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June 17, 2021


Vaccine Saves Money

When talking about the cost of vaccine, the cost of not being vaccinated must also be remembered, said Dr. Vivien Brown, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, and vice-president of the North America, Medical Women’s International Association. In the ‘Vaccination in the workplace, everything you need to know!’ session at the Canadian Pension & Benefits Institute’s ‘Forum 2021’ with Brad Proctor, office lead and partner, McInnes Cooper LLP, she said the government actually saves $45 for every dollar spent on vaccines because it keeps people out of hospital. “The most expensive thing a doctor can do is to tell somebody to go to emergency,” as admission to a hospital is huge dollars for the government. “So when we look at immunization, we actually save money when we immunize the general public,” she said. The factors considered when looking at individual immunization decisions include occupational risks and consequences of disease. “For example with influenza, when one person in the office gets sick it very quickly spreads to everybody else. The question is about lost productivity preventing disease and its complications, and the protection of others including patients, co-workers, and family. Proctor said employers considering vaccination policies need to look at a non-disciplinary approach which has to be balanced. Options and alternatives for those who refuse to vaccinate must be considered. While only a handful of employees will refuse to vaccinate, their reasons for doing so may be legitimate. “Some will simply have a preference for why they don’t wish to vaccinate. Some might have a legitimate medical condition or legitimate cultural or religious condition and all of those things you need to take into consideration,” he said. In his experience, policies that aren’t balanced, that are going to autocratic and simply mandate rules, are often subject to challenge and subject to failure.

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Workplace Must Act On Burnout

Burnout has been around as a word for many years, but just recently the World Health Organization (WHO) defined it, says Roee Ben-Eli, mental health program manager, virtual care ‒ TELUS Health, and included it as a diagnosis. He told the Benefits and Pensions Monitor Meetings & Events ‘Keeping The Light On: Addressing The New Meaning of Burnout’ webinar sponsored by Telus Health, looking at the definition, “one of the things that stands out to me is the fact that they attributed it purely to the workplace. You don’t have to be in a workplace to be burnt out. You can get burnt out just doing your day to day responsibilities at home.” The burnout phenomenon occurs when there’s too many things happening and there’s a lack of balance. So he disagreed with the workplace focus, however, “definitely the workplace is an important piece” and workplaces can no longer afford to ignore it. “Good workplaces need to act because when employees suffer, the organization suffers as well,” said Ben-Eli. Mary-Lou MacDonald, national practice lead, health and performance, at HUB International Ltd, said the term burnout itself is “often thrown around casually,” but it is “not a casual thing and it’s not benign, it’s not temporary, it’s not a one and done.” For the individual burning out, its effects can extend beyond the family and relationships in their life. “It affects my career and the colleagues that I work with,” she said. “For the organization, it decimates productivity, engagement, retention and attraction, and even the reputation of the organization.”

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PSP Assets Up $34 Billion

The Public Sector Pension Investment Board (PSP Investments) ended its fiscal year on March 31, 2021, with $204.5 billion of net assets under management (AuM) and an 18.4 per cent one-year net portfolio return. Net assets under management grew by nearly $34.7 billion, up 20.4 per cent from $169.8 billion at the end of the previous fiscal year with $31.6 billion coming from net income that was impacted by negative currency movement of $13.4 billion, while $3 billion came from net contributions received by PSP Investments. Neil Cunningham, its president and chief executive officer, says, “One of the long-term trends that has accelerated during the pandemic is the investor focus on ESG (environmental, social, and governance), including climate change. ESG risks and opportunities have long been integrated into our decision-making process for every active investment.”

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Vestcor Assets Reach All-Time High

Assets under Vestcor Inc’s management reached another new all-time high of $19.4 billion in 2020, an increase of approximately $900 million over the previous year. Its ‘2020 Annual Report’ says this includes a gross overall return from its investment management activities of 6.96 per cent, or $1.267 billion. Nominal and relative investment performance continues to exceed the long-term targets of its many shared risk/target benefit pension plan clients, with a four-year annualized overall pension client return of 7.13 per cent. These results were achieved while maintaining significantly less risk than a traditional DB pension plan, it says. This risk-managed approach was especially important during the early part of 2020, where pandemic-fueled volatility saw global equity markets at one point experiencing a decline of approximately 30 per cent. Vestcor provides global investment management services to nine different public sector client groups representing 11 public sector pension plans and four employee benefit plans.

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Common Wealth Offers Portable Platform

Common Wealth has launched a technology-enabled retirement savings and planning platform designed to give Canadian employers access to an easy-to-use, portable, and cost-effective way to help their employees save for their future. The  platform incorporates evidence-based research and tools that it says can generate up to three times the retirement income for every dollar of savings compared to typical RRSP (registered retirement savings plan) products. The platform also answers questions about retirement planning, including how much is needed in retirement income, how much to save to reach that goal, and how much to expect from government benefits. Its features include personalized retirement planning and saving to help members set a target retirement income, automate savings, and track their progress towards this goal; simplified investments with in-app suggestions help members select the right fund for their retirement goals; and a deferred annuity offering which allows members to purchase guaranteed income in small monthly amounts. Members can take their plan with them from job to job and into retirement.

