Plan Sponsorship: What It Is, How It Works, and Key Benefits


A plan sponsor, often a company or employer, establishes and manages healthcare or retirement plans, such as a 401(k), for the benefit of employees. Their responsibilities include setting membership parameters, investment choices, and sometimes making contribution payments. Plan sponsors should stay updated on plan changes, may hire investment advisors, and can outsource certain duties to plan administrators, trust companies, and investment advisers. They are also responsible for paying retirement income to employees based on plan performance or contributions. Most plan sponsors outsource investment management to third parties to offer diverse investment options.

What is a plan sponsor?

A plan sponsor, often a company or employer, plays a crucial role in providing healthcare or retirement benefits to employees. These benefits may include 401(k) plans, pension plans, or health plans as part of an employee benefits program. Plan sponsors, primarily employers, hold the responsibility for setting up, managing, and ensuring the smooth operation of these plans. Their duties encompass a range of tasks, from determining membership parameters to making financial contributions, often in the form of cash or stock.

How a plan sponsor works

Plan sponsors are entities that establish and maintain employee benefit plans, which can vary in scope and nature. Here’s a closer look at how they function:

Plan setup and management

Plan sponsors take the initiative to create retirement or health plans for the benefit of their employees. They are responsible for defining the plan’s structure, deciding on its benefits package, and ensuring that it complies with relevant regulations and laws. This initial setup is a critical stage in ensuring employees receive the benefits they deserve.

Membership parameters

One of the essential tasks of a plan sponsor is to establish the criteria for plan membership. These criteria typically outline who is eligible to participate in the plan. For retirement plans like 401(k)s, eligibility might be based on factors such as years of service or age.

Investment choices

Plan sponsors often provide investment options within retirement plans. These choices can include various funds, stocks, and bonds, allowing employees to diversify their investments. Plan sponsors may also hire investment advisors to recommend suitable investment options to plan participants.


Contributions to retirement or health plans can come from various sources, including employees, plan sponsors, or a combination of both. The plan sponsor’s role is to determine the contribution structure. This can vary widely, with some plans being fully funded by the employer, while others involve employee contributions. These contributions are vital for building and maintaining the plan’s funds.

Amendments and termination

Plan sponsors have the authority to make changes to the plan, as necessary. They can amend the plan to adapt to evolving needs, regulatory requirements, or market conditions. Additionally, plan sponsors have the power to terminate a plan, which typically occurs when the plan is no longer feasible or when the company undergoes significant changes, such as mergers or acquisitions.

Weigh the risks and benefits

Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks of plan sponsorship:

  • Ensures employees have access to retirement or health benefits.
  • Allows for diversified investment options.
  • Can attract and retain talent through competitive benefit packages.
  • Comes with administrative responsibilities and costs for the plan sponsor.
  • May require compliance with complex regulations and legal requirements.
  • Contributions, especially in retirement plans, can be a financial burden on the sponsor.

Frequently asked questions

What is the role of a plan administrator?

A plan administrator manages the day-to-day affairs and strategic decisions related to a group’s retirement plan. They are responsible for ensuring the plan operates smoothly and efficiently, handling administrative tasks, and making decisions that impact plan participants.

What is the role of a trust company or trustee?

A trust company or trustee provides custodial services and holds the actual investment assets in a trust fund for the employees. Their role is to safeguard and manage the assets within the plan, ensuring they are invested and managed in accordance with the plan’s objectives.

How are contributions typically structured in retirement plans?

Contributions in retirement plans can vary. Some plans are fully funded by the employer, while others involve contributions from employees. In many cases, it’s a combination of both, with employees making contributions from their salaries, and the plan sponsor, often the employer, also contributing to build the plan’s funds.

Key takeaways

  • Plan sponsors, often employers, establish and manage employee benefit plans like retirement and health plans.
  • They determine membership parameters, investment choices, and contribution structures.
  • Plan sponsors have the authority to amend or terminate plans as needed.
  • They may outsource some plan management duties to third parties.
View article sources
  1. Definition: plan sponsor – Legal Information Institute
  2. A Plan Sponsor’s Responsibilitie – Internal Revenue Service
  3. Plan Sponsor’s Responsibilities – Internal Revenue Service
  4. Understanding the Employee Retirement Income – SuperMoney
  5. Plans: Here Are The Differences – SuperMoney