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May 14, 2020


Working From Home Splits Canadians

Canadians are split over working from remotely from home, says ADP Canada. Its ‘Workplace Insights’ survey shows 44 per cent report they would prefer to work remotely long term and 45 per cent look forward to returning to the office. The most common challenge reported by remote workers across Canada was not feeling connected to their colleagues, with more than half (57 per cent) expressing this sentiment. Another challenge identified was difficulty staying focused because of too many distractions. This sentiment was particularly common among younger employees, with 51 per cent of workers aged 18 to 34 saying they find it difficult to focus while working from home. Emotions were mixed regarding another challenge related to remote work: stress. While 38 per cent said their stress levels remained the same, 34 per cent said it stress had increased and 28 per cent said it had decreased. Women were more likely to feel this way, with 38 per cent of women reporting an increase in stress levels, compared to only 29 per cent for their male counterparts. However, nearly one in five (18 per cent) reported facing no challenges working remotely. The findings showed that roughly one half of remote workers feel their productivity, quality, and hours of work has stayed the same since the transition to working remotely. Furthermore, approximately one-in-five thought their productivity, quality of work, and work hours had increased while one quarter to a third thought these had decreased. This trend was shown across all ages and genders.

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Social Isolation Contributes To Stress

Social isolation the top contributing factor to COVID-19’s negative impact on their mental health, says a Sun Life survey. It says millions of Canadians haven’t left their homes in weeks and for many the only outing is going to the grocery store or popping into a pharmacy. The survey found 56 per cent of Canadians say COVID-19 is having a negative impact. It is having a greater negative impact on the mental health of women (62 per cent) compared to men (49 per cent). Other factors that are having an impact include concern for loved ones, fear of contracting COVID-19, and financial concerns. “The COVID-19 pandemic is the most serious public health emergency of our lifetime,” says Jacques Goulet, president of Sun Life Canada and Lumino Health. “Canada was already facing a mental health crisis. The pandemic adds new layers of stress and we’re deeply concerned about the long-term mental health implications that may follow.

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Smaller Gains Ahead

While policymakers are driving up stocks with massive stimulus programs, investors should expect smaller gains and rising inflation over the next decade, says the Bank of America. Similar to the ‘stagflationary’ 1970s, it says real and nominal returns in the 2020s will be low, clustered, and volatile. “Inflation hedges must be sought by asset allocators via real assets over financial assets,” it says, suggesting long positions in gold and the value stocks of small companies. For now, the trillions of dollars in government stimulus designed to help Americans through the coronavirus pandemic is spurring investors to buy equities and banks to lend, says its report. However, the surprise upside in profits of the 2010s won’t continue as the U.S. may see higher taxes next year as policymakers demand ‘payback’ for the emergency government aid. Meanwhile, a political shift toward Main Street populism from ‘peak capitalism’ on Wall Street will help set the stage for higher inflation.

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Employee Wellness Turning Holistic

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic began having an impact on employee wellbeing, employee wellness programs in the U.S. had begun shifting to more holistic programs focusing on mental health, work/life balance, fitness, and financial security, says XpertHR’s ‘2020 Employee Wellness Survey.’ Originally introduced in the ’80s to promote physical health, today, these initiatives are fairly common, as over six in 10 organizations either have a formal program in place or run wellness initiatives without a formal program. While wellness initiatives and programs are widespread among mid-size and large employers, they are less common among small organizations. Fully 89 per cent of organizations with 1,000 or more workers have either a formal wellness program or run wellness initiatives without a formal program, compared with 75 per cent of employers with 250 to 999 workers and 46 per cent of organizations with a staff of fewer than 250. Cost may be a contributing factor to why smaller organizations are less likely to have wellness programs or initiatives. Of the companies currently offering wellness programs or initiatives, almost one-half (46 per cent) reported that they are spending less than $200 per employee on an annual basis, while 37 per cent are spending between $200 and $400 per worker, and 17 per cent are spending over $400 per employee. However, despite the cost of wellness programs, their popularity seems poised to grow, as one-half of those who have no wellness initiatives or programs in place say they plan to introduce a formal wellness program or some initiatives in the near future. 