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Sterling Offers Onlia Experience

Onlia, a digital provider of home and auto insurance, has expanded its online experience to Ontarians through a new group insurance offering. Sterling Capital Brokers signed on to offer it to both its customers and employees. Onlia has created the opportunity for employers to add auto and home insurance to their group benefits packages with a focus on preventing life-changing incidents. This means employers can extend benefits beyond standard physical health and mental wellness offerings.

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Ontario Teachers’ Invests In Plant-Based Food

Motif FoodWorks, the food technology company on a mission to make plant-based food better tasting and more nutritious, has received funding jointly led by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board, through its Teachers’ Innovation Platform (TIP), and funds and accounts managed by BlackRock. TIP focuses on late-stage venture and growth equity investments in companies developing innovative technologies. This funding will help Motif accelerate its advancement of the plant-based category. The company plans to increase research and development capabilities; scale and commercialize its food technologies; and expand its people and facilities footprint. Continued growth in these areas is crucial to its work to solve key sensory and nutritional challenges with existing plant-based foods, including meat and dairy alternatives.

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Sabatino Joins WELL Health

Shane Sabatino is chief people officer at WELL Health Technologies Corp. Previously, he was president of TELUS Employer Solutions and vice-president of TELUS Health Public Sector Canada . Before that, he was senior vice-president of human resources at the Brick where he served over 7,000 team members from over 250 storefronts.

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Fraud Prevention Examined

The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans’ ‘Fraud Prevention Institute for Employee Benefit Plans’ will take place in Nashville, TN. It will look at best practices for preventing and detecting fraud in benefit plans and how to keep plan assets protected, deter data breaches, and implement strong internal controls and risk prevention measures. It takes place July 19 to 20. Information is at https://www.ifebp.org/education/schedule/Pages/fraud-prevention-institute-for-employee-benefit-plans-21a8.aspx?utm_campaign=EDPG_60921_Fraud_USCommittee&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Eloqua

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June 16, 2021


Analytics Allow Leveraging Of Technology

With the advent of all of the analytics recently given to healthcare providers, there is “the opportunity to leverage technology to predict and to be able to engage with all of the different touch points to really ensure the right access to information and get members the right care at the right time and, in particular, the right way,” says Donna Carbell, head of group benefits at Manulife. She told the ‘Health by Design – How Science and Technology Support Health and Wellness’ session at the Canadian Pension & Benefits Institute’s ‘Forum 2021’ that, however, “you want to automate the right claims ‒ those pretty routine dental or those drug visits” as not everything needs to be automated. The exciting part about data technology is knowing when to automate and when to engage. “We don’t always get it right, but I think there’s at least an opportunity,” she said. The other thing that needs to be remembered through all of this “is the science and the innovation that’s happening around us in healthcare is so exciting,” she said. Pharmaceutical companies, for example, are making advancements with treatment programs on rare disease. “I know we get very scared about the cost of that, but really the value that those drugs are providing to a member to get them back to health is incredibly important,” said Carbell. “So, we want to continue to look for opportunities there.” As well, advancements in diagnostics like predictive analytics or pharmacogenetics, for example, are “so exciting that we can diagnose and help get access to the right treatment and connect people.”

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ACPM Backs End To Solvency Funding

The Association of Canadian Pension Management (ACPM) recommends Saskatchewan moves to partial solvency funding or no solvency funding, with enhanced going concern funding, for defined benefit pension plans in the private sector. Saskatchewan’s ‘Consultation Paper: The Pension Benefits Act, 1992 A Review of the Pension Funding Framework For Single Employer Defined Benefit Plans In the Private Sector’ sets out two general options to consider ‒ changing the way in which solvency deficiencies are funded and, the ACPM’s preferred approach, partial solvency funding or no solvency funding, with enhanced going concern funding. It prefers this because it does not believe the changes under first approach significantly remove the issue of high funding costs in low interest rate environments. That approach starts with the existing solvency rules and attempts to address the cost, volatility, and asymmetric risk issues to the plan sponsor with options that will reduce or eliminate contributions that would otherwise be required. With all these modifications, one must, therefore, question the very rationale behind the solvency liability as a measure of the pension benefit to be funded in the first place, says the ACPM. It is preferable to start with the ongoing measure of the pension obligation and then strengthening those funding rules to improve benefit security which the second approach does. It says similar approaches to the going concern funding rules were recently introduced in Québec and Ontario to reduce the volatility and magnitude of DB plan funding requirements, although in some cases, the total funding obligations may be higher than under the current funding model.

