A Quick Guide to Understanding Fiduciary Definitions

fiduciary-duty-imageAs it stands today, the Department of  Labor’s (DOL) Fiduciary Conflicts of Interest Rule is set to take effect on April 10, 2017. As with most new rules or regulations, there are a lot rumors and speculation surrounding how the rule will be applied and who will be impacted. If you are a plan sponsor of a qualified retirement plan, like a 401(k), then now is the time to educate yourself as to who is working with the plan and how his or her role will be impacted by this rule. Here are the definitions of some commonly used terms that are associated with the rule.

Glossary of Terms: DOL Fiduciary Rule

Best Interest Contract Exemption
This provision of the DOL rule requires an advisor to enter into a written agreement with a client before advising him or her and receiving commission-based compensation. The agreement should confirm the advisor will act in the client’s best interest and disclose any conflicts of interest that may exist.

This type of compensation pays a percentage of a product sold on each transaction. Trails are a form of recurring commission that pays a stated percentage annually for a sale made in the past.

Department of Labor (DOL)
The United States DOL oversees services and advice provided to retirement accounts, and it is one of the agencies responsible for enforcing ERISA. The DOL has proposed this revised fiduciary rule with the goal of expanding protection for clients’ retirement assets.

Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA)
ERISA regulates and protects retirement assets by establishing rules that plan fiduciaries must follow.

In fee-based accounts, advisors charge a management fee based on the amount of assets. The opposite form of compensation would be transaction based, such as commissions.

In qualified retirement plans, advisors charge a fee for services provided. The fee may be based on a percentage of plan assets or a flat fee.

ERISA defines “fiduciary” as anyone who exercises discretionary authority or control over a retirement plan’s assets or provides investment advice to a plan. Fiduciaries are held to a higher standard of accountability than are brokers, and they are required by law to act in the best interest of their clients. The DOL rule seeks to expand the definition of fiduciary to anyone providing advice on retirement plans.

A suitability standard requires advisors to reasonably believe their recommendation will meet a client’s needs, given the client’s financial situation and risk tolerance. This standard is not as strict as a fiduciary standard.

If you are feeling a bit overwhelmed or confused by what is involved, you are not alone and we are here to help. Please contact me at jamie@grinkmeyerleonard.com or 205.970.9088 to learn more.

Employee Benefit Plan Audits – Are You Getting a Quality Audit?

bsmsA great article from Jaime Sweeney, Senior Manager, Barfield, Murphy, Shank & Smith, LLC.




The Department of Labor and the Employee Benefits Security Administration recently completed an assessment of the quality of audit work performed by independent public accountants and the overall findings were disappointing.  In May 2015, the DOL released a report titled “Assessing the Quality of Employee Benefit Plan Audits” that found 30% of the audits (nearly 4 out of 10) contained major deficiencies in regards to GAAS requirements.  Those deficiencies could lead to rejection of a Form 5500 filing.

The report makes recommendations, including DOL outreach and enforcement related to audit standards.  As part of this outreach, in November of 2015, the DOL distributed letters and information to plan administrators of “funded” ERISA employee benefit plans providing tips for selecting and working with a qualified CPA firm auditor who has the expertise.  Plan administrators are held responsible as fiduciaries of the plan, and can be held personally liable if they are not making reasonable choices with regard to their plan.

The letter explains that a quality audit can help protect plan assets and make sure that the plan is compliant with applicable law.  The letter specifically emphasizes that plan administrators should be careful when they select and retain an auditor.

While many accounting firms are choosing not to continue offering employee benefit plan audits, we at Barfield, Murphy, Shank & Smith, LLC assure you that we are distinctly qualified for this work and will continue to offer this service.

According to the DOL, you should consider the following factors when selecting a CPA firm:

  • The number of employee benefit plans the CPA audits each year, including the types of plans
    • Having worked extensively with retirement plans for over two decades, BMSS is known for having one of the premier auditing practices in Alabama. BMSS audited in excess of 30 plans in 2015, including defined contribution and defined benefit plans.  Our staff has a great deal of experience understanding the nuances of these audits.
  • The extent of specific annual training the CPA received in auditing plans
    • Employee benefit plan audits have unique audit and reporting requirements and are different from other financial audits. At BMSS, all of our employee benefit plan professionals receive annual Continuing Professional Education specific to Employee Benefit Audits.
    • Barfield, Murphy, Shank & Smith, LLC is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accounts EBPAQC (Employee Benefit Plan Audit Quality Center), a group created to improve quality of benefit plan audits with news alerts, training, webinars, audit quality center and other resources.
  • The status of the CPA’s license with the applicable state board of accountancy
    • Our CPAs are actively licensed by the Alabama State Board of Accountancy.
  • Whether the CPA has been the subject of any prior DOL findings or referrals, or has been referred to a state board of accountancy or the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) for investigation
    • We are proud to say that BMSS has not been subject to any DOL findings or referrals. We have not been referred to a state board nor the AICPA for investigation.
  • Whether or not your CPA’s employee benefit plan audit work has recently been reviewed by another CPA (this is called a “Peer Review”) and, if so, whether such review resulted in negative findings
    • BMSS participates in the AICPA Peer Review Program and has passed every peer review. Our last peer review was dated November 6, 2014

If you have any questions or concerns regarding your employee benefit plan audit or if you would simply like more information about receiving a quality audit, please contact one of the EBP Audit professionals Barfield, Murphy, Shank & Smith LLC at (205) 982-5500.

