Last week, Microsoft 401(k) Plan Administrators announced several exciting changes to the Plan in 2008.
First off, four mutual fund investment options currently available to plan participants will be replaced with Separately Managed Accounts (SMAs) on January 16, 2008. These SMAs are designed exclusively for Microsoft's 401(k) plan, managed by the same investment team and closely mirroring the current investment options. The caveat, however, is the new investment options will carry much lower fee structure, thus improving long-term return of the portfolio.
One has to admire our Plan Administrators for doing an excellent job in negotiating down the cost. Especially in the case of ING International Value Fund, annual fee will be reduced from 1.22% to 0.41% in the new SMA that is to be set up. What's the last time you can invest in a fine actively managed foreign equity fund by only paying 0.41% on annual fee? (In comparison, the widely-held index-tracking foreign-equity ETF option iShares MSCI EAFE Index carries an annual fee of 0.35%.)
Secondly, Self-Directed Brokerage Account will be available to plan participants starting April 2008. Such accounts, which will be offered through Fidelity BrokerageLink, will provide participants with the opportunity to select from thousands of mutual funds and other investment options—beyond the core investment options in the Plan.
The introduction of Self-Directed Brokerage Account is a huge improvement in the plan after receiving persistent feedback from a small group of employees for many years. For those employees like me who actively research about portfolio management, we will be able to put our 401(k) money to our favorite investments, and potentially simplify our portfolio by reducing the number of different mutual funds we will hold. I look forward to more details the company has promised to share in the coming March, and decide my course of action.
All in all, kudos to our Plan Administrators who went the extra mile to provide better and more extensive investment options for the Plan participants. Good job indeed!