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Everyone Deals With Pandemic Fatigue

Everyone is dealing with some level of pandemic fatigue, says Mary Ann Baynton, director of collaboration for Workplace Strategies. However, this pandemic is a life altering stressor, she said speaking at the ‘Mental Health Men’s Breakfast for Mental Health, sponsored by Hansell Consulting Group. When something happens like a pandemic, the first response is disbelief that “this is even happening.” That’s followed by denial which becomes frustration with resulting anger and irritability. But the stage that is most important to be aware of and to strive for is experimentation. “That’s where we say, okay, it is what it is. Let me try something different,” she said. It is through this experimentation that people learn to adjust to stressors in their lives. Failing to so can result in burnout. Many people who burn-out have poor personal boundaries, “meaning they don’t know how to say no. They just keep taking on more and more,” she said, and they don’t take time for themselves to refresh or to regenerate. There are a number of signs of burnout including a lack of motivation about work, feelings of numbness, and finding having people around is draining. Those either approaching or in burnout really need to seek medical advice to find out if it’s true. “Now the thing is, there’s not a pill for burnout. The only treatment is to take the time to recover,” said Baynton.

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Green Bonds Provide Better Buffer

Green bonds provided a better buffer for portfolios during the COVID-induced downturn than gold, says research from Air University in Pakistan, the University of Otago in New Zealand, and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in the U.S. While gold has been considered the go-to asset to protect portfolios against market volatility, the research they found that adding green bonds to portfolios pared back volatility by 72.5 per cent. Focusing on the pandemic period, green bonds helped dampen volatility by 80.7 per cent, compared to the 83.4 per cent and 45.8 per cent volatility reduction conferred by, for example, Islamic stocks and gold, respectively. It concludes green bonds were the only asset that served as a safe haven against large market fluctuations during the COVID period. As well, portfolios with green bonds exhibited the highest risk-adjusted returns during the pandemic.

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Design Helps DC Members Stay Course

World-class plan design, including automatic enrolment, annual automatic deferral increases, and target date funds, helped defined contribution participants stay the course during the COVID-19 pandemic, says Vanguard’s ‘How America Saves.’ Now in its 20th year, it says adoption of DC plan features such as automatic enrolment, automatic escalation, and target date funds helped more participants save for retirement and keep their focus on the long term, even in the wake of last year’s unprecedented market uncertainty. Specifically, participants’ increasing use of target-date funds ‒ which offer a risk-adjusted, all-in-one portfolio solution ‒ led to a 75 per cent decrease in extreme equity allocations among participants over the last 15 years. Target date funds also tamped down frequent trading as 96 per cent of participants holding a single target date fund did not make a trade last year.

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GSC Launches All-Benefit Offering

Green Shield Canada (GSC) will build on its health and dental foundation and pave the way to support even more employers from coast to coast when it launches GSC360, an all-benefits offering for employers with 50 to 999 employees. GSC360 pairs highly specialized health and dental benefits with top-tier life and disability benefits. It provides a comprehensive benefits solution built by specialists in their fields, with all the streamlined support that small and medium-sized employers need to tackle today’s ever-evolving health landscape. Simplicity is a top priority so it features one account team, one proposal, one benefits booklet, one implementation, one bill, and one renewal. Similarly, it represents a path to fewer calls and eMails for employers, with user-friendly online tools, access to call centre experts, and seamless support across all benefits. While prioritizing competitive pricing, it still provides employers with creative options, including progressive product development with access to emerging benefits such as gender affirmation and pharmacogenetics offerings, and digital health solutions, including mental health therapy and online doctor visits.

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Jets Now Play At Canada Life

Canada Life and True North Sports + Entertainment have entered into a strategic relationship that will see the home of the Winnipeg Jets and Manitoba Moose renamed to Canada Life Centre, effective July 1. The arena typically hosts more than 140 events each year and is consistently recognized as one of the premier sports and entertainment venues in North America. The 10-year sponsorship agreement includes substantial branding, media, hospitality, and community assets for Canada Life. While the name change is effective July 1, it will take a number of weeks to replace the signage currently in place throughout the facility. New signage should be in place by September.

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ALAViDA Becomes Preferred Partner

ALAViDA is now a preferred partner with the Benefits Alliance Group. ALAViDA is a stigma-free and evidence-based comprehensive solution for all substances and challenges. It uses an interconnected model of virtual care that links physicians, therapists, and a virtual companion to meet the individual and their needs and goals. The partnership allows the Benefits Alliance Group to offer accessible, low-barrier care for clients at a fraction of the cost of traditional approaches.

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Lewis Has New Role

Marc-André Lewis is executive vice-president and head of investment management at CI Global Asset Management. His background spans public and private markets, all asset classes, asset allocation, portfolio construction, risk management, and fundamental and quantitative strategies.

