Untangling the chain of stakeholder interests and incentives requires connecting the business objectives of plan sponsors with the growing demand for ESG incorporation by plan beneficiaries, while working within the fiduciary duty requirements of ERISA.
The ERISA retirement system brings together distinct stakeholders with diverse incentives and objectives. These range from the plan sponsors to pension consultants to the investment managers, independent advice providers and, ultimately, the plan beneficiaries.
Unlike public pension plans, private-sector retirement plans (including both DC and DB plans) must maintain compliance with ERISA regulations, specifically the fiduciary requirements, when selecting investment options.
The overall trend in US private sector pension provision is one of risk transfer from corporate plan sponsors to the beneficiaries, with companies seeking to avoid the long-term pension liabilities inherent in the DB plan structure. Corporate DB plans are closing to new members and converting
The attitudes of ERISA plan sponsors toward the incorporation of ESG factors into their plans have followed stages that have reflected the PRI’s approach to the US market. Each stage has required distinct approaches, arguments and strategies.
The US accounts for the largest share of pension assets globally. Increasingly, US investors are incorporating ESG factors into their investment decisions. However, the country lags its peers in private sector retirement assets managed with explicit regard for ESG factors.