Retirement Meditation #35: Is cybersecurity important for my retirement plan?

Insights | Retirement Meditation #35: Is cybersecurity important for my retirement plan?
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Author: Paul A. Carl, CHSA, CPFA Vice President, Retirement Plan Consulting, Registered Representative

Imagine checking your 401(k) plan account expecting to see a balance of several hundreds of thousands of dollars only to find out that your balance stands at $0. A quick check of your transaction history shows a total distribution that you never requested has taken place. What would you do? If you’re Paula Disberry, you file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, against your retirement plan committee, the 401(k) plan recordkeeper, and the plan’s custodian (search Case No. 22-CV-5778 for more detail).

When the Employee Retirement Income Security Act was adopted in 1974, any utterance of “cybersecurity” most likely would have sounded like something out of science fiction. Today, it's big business and extremely important. Marketing research firm, BrandEssence, estimates the global cybersecurity industry will reach $403 billion by 2027, as reported on July 22, 2022 by In Spring 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor, EBSA published “Tips for Hiring a Service Provider with Strong Cybersecurity Practices.” 

At the participant level, cybersecurity risks include loss of plan assets and acquisition of personally identifiable information (“PII”). PII is your sensitive data such as your Social Security Number, driver’s license or state identification number, financial account and credit card numbers, and medical information. For the plan sponsor as well as plan service providers, risks encompass regulatory fines and expensive remediation, litigation, costs associated with data recovery and system restores, as well as claims under local and state laws, not to mention reputational risk.

Several best practices for plan participants include:

  • Establish multi-factor authentication
  • Use a strong password and never share that password 
  • Verify the correctness of your PII
  • Monitor your account on a regular basis
  • Be on guard for fake emails and texts that look real 

As for plan sponsors and service providers, who may or may not be acting in some type of fiduciary capacity, establish cybersecurity policy and procedures incorporating the aforementioned DOL Tips. Train staff on cybersecurity, document, and revisit periodically. The DOL has initiated cybersecurity reviews. Plan sponsors have reported receiving a DOL letter specifically addressing their plan’s cybersecurity practices for the previous three years.

Do your plan service providers and fiduciaries have cybersecurity insurance?

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