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Wilmington Trust Executive Daniel Reser Says Recent Corporate Scandals, Economic Environment Will Significantly Transform Fiduciary Role

Friday September 13, 2002 12:09 pm ET

WILMINGTON, Del., Sept. 13 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- 'The fiduciary role is undergoing significant change in light of the current economic environment, recent corporate scandals and federal legislation. Company executives who typically serve as fiduciaries for their own company's retirement plans are coming under increased scrutiny. As a result, the special role of the corporate retirement plan trustee as a fiduciary is becoming more important,' said Daniel M. Reser, Vice President of Corporate Client Services at Wilmington Trust, today in San Diego, California, at the Employee Stock Ownership Program (ESOP) Association's 2002 Western States Chapter Conference.

The ESOP Association has held conferences for twenty-five years and focused this year's conference on corporate responsibility. Its Western States Chapter includes the states of California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah and Colorado. According to the ESOP Association, there are approximately 11,500 ESOPs, with a total value of $500 billion, in the U.S., covering 8.5 million employees or 8of the workforce. A recent survey of the ESOP Association's members by its advocate group, The Employee Ownership Foundation, showed that 71of company members reported having outperformed both the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) and the NASDAQ Composite Index (NASDAQ).

Mr. Reser added: 'Since the main-and oftentimes only-asset held in ESOP plans is company stock, there has always been potential for conflicts of interest when company executives are administering and making decisions on behalf of the plan. Due to recent corporate scandals, the potential for conflict has come under extreme scrutiny by regulators and legislators. We are seeing companies increasingly look to outside trustees to help mitigate the risk for conflicts and provide expertise by serving as a fiduciary for corporate ESOPs.'

An ESOP is an employee benefit plan used in the United States to encourage employee ownership of stock in their company. In fact, according to the ESOP Association, ESOPs are the most common form of employee ownership in the U.S. Employees' shares are actually held in a trust fund under the trustee's name. The trustee usually has fiduciary responsibility for the trust's assets and is charged with maintaining the well-being of the trust. Some companies' employees and officers continue to play the role of trustee themselves; but many others are increasingly hiring professional third-party trustees, such as trust companies or other independent experts, that can provide advice as well as administrative services.

Dan also said trustees may have to become more proactive: 'There's an avid debate now about how proactive trustees should be in protecting participant assets in light of recent corporate accountability legislation. And since ESOPs are limited to company stock, the fiduciary's performance of its duties for these popular corporate benefit plans will be more closely examined than ever before.'

Dan Reser, who helps manage Wilmington Trust's Corporate Retirement Services business from the company's Santa Monica office, has over twenty-five years experience in the corporate trust and employee benefits industries. Dan is also an American Bankers Association Certified Corporate Trust Specialist as well as an associate member of the American Bar Association and the Los Angeles County Bar Association section of Business Law. In addition, he is a member of the Western Pension and Benefits Conference, The ESOP Association and the Association for Corporate Growth. Dan earned a Juris Doctorate degree from Southern Methodist University.