Salmon: Beware Schwab's High-Cost Index-Fund 401(k)
Nearly 90% of workers in Schwab Index Advantage plans are receiving low-cost, professional, third-party advice to help manage their 401(k) investments. Prior to the transition, only about 4% of these same workers elected to receive advice.
Schwab data shows that employees who have chosen to use independent, professional, point-in-time 401(k) advice services in the past have tended to save twice as much, were better diversified and stuck to their long-term plan, even in the most volatile market environments.
Sounds good! But it really isn't. The headline of the press release says that "Schwab's Index-Based 401(k) Offering Cuts Investment Costs by 77%, Delivering on Low-Cost Goal" -- but that's incredibly misleading, precisely because the overwhelming majority of plan participants wind up paying for that "low-cost, professional, third-party advice."
Here are the numbers: The weighted average operating expense ratio for the new index-fund product is 14.78bp, down from 65.11bp in Schwab's old actively managed plans. That's a handy savings of just over 50bp. But as part of the deal, all the participants in the new plans automatically get enrolled in a plan that gives them something called "independent point-in-time advice."
How much does that advice cost? Turns out, it's about 45bp. Which means that far from seeing their expenses fall by 50bp, the new savers are actually only saving about 5bp, all-in. (Under the old system, the advice came free, although it did so on an opt-in basis rather than an opt-out basis.)