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Loneliness Awareness Raised

‘Loneliness and Isolation Fatigue – Self Care Strategies’ will be discussed June 22 at a Benefits and Pensions Monitor Meetings & Events webinar. Dr. Sandra Primiano, vice-president, EFAP and counselling services, at Homewood Health, will increase awareness and understanding of the psychological impacts of isolation and loneliness while highlighting factors that can promote and preserve health and well-being during the pandemic and beyond. Information is at https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/7846666245961240332

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June 15, 2021


2020 Amplified Interest Rate Environment

While the interest rate environment is quite unlike anything seen in a very long time, 2020 really amplified this dynamic with rates reaching new lows across the yield curve, says Kendra Kaake, director of investment strategy at SEI. In the Benefits and Pensions Monitor Meetings & Events ‘Building Alignment Across Organizational Strategy, Investments, Regulatory Requirements and Operational Considerations’ webinar with Alistair Almeida, segment lead, asset owners, at CIBC Mellon, she said to keep in mind 2020 wasn’t the first time the catchphrase lower for longer has been heard. “Throughout the past two to three decades, we’ve trended toward lower rates, which has been particularly painful for everyone in the pension management business,” she said. Importantly, there’s an asymmetric risk for defined benefit pension plans when they experience these falling rates because many DB plan sponsors effectively have a short position in long duration fixed income, to the extent that their liabilities move like a portfolio of long duration bonds. The risk is a widening of that funding gap when interest rates fall. “Put another way, one of the biggest risks to many DB plan sponsors is that they tend to be very exposed to unexpected drops in the yield curve, particularly at the long end,” she said. Almeida said a CIBC Mellon survey of pension plans shows 80 per cent of pension plans decide what they want to do ‒ whether that’s an asset allocation move or insourcing versus outsourcing ‒ on a long term basis. However, the pandemic crisis prompted 64 per cent of pension plans to be concerned around liquidity ‒ their ability to get out of positions at a time of markets going downwards ‒ and also just in terms of defending the portfolio. COVID has really prompted pension plans to look at the structure of their plans and figure out how they’re going to manage that going forward,” he said. And while there’s definitely a significant demand for alternatives with 90 per cent of the pension plans wanting to increase their allocation to private equity, there has also been a shift in the focus with real estate. Many have changed their class of real estate, going from owning shopping malls to going towards the logistics. There has also been talk about a shift is away from infrastructure. “We do think this was sort of a knee jerk reaction to the crisis and concerns around liquidity,” said Almeida, as the reality is most plans actually want to maintain, if not increase, the level of infrastructure.

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COVID Saw Declines In Claims

From the end of March into April and May, and then coming out of 2020, there was a huge decline in some portions of the medical claims, says Sandra Ventin, associate vice-president, benefits and health, at Gallagher Canada. In the ‘What We’ve Learned, COVID-19 and its Impact on Claims’ session at the Canadian Pension & Benefits Institute’s ‘Forum 2021,’ she said this was not seen in prescription drugs, but in areas like vision care, dental, and paramedical procedures due to the temporary closures of their offices. However, these trends are reversing themselves and the 2020 claim pattern is not presenting itself in the first five months of data for 2021. One thing they have found is, unfortunately, “as we’re going through this pandemic, people were becoming very sick,” she said, because they were not being treated in “that preventative health space.” So there has been increases in prescription drug claims. Emerging out of COVID, paramedical claiming has increased due, in part, to pent up demand and with providers reminding plan members to use up claims dollars by the end of the year if they could, for example, get a massage with a mask on in ventilated facilities Vision care was temporarily down, but this is for often a 24-month rolling benefit so it’s “really just a matter of a catch up period of when you can go and see your optometrist, get your prescription renewed, and then go and get some prescription eyewear or contact lenses reordered,” she said. Interestingly, hospital claims were down because non-essential hospital visits have been shut down because beds in hospitals were taken over by intensive care to treat COVID patients. However, someone who was six months away from non-life threatening surgeries like hip or knee replacement could end up waiting for close to three years.

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Flexibility Expected On Where Canadians Work

A majority (60 per cent) of Canadian workers expect more changes, in addition to greater support from managers, and flexibility with respect to where and when they work as the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is navigated, says a survey by Randstad Canada. At the same time, organizations are failing to place the same emphasis on culture, values, and training which may make it difficult to attract and retain top talent in the years ahead. With remote work and flexible hours becoming a reality overnight, respondents say the top three criteria of a successful remote work environment are flexible work hours, followed closely by managers who trust and listen and proper equipment. Two in 10 say their organization will implement flexible hours. Regionally, 26 per cent of workers in both Ontario and British Columbia expect a move toward flex time, while those in Quebec (14 per cent) and Alberta (12 per cent) consider it less likely. However, Dominic Lévesque, group president at Randstad Canada, says many businesses aren’t ready for the post-COVID workplace because they’ve overlooked the importance of culture and values over the past year. “There’s a real disconnect between the way companies are using technology to stay connected, but failing to connect on culture and values – the survey validates what we’ve heard anecdotally from Canadian workers since the pandemic’s onset.” A majority (61 per cent) agree the transition to remote work has significantly changed their company’s culture and almost half (47 per cent) report it has become harder to connect with their organization’s corporate values.