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China Gradually Recovering

As the first country to tackle COVID-19, China has institutional investors globally wondering about the local situation and what it means for their portfolios, says June Lui, a portfolio manager at BMO LGM Investments. Unlike Western nations currently in the thick of the crisis, it is gradually recovering and resuming ordinary activities. The China PMI index – an economic indicator of trends in the manufacturing and service sectors – fell from 50 to 35.7 in February, and then picked up to 52 in March, easily topping expectations and signaling a broad stabilization of business conditions. Factories in most regions outside Wuhan where the virus was first identified have restored their commercial capacity to 90 per cent levels as at the end of March, which compares to 60 per cent to 70 per cent at the end of February. However, while capacity resumes, actual output is still below the pre-virus level, since consumption and demand have yet to fully recover, in large part due to the developing pandemic situation globally. The key point, she says, fueling Chinese confidence now is that with the COVID-19 outbreak appearing to be well past its peak, the government’s policy and resources are pivoting away from containing the virus and toward restarting the country’s growth again. As well, it’s crucial to look beyond the short-term volatility because as history dictates, the world will eventually recover from the pandemic and China’s economy will be revived. For long-term investors, China is rife with opportunities: it’s an ideal hunting ground for inexpensive growth exposures, particularly in sectors driven by domestic trends, including healthcare and environmental protection.

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Aon Offers COVID Forecast App

Aon plc has unveiled an interactive web application that forecasts the impact of COVID-19 on employee populations throughout Canada. The tool is designed to help employers anticipate the impact on employee benefit plan costs, absenteeism, and potential needs to shift work operations due to the spread of COVID-19. “COVID-19 has brought on uncertainties in many aspects of our lives and this application will help employers understand their risks,” says Greg Durant, Canadian chief actuary of health solutions for Aon. The COVID-19 employee impact model forecasts the impact on an employee population based on geographic-specific infection rates and advanced epidemiologic models. It works by using de-identified demographic data on employee populations. Employer-specific data is combined with geographic infection rates from the most reputable epidemiologic models. It is updated daily based on the spread of the virus, social distancing measures taken by local governments, and the current figures of confirmed patients, hospitalizations, deaths, and testing and treatment patterns. The tool allows employers to estimate the impact of the virus through the fall on their employee population. By selecting a date, employers can see projected cases and medical claims cost, which can change daily based on the most current COVID-19 information.

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Oram Has New Role

Michelle Oram (CEBS) is product owner, financial wellness, at Manulife. She has held a variety of roles with the company in her nearly 20-year career there. In her new role, she will lead the execution of financial wellness product strategy for Manulife’s group retirement plan members in Canada.

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May 13, 2020


OPTrust Adds SII Team

OPTrust has introduced a sustainable investing and innovation (SII) team that will build on its record of responsible investing. Its ‘2019 Responsible Investing (RI) Report, Looking to the Future’ details its RI results and philosophy. Highlights include its A+ rating for the fund’s strategy and governance approach to responsible investing from the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), the expansion of its green bond holdings with a $100 million investment in Ontario government green bonds, its partnership with the Investor Leadership Network and commitment to accelerate progress on gender diversity issues in the companies and other partners in which it invests, and strengthened reporting in accordance with the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). “We are focused on sustainability, of the plan and of the planet,” says Peter Lindley, its president and CEO. “This is reflected in our commitment to overcome the unique challenges we face as long-term investors for the financial benefit of our members and society.” The report details its progress in measuring total fund exposure to climate risk. In 2019, it worked with an external partner to conduct its first bottom-up climate risk assessment on a near-total fund basis. This includes beginning to measure and disclose portfolio emissions and establishing a baseline. The SII team will focus on managing long-term sustainability issues through a capital allocation mandate.

