On Thursday, March 10, 2022, the Department of Labor published a Compliance Assistance document for 401(k) fiduciaries. In the document, fiduciaries are asked to take extreme care before choosing crypto as an investment option.
Details of the Document
The DOL decided to create the document after it noticed that numerous firms were marketing crypto investments to 401(k) plans as a potential investment option. In the document, the DOL warned fiduciaries that they have to act in the financial interest of plan participants while adhering to high standards of professional care. It noted that courts had commonly referred to this prudence as the “highest known to the law.” It warned that fiduciaries who breached these duties would be held personally liable for any losses to the plan.
The DOL pointed out that crypto investments posed serious risks and challenges to the retirement accounts of 401(k) plan participants. It pointed out risks such as fraud, loss, and theft. It also outlined several reasons why it believed this was the case.
For instance, it pointed out that the SEC had cautioned that crypto investments were highly speculative. It also noted that the SEC had said crypto investments were highly volatile. In its document, the DOL noted that it was difficult for planned participants to make informed decisions. The reason for this is that the crypto sector was relatively new, which made it difficult even for seasoned investors in traditional assets to make informed decisions.
Other issues pointed out by the DOL when it came to crypto investments include custody and valuation challenges. When it comes to custody, the DOL pointed out that crypto assets were vulnerable to attacks by hackers, since they are stored as code. It also pointed out that many experts had expressed doubt over how crypto coins were valued.
Finally, the DOL pointed to the evolving regulatory framework when it came to crypto. According to the DOL, fiduciaries need to make a careful analysis of the regulatory environment before investing in crypto.
Other Digital Assets
While cryptocurrencies are specifically mentioned in the document, the DOL noted that the same reasoning and principles need to be applied to other digital assets, including tokens, coins, and crypto-assets.
One interesting aspect of the DOL document is that its release comes just a day after the Biden administration released a crypto executive order, which experts had predicted would be delayed. The release of the crypto executive order has thus far had a positive impact on the crypto market. Within a few hours of its release on Wednesday, the crypto market had risen 10%. However, it is not clear whether those gains will last. In general, it shows that federal departments at the highest level are taking a keen interest in the crypto sector.
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