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Inflation Debate Defines Markets

Inflation debate volatility will define stock markets in the second half of 2021 and investors need to be “super-selective” and ensure “proper diversification” to take advantage of the turbulence, says Nigel Green, deVere Group CEO and founder. The U.S. CPI is predicted to rise to a 13-year high of 4.7 per cent from a year earlier, up from 4.2 per cent in April ‒ which was already the fastest jump since 2008. Green says, “A larger-than-expected rise in U.S. core inflation and a retreat in commodities and equities may result in a sharp increase in volatility across most asset classes.” This will stir fears that central banks will be forced to row back from policies that have kept interest rates low, driven liquidity, and provided fuel for the stock market gains. However, if inflation is lower than expected, the rising prices will more likely be seen as transient and that they will fade after pent-up consumer spending drops back and the supply bottlenecks ease. “Either way, today’s inflation figures won’t end the debate amongst investors – in fact, it will get hotter – as it remains too early to say either way about whether inflation is transient or persistent,” he says.

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Initiatives Support Remote Workers

To support remote workers across age groups, many Canadian organizations have introduced new initiatives throughout the pandemic, says an ADP Canada ‘Workplace Insight Survey.’ Modified schedules appear to be one of the most commonly introduced support methods across generations. When it came to fulfilling personal responsibilities during work hours, Baby Boomer remote workers were the most likely (75 per cent) to say their employers let them work a modified schedule whenever they need to take care of personal matters, followed closely by 72 per cent of Gen X and Millennial remote workers. Mental health and wellness support was also commonly noted among Millennials and Gen X remote workers, with nearly half (48 per cent) of both generations saying their employers have introduced initiatives in this area during COVID-19. Gen Z remote workers, however, did not share this sentiment, with 65 per cent reporting their workplace did not introduce such initiatives during the pandemic or they were not aware of them if they did.

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WISE Launches Website

WISE Trust, the administrator of the WSIB Employees’ Pension Plan, has launched a new website for their members, wisetrust.ca. The website educates members on the advantages of defined benefit pension plans, what members need to know whether they are new or retired, and features WISE Trust’s corporate culture on their careers page.

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GroupHEALTH Acquires CBIG

The GroupHEALTH family of companies is acquiring Canadian Benefits Investment & Insurance Group Inc. (CBIG), a provider of group benefits and wealth management services based in Prince George, BC. This transaction includes entities operating within CBIG, including group benefits providers GroupHEALTH Northern Partners Inc. and Talon Benefits, and wealth management provider Lakelse Financial. Following the closing of the transaction, GroupHEALTH will own 75 per cent of CBIG.

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Coulson Joins SFAC

BCI’s Jennifer Coulson, vice-president of ESG (environment, social, and governance) in public markets, is an inaugural member of the federal government’s ‘Sustainable Finance Action Council (SFAC).’ The committee brings together 24 key representatives of the financial community to provide input on the foundational market infrastructure needed for a stable and reliable sustainable finance market in Canada. It was launched in May 2021, with a commitment of $7.3 million in funding over three years. The creation of the council was one of the recommendations included in the ‘2019 Final Report of the Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance.’ The principal mandate of SFAC is to make recommendations on the critical market infrastructure needed to attract and scale sustainable finance in Canada. This includes strengthened assessment and disclosure of climate risks and opportunities, better access to climate data and analytics, and common standards for sustainable and low carbon investments. Coulson has nearly 20-years of experience in the field of responsible investing. As a senior member of BCI’s public markets team, she oversees ESG risk analysis for portfolio companies; engages with companies to manage ESG risk; develops public policy submissions on ESG matters of broad relevance to the investment industry; and oversees BCI’s proxy voting program.

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Panel Discusses DEI

With promotion of diversity, equity and inclusion a growing workplace imperative for employers, the ‘2021 CPBI Atlantic Virtual Conference’ will feature a panel discussion on the implications for pension and benefit plans. Mercer’s Tara Anstey will provide an advisor perspective; Twila Reid, of Stewart McKelvey, will give the legal perspective; and Marie-Chantal Coté, of Sun Life, will offer the provider perspective. Other sessions will feature Frances Donald, of Manulife Financial, who will provide an economic outlook, and Timothy Caulfield, Canada research chair in health law and policy; a professor in the Faculty of Law and the School of Public Health, and research director of the Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta, who will look at fighting misinformation in the age of COVID-19. Theme of the event is ‘The Path Ahead: Rock On.’ It takes place October 7. Information is at https://www.cpbi-icra.ca/Events/Details/Atlantic/2021/10-07-2021-CPBI-Atlantic-Virtual-Conference