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Environmental Focus Could Improve Economic Outcome

A focus on the environment throughout the coronavirus-related recovery could foster a better economic outcome, says an analysis by the Oxford Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment. It concludes that by implementing climate-friendly, green policies in COVID-19 economic recovery packages, governments and policymakers can deliver better results ‒ including the creation of more jobs and increased long-term cost savings ‒ than through more traditional stimulus. “Recovery packages that seek synergies between climate and economic goals have better prospects for increasing national wealth, enhancing productive human, social, physical, intangible, and natural capital,” it says. Examples of such projects include investment in renewable energy production and in education and training to address immediate unemployment from COVID-19 and structural shifts from decarbonization.

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Telemedicine Brought To Forefront

Telemedicine has been a discussion point in recent years. Those across the healthcare spectrum have been extolling its virtues and lobbying for the necessary legislative changes to make it accessible to everyone across the Canada. However, necessity is the mother of invention and the COVID-19 pandemic has brought it to the forefront. Mary-Lou McDonald, national practice lead, health and performance, at HUB International, explains why this is an important benefit employers can offer in benefits plans in the article ‘The Changing Face Of Healthcare Choosing the Right Telemedicine Provider’ at the Benefits and Pensions Monitor website.

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Buoyant Markets Reflect Post-Pandemic Era

Buoyant stock markets are not necessarily ignoring alarming economic data, rather they are reflecting the post-pandemic era, says Nigel Green, chief executive and founder of the deVere Group. The staggering U.S. unemployment numbers wiped out a decade’s worth of job gains, and there’s been nothing like this “since the Great Depression. Yet U.S. stock futures climbed higher as global markets rose on Friday.  This is highly unusual,” he says. Two things are happening simultaneously. A weak first half of 2020 has already been priced-in as have the risks of a potential second wave. It is extreme uncertainty, the likes of which seen at the peak of the pandemic, that typically upsets markets. Whether they are correct in their assessment remains to be seen, but markets are looking towards the second half of the year. They appear to believe that there is likely to be a steady economic recovery as key advances are made in coronavirus treatments, as central banks continue to implement and further bolster historic stimulus packages, and as lockdown restrictions around the world are eased to revive activity, he says.

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Alternative Managers Delay Commitments

Economic interruption and travel restrictions have led alternative assets fund managers and investors to delay making fund commitments, says Preqin. Its survey found that fund managers have faced challenges in fundraising, deal origination, and portfolio company operations. Looking ahead to the rest of 2020, further disruption could be inevitable: almost half of investors are concerned about the impact of the denominator effect on their portfolios and a quarter are concerned about their liquidity to fund capital calls. But in the longer term, the expected impact is more positive. Significant proportions of both fund managers and investors expect COVID-19 to have a slightly negative long-term impact on returns. But most investors say that the pandemic will have no impact on how much they invest in alternatives and 29 per cent plan to invest more as a result.

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Advisors Add Value

The value added by a Canadian advisor who delivers comprehensive wealth management is 2.88 per cent, says Russell Investments Canada Limited. Its fifth annual ‘Value of an Advisor’ study, which aims to quantify an advisor’s ongoing work to serve their clients, found advisors have never been more valuable than in the midst of COVID-19-related market turbulence and economic hardships, says Brad Jung, its head of North America advisor and intermediary solutions. However, while dedicated advisors are confronting the challenges as volatility batters many investors’ savings, they need to articulate the value they deliver which goes far beyond selecting and managing investments.

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Enbridge Stake Acquired

CPP Investment Board Europe S.àr.l, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPP Investments), will acquire 49 per cent of the entity that holds Enbridge’s stake in Éolien Maritime France SAS, Enbridge’s partnership with EDF Renewables. The partnership is developing three offshore wind farms in France. It has also committed to follow-on investment as the first project progresses through construction.

