A Spectrem Group study looked at the switching behaviors of plan sponsors and found that nearly a third who changed retirement plans in the past 12 months had been with their previous provider less than three years.

"Any time you take the record keeping and investments of a plan and move it, there's a cost involved in that movement," says Judy Miller, director of retirement policy for the American Society of Pension Professionals & Actuaries (ASPPA), a trade association of professionals who work for providers of retirement plans. "There can be good reasons to do it and nothing inherently wrong with it, but it is disruptive when you change from one set of investments to another."

The 2011 Middle Market Plan Segment Sponsor study evaluated 600 plan sponsors  that had assets of $10 million to $200 million under management.

"Most plan sponsors are looking to upgrade their plans and add more state-of-the-art benefit features," says Spectrem Director of Retirement Research Gerry O'Connor, who authored the report in the interest of plan providers. "For some reason plan sponsors' expectations were not met. You'd expect a longer tenure than three years. Normal turnover is 10% annually."

Highlights of the study include that only 45% of plan sponsors fully understand their retirement plan fees.

"I expected to see a higher level of understanding and confidence in fees. The numbers indicate that disclosure statements are not effective in creating an understanding of fees and that's their purpose, says O'Connor.

Conducted over four weeks in April, the study comes on the heels of The Department of Labor's fee disclosure rules issued in mid-June, which are referred to as 408(b)(2) after a section in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974.

The new rules have been the source of much debate as critics have long charged that fees and expenses charged by plan providers can take a sizable bite out of the funds in the retirement plans, particularly when plan sponsors don't understand those fees.

"The biggest current controversy is on how the DOL will likely add a summary or roadmap requirement," says Jan Jacobson, senior counsel of retirement policy with the American Benefits Council in Washington, D.C.

The new disclosure rules go into effect in April 2012.