Written by Jaime Sweeney, Senior Manager, Barfield, Murphy, Shank & Smith, LLC

CPA Value to Their Clients

value.jpgWhile you are in the midst of finishing personal tax returns, filing extensions, viewing recordkeeper’s reports, sorting through transaction ledgers amongst countless other tasks associated with the normal course of your business, it may be tough to fathom stopping to ask yourself “What other value could I be adding to my clients?” So I have done that for you! Here are a few ideas that you can immediately add to your practice that could add additional value to your client relationships.

  1. Nonqualified Deferred Compensation Plan – If you are a CPA who works with high net worth individuals or business owners, simply mentioning the idea of a Nonqualified Deferred Compensation (NQDC) plan may be enough to spark your client’s interest. A NQDC plan is a type of savings plan that a business sets up that allows a select group of individuals to put away sums of money over and above what a traditional retirement plan allows. There are several forms of investments that a NQDC can utilize, including mutual funds and corporate owner life insurance, and you must have a plan document in place. However, as the name states because the plan is nonqualified there are not the same restrictions to contributions or participation and there is no annual compliance testing associated with this type of plan. It should be noted that NQDC plans are suitable only for regular (C) corporations. In S corporations or unincorporated entities (partnerships or proprietorships), business owners generally can’t defer taxes on their shares of business income. However, S corporations and unincorporated businesses can adopt NQDC plans for regular employees who have no ownership in the business. There are many more nuisances to a NQDC which we would be happy to help you explore if you have a client who is interested in learning more.
  2. Safe Harbor Features – If you audit a plan that consistently fails testing resulting in the highly compensated employees receiving refunds, it may be time for that plan to explore the options of adding a Safe Harbor feature to their plan design. A Safe Harbor 401(k) plan generally satisfies annual compliance testing. By satisfying annual compliance testing through either an approved matching formula or non-elective formula, the highly compensated employees are no longer at risk of receiving a refund of their deferral dollars.   The stated Safe Harbor match formula is 100% match on the first 3% of elective deferrals and 50% match of the next 2% deferred and the stated non-elective contribution formula is equal to a contribution of 3% of eligible compensation for all eligible employees regardless of participation. In both cases, the participants must be formally notified of the Safe Harbor provision through a notice and the contributions are immediately 100% vested.

  3.  Automatic Enrollment – Another idea that can help that plan who consistently fails compliance testing would be to suggest adding an automatic enrollment feature. In a our best case scenario of automatic enrollment, all eligible employees would be enrolled at 6% with an auto-increase feature up to 10%; but, even adding automatic enrollment at the more widely accepted 3%, the plan is taking steps to not only increase their chances of passing annual compliance testing, but also to help their employees become better prepared for retirement.

As a CPA working side-by-side on a business owner’s personal return or auditing a corporation’s benefit plans, you are in a unique position to provide guidance on areas slightly outside your scope of services that may have a meaningful impact on the retirement success of your client and further cement your already valuable relationship. The information provided on our 3 value-add ideas was brief and there are of course individual circumstances that could affect the appropriateness of the recommendations; therefore, please reach out to me if I can be of any further assistance in explaining.

Jamie Kertis, AIF®, QKA jamie kertis headshot
Retirement Plan Specialist
Grinkmeyer Leonard Financial
1950 Stonegate Drive / Suite 275 /Birmingham, AL 35242
Office: 205.970.9088 / Toll-Free: 866.695.5162

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Calling All COIs


Poll most business owners, presidents of companies, or C-level executives about who are there most trusted advisors are and chances are you will get the same answers: their spouse, their attorney, and their CPA.

As a CPA, who are your most trusted advisors?  Do you have an attorney or other professional who you can turn to for ideas or advice to help you expand your knowledge base and bring new ideas to your clients?

Argument for an Attorney

When determining which attorney to work with as a center of influence, first take a look at your own practice and where your clients may have a specific need.  If you work with a large number of business owners, there may be a need for an attorney that has a strong working knowledge of buy-sell agreements, estate planning, or liability.  Additionally, if you are a CPA who deals with business clients and their qualified retirement plans, there is a good chance that you will come across a situation that will require an outside opinion, sometimes even a legal opinion, on the operation of the qualified plan.  I would argue that it makes more sense to have already vetted and established an relationship with a legal professional before the situation arises that you need to recommend one.  Attorneys also can provide you with insights and opinions that can help you guide your clients away from trouble to begin with.