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Commuted Value Interest Rate Assumptions

The interest assumptions required to calculate commuted values and marriage breakdown values for an event which occurs in any month up to and including May 2020 are now available at www.an-actual-actuary.com. An Excel spreadsheet on the website contains nine worksheets:
• Commuted Values February 2011 CIA
• Marital Breakdown: CSOP 4300 ‒ January 2012
• Ontario (Bill 133) Prior Rates – Rates for Ontario Marital Breakdown with valuation date prior to January 1, 2012
• Annuity Proxy for Solvency Calculations for Non-Indexed per cent Fully-Indexed Pensions
• Minimum Interest on Employee Required Contributions
• HISTORICAL Marital Breakdown: CSOP 4300 ‒ May 2009 (Now Frozen)
• HISTORICAL: Commuted Values ‒ 2009 Basis (Now Frozen)
• HISTORICAL: Commuted Values ‒ 2005 Basis (Now Frozen)
• HISTORICAL: Commuted Values ‒ 1993 Basis (Now Frozen)
You can use this spreadsheet to compare the interest rates which you may have calculated and/or you can download the spreadsheet to your own computer. Another actuary has already provided a peer review of the updated rates in this spreadsheet and determined that he/she agrees with the results.

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May 12, 2020


Merger Concerns PIAC

The Pension Investment Association of Canada (PIAC) is concerned about the impact of the impending merger of Aon and Willis Towers Watson (WTW) on pension plans and funds. In a letter to the Canada Competition Bureau, it says its members use actuarial consulting services to support the effective fiduciary management of pension plan assets and benefits. The availability of impartial, high quality, and cost-effective services in these areas is imperative to the sustainability of its members’ plans affecting thousands of Canadians. Its members are concerned the ‘mega-merger’ will dramatically reduce the competitive market for actuarial services as Aon and WTW are currently major players in the area of actuarial consulting professional services across Canada, including pension fund asset management. After this merger, the only other firms providing these services nationally will be Mercer, Eckler ,and Morneau Shepell. There are significant barriers for competition in the sector, it says. Actuarial services require the ability of handling large volumes of sensitive personal data, as well as deployment of sophisticated software, resulting in very material upfront fixed investment in advanced IT infrastructure. These capabilities cannot be easily developed, replicated, or purchased from foreign suppliers. It urges the competition bureau to carefully consider the impact of this merger on pension plan and fund clients and the degree of competition across Canada as it believes that this merger may leave the competitive field for actuarial services in Canada too narrow, resulting in a reduction in service quality and/or higher costs.

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Principles May Not Be Working

The United Nations’ Principles for Responsible Investing may not be working as intended, say researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Northwestern University. Their study ‒ ‘There Are 2,698 Signatories to the United Nations’ ESG Code. Has It Changed Anyone’s Behavior?’ ‒ shows while active asset managers get more money from investors after they sign onto the stewardship code, they don’t show “meaningful improvements” in how they incorporate environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors into their investment strategies. Asset managers on average experience a 4.3 per cent increase in inflows per quarter after signing onto the UN PRI. But fund returns “significantly deteriorate” in the six quarters after managers sign on. All the while, ESG scores at portfolio companies remain flat. “Only a small number of funds improve ESG, while many others use the PRI status to attract capital without making notable changes to ESG,” it says.

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CAAT Adds Two Employers

The newest participating employers to join the CAAT Plan’s DBplus are Skills Ontario and Fraser Group. Skills Ontario is an organization dedicated to building Ontario’s skilled trades and technology workforces. Skills Ontario joined retroactive to January 1. Fraser Group, a marketing information and research firm that works with the employee benefits and insurance markets in Canada, joined on March 1. Since the launch of DBplus 18 months ago, CAAT has attracted 33 additional participating employers and more than 15,000 new members, representing nine industries across the for-profit, not-for-profit, and broader public sectors. The plan design marries traditional defined contribution plans and defined benefit plans for a workplace retirement solution. It provides fixed contributions and no balance sheet risk for employers, and pension certainty, more security, and less risk for employees.

