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Study Finds Bias in 401(k) Plan Offerings

A new study suggests the presence of bias in the investment options offered to 401(k) plan participants where the plan trustee is affiliated with a mutual fund company. The study grouped funds into categories of “domestic equity,” “international equity,” “balanced,” “bond,” and “other,” and then by performance deciles using trailing three-year returns. The study found that funds affiliated with the trustee were less likely to be removed from the plan than affiliated funds.  According to the study, the affiliated funds with poor performance were even less likely to be removed from 401(k) plans than unaffiliated funds, at 13.7 percent compared to 25.5 percent, respectively. Additionally, the study found that performance plays a much lower role in whether affiliated funds are added to a plan as compared to unaffiliated funds, with top decile funds being added compared to lowest decile funds at a multiple of 3x for affiliated funds and 8x for unaffiliated funds.  The study also concluded that investors do not direct the flows of money to counteract the favoritism shown to underperforming affiliated funds.