not an acceptable defense. Neither is ignorance of your responsibilities.


Liability Mitigation 

The liability of the administrator (or business owner) can be diminished by taking these steps:

  • Act in a procedurally prudent manner.
  • Diversify investments to minimize the risk of large losses.
  • Provide sufficient information and education to employees to enable them to exercise control over their investments.
  • Offer a broad, diversified investment menu having at least three (preferably five or six) “core” alternatives, each of which must be diversified.


The most efficient way to meet these and other requirements is to hire a retirement plan provider which is a certified as a fiduciary, and which accepts “co-fiduciary” status along with the practice owner.  The Centre for Fiduciary Excellence (CEFEX) offers certification as a fiduciary.

For more information, see www.savantcapital.com/cefex.

Savant Capital Management, Inc®

190 Buckley Drive

Rockford, IL 61107

Tel 815-227-0300

Fax 815-226-2195


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3 Responses

  1. Enter the Fiduciary Advisor

    Dr. Brian J. Knabe of Savant Capital Management – a Registered Investment Advisor – makes an excellent point about retirement plans in this important post.

    For example, in my long career as an insurance agent, nurse-executive and academic professor, I have seen the bar of accountability raised from the “prudent man” statutes, to the “prudent investor” concept, to the wholly unsuitable “suitability” standards of broker-dealers and Wall Street’s wire houses, and now to the ERISA styled level of fiduciary accountability.

    Of course, such responsibility is just one characteristics of the http://www.CertifiedMedicalPlanner.com online educational program for financial advisors, medical professionals, healthcare executives and management consultants working – or interested – in the modern healthcare 2.0 industrial complex.

    Hope Rachel Hetico; RN, MHA, CMP
    [Professor of Healthcare Administration]


  2. IRAs Surpass 401-Ks

    Dr. Knabe, did you know that an upcoming report suggests that IRA rollovers [Cogent Research] are holding more assets than in employer-sponsored 401(k) and 403(b) plans. It’s the first time that IRAs have outpaced workplace retirement plans since Cogent began tracking allocations in 2006.




  3. The Dropping … DOW?

    The DOW dropped another 390 points today – to 10,733. But, recall, the DOW has also dropped significantly in 1994, 1998, 2000, 2008 and to-date.

    Unfortunately, I can’t remember anything early than that; but historically know there were many others recessions … and we always eventually recovered!

    Any thoughts, Dr. Knabe?



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