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Data Analytics Provides Sales Edge

Amid the current focus on investor innovation in data analytics to gain an edge in their portfolios, asset managers are using analytics to create a competitive advantage: sales. A report from Greenwich Associates finds that top quartile distribution professionals attract close to three times the amount of assets annually as median professionals. The secret weapon is data analytics that allow them to precisely locate attractive targets and tailor custom sales pitches. “To win in today’s hyper-competitive market, asset management sales teams must be laser-focused on the highest probability prospects and equipped to maximize every opportunity,” says Mark Buckley, Greenwich Associates principal and author of ‘Sales Performance Excellence: Strategic Prospecting and Engagement.’ To have a lasting impact on sales effectiveness, asset managers must have the right data and analytic platforms, and incorporate them into a sales approach that combines highly talented sales professionals with an organizational commitment to the strategy and the process. 

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Companies Enhancing Programs

Companies in the U.S. are making enhancements to their healthcare, wellbeing, and leave programs, says a Willis Towers Watson survey. It found that nearly half of respondents (47 per cent) are enhancing healthcare benefits, 45 per cent are broadening wellbeing programs, and 33 per cent plan to make changes to paid time off (PTO) or vacation programs. While some companies are reducing costs in other ways ‒ furloughs, pay cuts, and reductions in 401(k) matching contributions ‒ many are preserving wellbeing plans at a time when employees are facing significant challenges. Supporting physical and emotional health is a top priority for most employers as 64 per cent believe COVID-19 will have a moderate to large impact on employee wellbeing. More than three in four (77 per cent) are offering or expanding access to virtual mental health services. Maintaining physical health is also important with 60 per cent of employers offering new easy-to-implement virtual solutions such as virtual workouts to support employees who work from home. The survey found a majority of employers don’t expect their healthcare benefit costs to rise substantially. Fifty-seven per cent of respondents anticipate a small to moderate increase in costs, 24 per cent expect no increase or decrease, and only three per cent expect a large increase.

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Volatility Unprecedented

The worldwide spread of COVID-19 has created unprecedented volatility in financial markets, driven by fears over the economic impact and intense levels of uncertainty about what happens next, says Joseph Little, global chief strategist at HSBC Global Asset Management. However, over the last month, investment markets have recovered nearly half of the drawdown experienced. This recovery came from the perception that the virus is getting under control, alongside extraordinary policy actions from central banks and governments around the world. However, the economic outlook continues to be challenging. Recent macro data suggests the world is experiencing a large fall in economic activity. A global recession is now a likely outcome, but the critical question for investors is how deep and how long this economic slowdown is likely to be.

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iA Teams Up With Dialogue

iA Financial Group is facilitating access to healthcare for its clients by teaming up with Dialogue, a virtual healthcare service which is available 24/7. The platform enables the whole family to speak with healthcare professionals, anywhere in Canada, at any time. It is fully confidential, available online or on any mobile device, and provides services including live chat with a multi-disciplinary team, prescription renewal and free delivery of prescription drugs, secure video appointment with a physician or a mental healthcare professional, referral to a specialist when medically required, and diagnostics co-ordination when medically required. More than 70 per cent of medical problems which would normally require a visit to a clinic can be treated remotely through the service. It will be free until July 31. Clients whose group insurance plan includes supplemental health insurance who wish to add the telemedicine service to their group benefits offering can take advantage of a preferred rate.

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CDPQ Acquires Smelter Royalty

Monarch Corporation has signed an agreement with the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) to sell a three per cent net smelter return royalty on gold production at the Beaufor mine. The two have also agreed to retain the services of GoldSpot Discoveries Corp., a technology company that applies expert geoscience and advanced artificial intelligence algorithms to increase the efficiency and success rate of mineral exploration. The objective is to optimize the drilling program on the Beaufor property using advanced analytical technology.