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June 14, 2021


Nova Scotia Unlocks Accounts

The Nova Scotia government will allow unlocking of locked-in retirement accounts (LIRA) or life income funds (LIF) in circumstances of financial hardship as of July 1, says a Stewart McKelvey ‘Think Forward.’ Individuals will apply directly to their financial institution for approval to withdraw money making Nova Scotia the second province in Atlantic Canada, following Newfoundland and Labrador, to streamline the financial hardship unlocking program through financial institutions. Previously, the responsibility of administering financial hardship unlocking applications was borne by the Nova Scotia superintendent of pensions. However, amendments to ‘Bill 87, Pension Benefits Act, effectively shifts to financial institutions. The process has also been simplified. Several documentation requirements, such as the requirement to provide recent income receipts, have been loosened by providing the financial institution the authority to request any additional documentation it considers “necessary to assist in understanding the documents or verifying their authenticity.” The amended regulations will allow the withdrawal of the remaining amount, if unlocking leaves the LIF or LIRA balance under $500. Finally, unlocking applications will only be permitted once per “calendar year,” rather than a “12-month period.” For applications where a physician must provide medical advice, the amended regulations allow the physician to be licensed in any Canadian jurisdiction where the applicant resides. Notably, this change also applies to shortened life expectancy unlocking applications, including those made under pension plans. Financial hardship unlocking still does not apply to money held within a pension fund. Nevertheless, plan sponsors and administrators may still expect inquiries from their members about accessing their pension, thus presenting an opportunity to educate members on locking-in and withdrawals from retirement savings arrangements.

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Pensioners Need Bankruptcy Protection

Canada’s bankruptcy laws should be changed to avoid future financial hardship for members of underfunded pension plans, says a court-appointed representative for Sears Canada retirees. Kenneth Eady, a former Sears Canada management employee who now represents the pensioners, told MPs that he doesn’t believe it’s fair that Canada’s two bankruptcy laws give banks more protection than pensioners. Parliament should pass a Bloc Quebecois bill to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act, Eady told a Commons committee that’s reviewing the proposed legislation. He said that Sears Canada retirees would have been helped if the proposed amendments to the two laws were in place when Sears Canada filed its initial request for court protection in June 2017. However, retirees probably wouldn’t have been helped much if they were ranked ahead of other creditors and still behind banks, which have “super priority” status. In the Sears Canada bankruptcy process, which hasn’t yet been completed, there wasn’t enough money to fund pension shortfalls after debts to banks and active employees were repaid ahead of other classes of creditors. However, representatives from the Canadian Bankers Association and the Insolvency Institute of Canada warned the same committee last week that the bill’s proposed changes would create worse problems than they solve.

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IMCO Signs Climate Statement

IMCO has joined 457 investors who have signed a statement co-ordinated by the seven founding partners of the Investor Agenda urging all governments to step up their collective response to the climate crisis. It says institutional investors and government leaders worldwide have the power to raise ambition and accelerate action to tackle the climate crisis. To achieve this common goal, all must work together to reduce global net carbon dioxide emissions by 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030, with a dramatic reduction of all greenhouse gas emissions essential for reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 or sooner. Key to this is ensuring government leaders support sustainable COVID-19 economic recovery efforts consistent with net-zero emissions. It says while recognizing the differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities of countries, it believes that those who set ambitious targets in line with achieving net-zero emissions and implement consistent national climate policies in the short-to-medium term, will become increasingly attractive investment destinations. Countries that fail to do so will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.

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Benchmarking Data Now Available

CloudAdvisors is providing access to benefits plan benchmarking data from over 10,000 employers. Its ‘Canada’s Employee Benefits Marketplace’ offers artificial intelligence (AI) automated recommendations and a solution marketplace which matches employers with benefits they can purchase. Providers such as insurance carriers, third-party administrators, and health and wellness vendors can list their products and services in the marketplace. It can also provide a digital distribution channel for provider’s solutions with instant quotes for advisors and employers. Employers who are not currently with a licensed advisor partner can join the platform for free to evaluate their benefits, identify gaps, match with relevant solutions, and generate quotes.

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PSP Makes Commitment To Valo

The Public Sector Pension Investment Board (PSP) is among a group of institutional investors who have made a commitment to Valo Health, LLC. It is building a fully integrated end-to-end human-centric AI-driven drug discovery platform that aims to improve the success rates for the discovery, development, and approval of new drugs. The proceeds are expected to be used to accelerate the development of its proprietary technology platform and further scale its therapeutic and data strategy programs. It believes AI and high throughput automation, melded with traditional drug development expertise, have the potential to transform the drug discovery and development industry. Valo is a technology company built to transform the drug discovery and development process using human-centric data and artificial intelligence (AI) computation.