Argument for a Financial Advisor

Similarly when deciding which advisor to partner with as a center of influence, first take a look at your practice to determine if it would make more sense to partner with a professional that specializes in personal wealth management or qualified plan management.  If you find that most of your practice is focused on personal returns and individual tax preparation, then it would make more sense for you to team up with an advisor that also focuses on that form of client service.  On the other hand, if your practice is focused on qualified plan audits and business tax preparation, then working with an advisor who also works on qualified plans is the best way to go.  The pool of advisors that focuses on qualified plans, such as 401k plans, is much smaller, but our knowledge base of the challenges that our 401(k) clients face can be very valuable.  For instance, a qualified plan advisor is integral in changing plan service providers.  Although a service provider change may not seemingly have an impact on your ability to conduct an audit, it certainly can when you consider the reports that you need to complete your audit and the vast differences when it comes to the availability of reports on a provider website.  If you have a relationship with that advisor prior to the conversion taking place, you will have a better chance to give your opinion on the new provider that is chosen.

Cultivate the Relationship

In both cases, attorney and advisor, these professionals are more than likely looking to add value to their clients and you as a CPA have an excellent opportunity to do just that.  Perhaps you could consider hosting joint lunch and learns, seminars, or webinars that offer content to clients from your unique perspective as a CPA.  For example, I recently learned there is a significant difference between a limited scope and full scope audit offered to plans with over 100 employees; I would not have gained this useful information had it not been for my relationship with a trusted CPA partner.  Vice versa, I was able to inform this CPA group about the short-comings that we have seen in plan audits and what are clients felt were the most overlooked items in their audits.  In both cases, we were able to add value to our own practices while gaining information that we can pass along to our respective clients.

jamie kertis headshotJamie Kertis, AIF®, QKA
Retirement Plan Specialist
Grinkmeyer Leonard Financial
1950 Stonegate Drive / Suite 275 /Birmingham, AL 35242
Office: 205.970.9088 / Toll-Free: 866.695.5162

Contact Jamie

Follow Jamie on LinkedIn

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October 16th – It’s the most wonderful time of the year…for accountants

Untitled design-2People often forget that for the accounting profession, this time of year can be very chaotic. The September and October 15th deadlines create a couple of months of heightened stress.  Everyone thinks April 15th ends the long days until New Years but accountants and anyone  lives with them knows better.   October 16th marks a big sigh of relief from accountants and CPAs (and their families).

We want to offer a list of things to do after October 15th to unwind and relax.  You deserve it!

  1. Catch on up world events.  Did you know Apple released the IPhone 6s while you were buried in tax forms this fall?
  2. Go to the movies.  The newest Hunger Games sequel should be out soon.    Aren’t you glad you  are an accountant instead of an actuary.   Can you imagine how many times people say to them, “May the odds be ever in your favor.”?
  3. Dine out.  Red Lobster is offering endless shrimp for a limited time only.   Better hurry.
  4. Watch the tube.   Now would be a perfect time to watch those Presidential debates that you DVRed.  If you haven’t grinned in a while, The Donald ought to elicit some stress-relieveing laughs.    The hair alone is worth a good chuckle.
  5. Start your Christmas shopping.   Only 70 days until Christmas.  Wait, scratch that as relaxing – THERE ARE ONLY 70 DAYS UNTIL CHRISTMAS!   Perhaps you should grab a glass of wine (or 2) and start cruising Amazon to get that shopping started.
  6. Spend some time with your spouse/significant other.   In case you are unsure, it is that person that sleeps on the other side of the bed from you.
  7. Visit with friends over coffee.   You probably haven’t heard but Starbucks has their Pumpkin Spice Lattes back on the menu.
  8. Play with your kids.  Remember those cute little humans running around your house that you’ve been “shhhhhing” the last several months; they are in fact fun to play with.  And they’ve missed you.
  9. Take a vacation.  Your next couple of months should be much slower.   Vacation deals are plentiful during hurricane season.   (another benefit of your career that no one told you in college)
  10. Throw a party!  Have fun.  You deserve it.  You have worked hard, now play hard.   Enjoy time with your family and friends.   Savor every moment of the holidays with loved ones because…tax season starts up again in January.

In January, we are offering an exciting leadership education for that will be eligible for continuing education credits in Mobile that coincides with the Reese’s Senior Bowl and Mardi Gras.     Space is limited.   Email us for more information: info@grinkmeyerleonard.com

Jamie Kertis, AIF®, QKAjamie kertis headshot
Retirement Plan Specialist
Grinkmeyer Leonard Financial
1950 Stonegate Drive / Suite 275 /Birmingham, AL 35242
Office: 205.970.9088 / Toll-Free: 866.695.5162

Contact Jamie

Follow Jamie on LinkedIn

Follow Jamie’s Blog