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May 11, 2020


Guidance Lifts Transfer Freeze

OSFI has updated a guidance on its freeze on transfers from pension plans. It will now automatically consent to portability transfers to locked-in vehicles for members within 10 years of pensionable age as long as the amount transferred out of the pension plan does not compromise the plan’s financial position. It says “Some plans allow members who are within 10 years of pensionable age […] to transfer the value of their pension benefit out of the plan. Therefore, the portability freeze has resulted in individuals not having expected access to funds that they had planned on using for their retirement.” The updated directive will help accommodate plan members who were counting on being able to access funds, while at the same time guarding against transfers out that would impair plan solvency. It applies only to transfers to locked-in retirement vehicles, such as LIRAs or LIFs. Transfers to other pension plans or to purchase an annuity still require the consent of the superintendent. Any transfers to locked-in vehicles that were in process on March 27 for members who were within 10 years of pensionable age at the time their plan membership ended would be processed. However, any amounts in a plan on March 27 would continue to be subject to the freeze, save for transfers allowed with the consent of the superintendent. It also indicated that plan administrators must process transfers on behalf of members who are eligible for early retirement. The freeze is meant to be temporary, but an end date was not announced. OSFI says it “will need a better understanding of the solvency position of pension plans and evidence of some level of financial market stability before considering adjustments to the freeze.”

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Gori Cautions About Reopening Economies

Manulife Financial Corp’s chief executive has cautioned against reopening economies shut by the COVID-19 pandemic. A “dramatic increase” in testing and contact tracing, and progress on development of treatments and a vaccine are needed before economies can begin returning to normal, said Roy Gori said at its annual shareholder meeting. “We cannot afford to get this wrong,” he said. “Subsequent pandemic waves could create greater economic and social devastation than we’ve already seen.”

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Access To 401(k) Assets Eased

A majority of U.S. companies are making it easier for employees to access their 401(k) plans’ assets even as some companies are cutting matching contributions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, says a pulse survey by Willis Towers Watson. The survey also revealed companies are increasing their emphasis on financial wellbeing resources to help workers cope during the crisis. Many employers are making adjustments to their 401(k) plans as a result of the CARES Act, the law designed to help protect American workers from the economic impact of COVID-19. Almost two-thirds of respondents (65 per cent) increased access to in-service distributions from participants’ 401(k) accounts while 16 per cent either plan to or are considering doing so this year. Nearly as many (64 per cent) are now allowing participants to defer loan repayments while 48 per cent increased the maximum amount available for plan loans. Another 17 per cent are planning or considering making either adjustment this year.

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Toll Exceeds GFC

Baseline 2020 GDP forecasts and leading indicators now capture the scale and breadth of the economic toll from the Great Lockdown, which far exceeds that of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), says FTSE Russell’s ‘Canada Fixed Income Report for May.’ The sharp deterioration of labour markets underscore the severe hit to economies, despite government schemes. The oil price collapse has dragged U.S. inflation break-evens towards zero. A global growth contraction of three per cent in 2020 – the IMF’s baseline – compares with 1.7 per cent in 2009, when emerging market economies grew three per cent. So the breadth and scale of the contraction would be the biggest since the 1930s. The other risk is the shape of the recovery being flatter, for longer, as the Great Lockdown is more protracted.

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RI Funds Outperform

Despite history-making market volatility in the first quarter of 2020, 83 per cent of Canadian responsible investment (RI) funds outperformed their average asset class return in the three-month period and a significant majority (80 per cent) outperformed over the one-year period ending March 31, says data provided by Fundata. RI funds also performed well over longer-term periods relative to their average asset class return, highlighting the long-term value of incorporating environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors into investment decisions. More than seven in 10 RI funds outperformed their average asset class return over the three-year, five-year, and 10-year periods ending March 31.