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Brookfield Makes Hostile Bid

Brookfield Infrastructure Partners LP has raised its hostile takeover offer for Inter Pipeline Ltd. to better a deal the company made to be acquired by Pembina Pipeline Corp. Brookfield’s offer is valued at $19.75 per Inter Pipeline share including 74 per cent in cash and 26 per cent in shares. Inter Pipeline’s all-stock deal with Pembina would see shareholders receive half a Pembina share for each Inter Pipeline share they hold.

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Andrews Joins Union

Rob Andrews is president at Union Benefits. Most recently, he was a management consultant at Realized Change.

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Benefits Landscape Examined

The changing benefits landscape will be examined at Oak House Benefits’ ‘EvOak.’ Featured speakers include Sam Mikail, director of mental health solutions at Sun Life; Barbara Martinez, national practice leader, drug solutions, at Canada Life; and Elliot Stone, co-founder and CEO at ALAViDA. The half-day conference will explore topics such as diversity, equity, and inclusion; mental health; disability; and emerging drug trends. It takes place July 8. Information is at https://registration.socio.events/e/evoak2021

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June 11, 2021


Context For Vaccination Policy Needed

One of the challenges with COVID-19 vaccinations in the workplace policies is there is no ‘one size fits all,’ says Brad Proctor, office lead partner at McInnes Cooper, and this is particularly true of a COVID-19 vaccination policy given its invasive nature. Before drafting a policy, its context needs to analyzed. This includes looking at any applicable laws, keeping in mind that no federal or provincial public health regulator has mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for the general public. This means there may be restrictions or limitations based on what an employer may be able to implement with respect to vaccination. As well, factors specific to a particular industry/workplace need to be considered including the nature of the workplace, such as whether it’s an office environment versus an industrial, manufacturing, construction, or similar type of setting; whether it’s a non-unionized workplace or a unionized workplace; and whether employees must interact with third parties, for example in a retail setting. Competing legal obligations must also be considered. COVID-19 is a unique situation so taking a page out of Canadian decisions on drug and alcohol testing must be balanced in terms of occupational health and safety law duty to ensure a safe workplace; human rights law duty to accommodate; and privacy law obligations to protect employee privacy. Any policy on vaccinations should be clear about whether it is ‘mandatory’ or ‘voluntary,’ state why it’s essential to your specific workplace that employees have the COVID-19 vaccination, and confirm the COVID-19 vaccination policy is temporary. Employers should also avoid taking a disciplinary approach – warnings, suspensions, employment termination – to employees who refuse to vaccinate. Instead, ensure the policy provides employees who refuse to be vaccinated with options and alternatives that work in your specific workplace, perhaps even depending on the role of the specific employee. These include, for example, allowing them to vaccinate or mask, to be tested regularly, take vacation time, or take an unpaid leave of absence until it’s safe for unvaccinated people to return to your premises.

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Behaviour Causes Prescription Non-Adherence

There are three main causes for non-adherence in prescription use, says Dr. Dorian Lo, president of Express Scripts Canada. Speaking at the Benefits and Pensions Monitor Meetings & Events webinar ‘Benefit Trends & Insights’ with Barbara A. Martinez, national practice leader, drug solutions, at Canada Life, he said their data shows while 57 per cent of people take their medications as prescribed, 43 per cent do not. Many believe the primary reason for non-adherence is cost. However, it’s not. Only about 15 per cent of people, because of cost, try to stretch their medications out by, for example, taking it every other day. The leading cause of non-adherence, he said, is behavioural issues. “It’s just as simple as forgetting,” he said. The other cause is clinical issues, not understanding the rationale for taking the medication or wanting to avoid any side effects. In some cases, they stop just because they feel better even though the prescription should continue. From a client sponsor or insurer standpoint, if patients don’t take their medications as prescribed, it results in poor outcomes “unfortunately you’re wasting your valuable benefit dollars.” Martinez said COVID was the big market dynamic that impacted drug plans in the past year. There was a wave effect when the pandemic was declared in March 2020 as people went out and filled their prescriptions to make sure that they had adequate supply on hand. This prompted concerns about drug shortages so pharmacies very quickly limited the maximum supply to 30 days, However, claims plummeted as everybody had filled their prescriptions. By about mid-June, pharmacies across the country lifted those restrictions which prompted another big surge as people filled those 90 days supplies creating a wave effect. Still, by the end of the year there were fewer claims than in the beginning of the year because fewer people were getting root canals and minor surgeries. They weren’t playing sports and suffering injuries that required short-term pain medications. People weren’t getting infections as much so far fewer antibiotics were used. Still, “we did see a drop in claimants and an increase in claims cost,” she said. At the beginning of 2020, this was just under $70. By the beginning of 2021, the claim cost was close to $75. “So, we’ve seen inflation on the cost of a drug claim,” said Martinez.

