Mental Health Issues Will Accompany Return To Work

“The need for mental health resources has never been greater than it is today,” says Lori Casselman, president and chief revenue officer of Wello, a national telemedicine and virtual care business. Speaking at the Benefits and Pensions Monitor Meeting & Events webinar, ‘Return to work plan: focus on employees’ mental health,’ she said her company has seen an enormous amount of demand for virtual healthcare services over the last three to four months. “We’re seeing symptoms of sadness, depression, and anxiety as the top conditions next to questions related to COVID-19 specifically.” Casselman said employers will need to manage around those anxieties and stressors as they gear up for the next wave and the return to the workplace. “It is important for organizations to look at the resources they have in place and what they do not have in place. What do they need to adapt or source to meet the particular needs that are apparent now as a result of these changes?” Unfortunately, the majority (60 per cent) of people that say they are dealing with mental health issues due to COVID-19 are not seeking any type of support. Employers should be proactive, speak up, and call attention to the fact that these issues are present and look for resources that can help manage symptoms. Resources can consist of EAP/EAFP programs, mindfulness/meditation and resilience building apps, health and fitness coaching, behaviour therapies, and virtual healthcare. Most importantly, employers need to acknowledge that the situation is not ‘normal.’ They should increase and enhance communications and show empathy for unique personal scenarios. The key is to focus on early intervention and prevention, said Casselman.

Retirement Savings At Risk

The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP) is putting the retirement savings of thousands of working and retired teachers at risk by investing in fossil fuel infrastructure in the midst of a worsening climate crisis and a volatile disruption to global energy markets, says Shift Action for Pension Wealth and Planet Health. Ontario Teachers’ has joined a consortium purchasing a 49 per cent stake in the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company’s fossil gas pipeline network. It exposes the pension savings of thousands of Ontario teachers to climate-related financial risk, says Shift Action. It also undermines global action to address the climate crisis by locking in polluting infrastructure for decades to come and contradicts the pension fund’s own commitments to align its portfolio with a safe climate. Shift Action for Pension Wealth and Planet Health is an initiative supported by charitable foundations that works to protect pensions and the climate.

SC Board Makes Pandemic Changes

The OMERS Sponsors Corporation Board (SC Board) has approved amendments to the OMERS Primary Pension Plan (Plan) as a result of 2020 plan review process. Michael Rolland, CEO of the SC Board, says the changes will support members who have been impacted by the COVID pandemic. It is extending the deadline to complete a leave purchase by one year for members who return from a leave of absence in 2020 or 2021. It also reduces or eliminates the 36-month employment requirement for purchases of periods of reduced pay. This change is effective immediately, but will only be implemented if and when the employment requirement under the Income Tax Regulations is amended. Members will also be allowed to purchase credited service for periods of absence due to temporary layoff that were initiated in 2020 or 2021. The service can be purchased at two times contributions. As well, it is removing the current eligibility requirement for non-full-time employees to join the plan. They can now elect to join the plan at any time. Enrolment would take effect on the first day of the month after the employee’s election is received and would remain in place as long as the member continues working with their current employer. Finally, the SC Board now has the option, based on its annual assessment of the plan’s health and viability, to reduce future inflation increases on benefits earned after December 31, 2022. This means for retirees, the benefits earned on or before December 31, 2022, will be granted full indexation. Benefits earned on or after January 1, 2023, will be subject to shared risk Indexing.

Market Rebound Will Determine Fundamentals

How rapidly markets rebound in the next couple of months are “very important” in determining what the fundamentals will look like for the next 12 months, says Andrew Jackson, head of fixed income and lead portfolio manager at Federated Hermes. Speaking at its ‘Thinking Globally about High Yield Exposures,’ he said when the financial crisis from the COVID-19 pandemic started to emerge, it felt very much like “we would blow through equity very, very rapidly.” The issue was around solvency liquidity in many of the corporates. Looking forward, he said while equities look quite challenged, many companies have solved the solvency issue and central banks, governments, and regulators have done an outstanding job of dealing with that first issue. Fraser Lundie, head of Hermes credit and lead portfolio manager, said the market performance of global high yield has been somewhat skewed by the fact that coming into this crisis, there were in abnormally expensive conditions in terms of the credit spreads. That expensiveness was a starting point and was one of the reasons the drawdown period through March was pretty significant not just in the U.S. and Europe, but globally across high yields and other return seeking fixed income. Here again, central banks and governments through fiscal measures provided “a bridge through at least the first instances of this crisis,” he said.

Need For Guidance Increases

A combination of unprecedented market volatility and complex new rules involving contributions, withdrawals, and tax implications has exposed an increased need for participant guidance and advice from retirement plan providers, says J.D. Power. Its ‘2020 U.S. Retirement Plan Participant Satisfaction Study’ suggests few providers are successfully addressing these issues. Just 27 per cent of those surveyed have accessed professional financial advice related to their plan. Nearly three in 10 (29 per cent) were either unaware of whether such advice was available or perceived that it was not available to them. Nearly one-fourth (22 per cent) of retirement plan participants said they’ve had no interaction with their provider during the past 12 months. However, the frequency of interaction is directly correlated to participant satisfaction. Overall satisfaction scores increase 44 points (on a 1,000-point scale) when participants say they’ve had one to four interactions per year with their retirement plan provider.

Prudent Rebalancing Must Be Maintained

It is vital for investors to maintain a prudent rebalancing approach regardless of the market’s current behaviour, says research from T. Rowe Price. Its analysis of historical and simulated equity market downturns found that, the vast majority of the time, maintaining an investment policy’s rebalancing rule led to better returns compared with a passive strategy of allowing portfolio exposures to drift with market movements. Although it says there is no “silver bullet” rebalancing rule due to the multiple considerations that need to be addressed when designing and maintaining rebalancing policies, there are certain rebalancing methods that potentially outperformed others during specific types of market downturns. However, it is impossible for investors to know the type of downturn they are experiencing as it occurs. Hypothetical rebalanced portfolios would have outperformed a hypothetical non‑rebalanced portfolio in the vast majority of the historical 10‑year rolling periods covered in the research. Two of the rebalancing methods were calendar‑based and two relied on exposure bands.

Sana Gets Financing

The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and the Public Sector Pension Investment Board are among investors in the initial financing tranches of Sana Biotechnology, Inc. Proceeds from the financing will be used to advance discovery and development within the company’s core platforms, including gene delivery, immunology, stem cell biology, and gene modification and control.