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Medavie Adds Online Doctors

Medavie Blue Cross has strengthened its suite of digital health offerings by adding the ‘Online Doctors’ group benefit to allow plan members greater flexibility and access to virtual consultations. It says studies show that employers who add Internet-enabled healthcare to their benefit plans can achieve significant cost savings in health-related absenteeism and lost productivity. As well, as Canadians deal with the new realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for virtual healthcare is continuing to grow as it becomes an even more important part of health benefit plans. The benefit offers consultations with 100 per cent Canadian-licensed doctors and speaking with a doctor immediately with no triage with nurses or other professionals before a potential callback or consultation. 

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AGA Joins Alliance

Quebec-based AGA Benefit Solutions is the newest member of the Benefits Alliance Group. This addition gives the group 29 member firms, with more than 175 advisors. Collectively, it administers over 7,500 employee benefits plans with $1.4 billion of group insurance premium and 1,500 group retirement plans with over $3.5 billion in retirement plan assets.

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Pensions Provide GRAIL Funding

The Public Sector Pension Investment Board and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board are in a Series D financing round with GRAIL, Inc., a healthcare company whose mission is to detect cancer early, when it can be cured. Hans Bishop, chief executive officer at GRAIL, says “Nearly 80 percent of cancer deaths result from cancers for which there is no screening test today, and GRAIL’s mission is to change that through the early detection and localization of more than 50 cancers. Enabling this through a single blood draw could improve patient access and adherence to cancer screening and address disparities in cancer care by improving access for rural, vulnerable, and under-served populations.” The funding will support continued development and commercialization of GRAIL’s multi-cancer early detection blood test.

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May 8, 2020


COVID Impacting Mental Health

A Teladoc Health  study of Canadians highlights the negative mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and underscores the need for continued awareness, education, and support of mental healthcare in the workplace, especially during the current public health crisis. It also indicates that a growing number of employers are offering proactive mental health support, mirroring employees’ interest and comfort in virtual care options as part of their mental health and wellness. As a result of COVID-19, one in two respondents indicate their mental health has been negatively affected. The data shows the negative impact on female respondents (57 per cent) is far greater than male respondents (43 per cent) and 52 per cent of respondents between the ages of 18 to 34 were negatively impacted. Respondents over the age of 65, an age group that has been deemed most at risk for the virus, experienced the lowest reported negative impact in Canada (37 per cent). To support the growing impact on employees’ well-being, there is progress in opening the dialogue and closing the gap for mental health support in the workplace. Nearly 40 per cent of respondents in Canada, far more than the 27 per cent reported in the U.S., indicated that their employers have responded to the pandemic by offering additional mental health support, raising the discussion of employee mental health needs, and waiving fees for mental health support.

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Contribution Rule Suspended

The minimum one per cent employer contribution rule applicable to defined contribution pension plans is temporarily suspended, says a Hicks Morley ‘FTR Now.’ In addition, the federal department of finance has confirmed that it will recommend an amendment to the Income Tax Regulations (Regulations) to extend the deadline for electing to purchase a leave of absence on a current-service basis. These measures are intended to temporarily assist the sponsors and administers of DC and defined benefit registered pension plans in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the suspension of the minimum contribution rule for DC plans is welcome news to many DC plan sponsors, it should be noted that plan administrators must continue to satisfy any requirements under applicable minimum standards pension legislation to provide notice to members of an amendment to reduce future employer contributions, along with any related amendment filing requirements.

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Union Facing Pension Cuts

Unionized employees at Dominion Diamond could face pension cuts if a shortfall in the company’s defined benefits pension plan is not addressed in the company’s court-ordered creditor protection process, says the Union of Northern Workers. Dominion, one of the most significant employers in the Northwest Territories, is under court-ordered creditor protection until at least June 1 because it could not pay its bills. It owes creditors around the world approximately $1.2 billion, including up to $20 million to the pension plan. It sought creditor protection in April because it couldn’t pay a $20 million bill that it says could have led to bankruptcy if left unpaid. Part of the creditor protection process is the restructuring and settling of debts. However, it’s not certain the pension deficit will be met. Government regulators had previously identified the issue and the company was working to address it, but it is unknown whether it had been fully addressed. 