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PEI Clarifies Designation

Prince Edward Island has clarified and simplified its Designation of Beneficiaries Under Benefit Plans Act, says an Aon ‘Radar.’ The revision authorizes a participant to designate a person to receive a benefit payable under the participant’s plan on the participant’s death by an instrument signed by the participant or by another on the participant’s behalf, at the participant’s direction and in the participant’s presence (including electronically), and by will. It has also clarified that the designation under clause 2(1)(a) of the act is not a will and that the rules under the Electronic Commerce Act apply to that designation. Finally, it adds new subsections to clarify when a beneficiary may enforce payment of the benefit and the effect of that payment on the obligations of the person administering the plan.

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2020 Pivotal For Agriculture

2020 was pivotal for the agriculture investment platform at Hancock Natural Resource Group, a company of Manulife Investment Management, as its diversified 70,000-acre directly operated U.S. agriculture portfolio became the first farmland to be third-party certified under the new standard established by Leading Harvest, an outcome-based sustainability standard designed to optimize sustainable farmland management as part of a comprehensive assurance program for all types of farms. Hancock’s ‘2020 Report on Sustainability and Responsible Investing in Timber and Agriculture’ shows it worked collaboratively with sector peers and non-profit organizations to develop the standard while completing its inaugural examination in 2019. As of May 17, 2021, 100 per cent of its U.S. agriculture platform, more than 300,000 acres, has been third-party certified to the Leading Harvest standard. The investment team also adopted a deliberate and systematic focus on regenerative agricultural practices that can improve soil health and biodiversity, as well as increase carbon sequestration, in recognition of agriculture’s role as a natural climate solution. Timberland’s significance grew as pandemic stress increased demand for forest products, from pulp and paper used in hygiene and personal protective equipment to saw timber used for housing and renovations, says the report. In parallel with the supply-demand dynamics introduced in the pandemic, corporate and investor net-zero commitments grew exponentially last year, as did awareness of the critical role forests play in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It says Manulife’s timberland portfolio already removes more CO2 than its operations produce and is managing the assets for positive climate impact.

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Semiconductor Industry Power Apparent

After captivating international headlines following a global shortage, the power and influence of the semiconductor industry is becoming increasingly apparent, says an analysis for the Capital Group. It says semiconductors are expected to drive the next decade of global growth in an increasingly data-hungry world, much like oil fueled the rise of industrial economies in the last century. By various estimates, global semiconductor sales could double from about US$450 billion in 2019 to nearly US$1 trillion by 2030. Once marked by excessive capital expenditures, poor inventory management and lack of pricing discipline, the industry today is better positioned following years of consolidation as a confluence of events from accelerating digitization and early uncertainty in the automotive industry led to the global crunch, none of which are structural in nature or affect long-term demand of semiconductors. As well, in 2018, machines surpassed humans as the largest data creators. This transformative shift is expected to be a significant catalyst for the semiconductor industry, likely to drive growth for more advanced and complex chips used over the next five years. And a massive semiconductor spending cycle is coming. With semiconductors being seen as a national security priority, companies are spending billions of dollars on new facilities to meet rising demand while navigating geopolitical tensions; with the U.S. and Europe both seeking to bring critical supply chains closer to home.

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OMERS Invests In Northvolt

AP funds 1-4, via the co-owned company, 4 to 1 Investments, and OMERS, alongside existing investors Goldman Sachs Asset Management and Volkswagen Group, have co-led a private placement in Northvolt. It will finance further battery cell production capacity and research and development efforts to meet the increasing demand of customers engaged in the transition to decarbonized, electric solutions. The financing means Northvolt can expand annual production capacity in Europe by 2030 and establish recycling capabilities to enable 50 per cent of all its raw material requirements to be sourced from recycled batteries by 2030.

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Hendrick Heads GroupHEALTH

Matt Hendrick is president of GroupHEALTH Benefit Solutions. For four years, he has served as president of Disability Management Institute (DMI), a subsidiary of GroupHEALTH. Brett Gagnon is senior vice-president, technology and business processes. He joined the firm in 2019 and has over 20 years of diverse IT experience. Ed Brett is senior vice-president, business development and affiliates. He will continue to lead the marketing and communications operations, while now broadening his scope to drive growth through the organization’s affiliate sales divisions. Benoit Hudon is vice-president, underwriting. He joined the firm in 2018 as director, underwriting.

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Building Alignment Examined

‘Building Alignment Across Organizational Strategy, Investments, Regulatory Requirements and Operational Considerations’ will be examined at a Benefits and Pensions Monitor Meetings & Events webinar. Alistair Almeida, segment lead, asset owners, at CIBC Mellon; and Kendra Kaake, director of investment strategy at SEI; will provide a summary of trends and considerations plans are exploring for their investment and asset strategies; a framework for investment management that leverages real-time data to drive critical decisions; and practical examples of a holistic approach for achieving better outcomes, with clear accountability and direction. It takes place June 14. Information is at https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/1284029885057401615

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