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Speed Of Recovery Surprising

A lot of people have been a little bit surprised by the speed at which markets recovered in April, says Clyde Rossouw, a portfolio manager at Ninety One. Speaking at its ‘Perspectives on the Search for Resilient Alpha,’ he said markets bounced back quite strongly buoyed by about $1 trillion of liquidity and fiscal support that has been provided to them. This has clearly been driven principally by the actions taken in the United States which has led the charge. “If you look at the expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet, for example, you can see that the actions taken so far are closing in on roughly $3 trillion of extra liquidity,” he said. These actions have potentially altered the sentiment with regards to risky assets. With the impact on the high yield and equity markets, there is potential to come through this in good shape. However, there’s a big tug of war between poor economic data which will continue to hit the wires for the course of the next two quarters and poor earnings which will be released in the near future.

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Report Centre Redesigned

Northern Trust has launched a new version of its ‘Online Report Center’ as a cloud-based service with a redesigned user interface, available through Northern Trust Passport. It applied a human-centered design approach to create a contemporary user experience that enables global clients to access an extensive range of information. The breadth and depth of information available is enhanced by the performance and speed of the application. The report centre is used by more than 80,000 asset manager and institutional investor clients in more than 50 countries, generating three million reports per month. New features include enhanced scheduling and interactive reporting and report packaging capabilities; event-based and time-based report generation triggers; and secure eMail attachments, eMail notifications, and SFTP (SSH File Transfer Protocol) report delivery.

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Pacific Blue Cross Sponsors Stronger Mind

To support mental wellbeing through the COVID-19 crisis, Pacific Blue Cross has joined as a sponsor of ‘Stronger Minds by BEACON’ – a free digital program available for all Canadians. This resource is a supplement to the suite of health and wellness offerings provided by Pacific Blue Cross including its employee and family assistance program. Through the BEACON digital platform, Stronger Minds offers resources focused on resilience building, videos, and quick reads from mental health experts. The program provides participants the opportunity to engage as much or as little as they wish to access guidance that addresses their challenges; however, unlike one-to-one therapy, there is no clinical assessment required to participate. Topics covered continuously evolve based on participants’ requests and include overcoming worry, isolation, and parenting. Stronger Minds will be offered indefinitely, in recognition that this crisis has an uncertain timeline.

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Strategic Relationship Expanded

Wellington Management Company LLP and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan have expanded their strategic relationship to further integrate leading climate science research into the pension plan’s investments. This partnership is based on a common investment philosophy and long-term perspective. The focus on climate risk is an example of forward-looking initiatives the two organizations are exploring together that focus on far-reaching changes in the investment landscape. They will collaborate with Woods Hole Research Center, a climate change think tank, to apply findings from its research to the execution of Ontario Teachers’ investment strategies, which span a diverse set of geographies, sectors and asset classes, and include long-term assets such as private equity, real estate, and infrastructure.

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Morneau Shepell Provides iCBT To Ontario

Morneau Shepell is partnering with the government of Ontario to provide its internet-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (iCBT) program to Ontarians aged 16 and over, as part of its investment in mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Its AbilitiCBT program addresses depression and anxiety symptoms related to the uniquely challenging aspects of pandemics: uncertainty, isolation, caring for family and community members, information overload, and stress management. The program is guided by professional therapists who are trained to support and ask precise questions to guide people through the program’s modules. It will be offered as part of a suite of mental health supports, now available to Ontarians.

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CDPQ Acquires Return Royalty

Monarch Corporation has signed an agreement with the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) to sell a three per cent net smelter return royalty on gold production at the Beaufor mine. The two have also agreed to retain the services of GoldSpot Discoveries Corp., a technology company that applies expert geoscience and advanced artificial intelligence algorithms to increase the efficiency and success rate of mineral exploration. The objective is to optimize the drilling program on the Beaufor property using advanced analytical technology.

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