Common Wealth’s Mazer recommends collective, automatic savings approach

September 6, 2018

We sometimes think of retirement as an individual weight that we all must bear alone. But sometimes, using a collective approach can make that heavy load a little easier for us.

So says Alex Mazer, Founding Partner of Common Wealth. “Preparing for retirement is pretty hard to do individually,” he notes, adding that many people have trouble saving at all, he says, and few start while young. Then, they “can make poor investment decisions” when left to their own counsel, and thus don’t benefit from “the pooling of longevity and investment risk” that comes with a collective savings approach.

Without investment advice, which Mazer says can be difficult to get, many of us invest in high-fee, inefficient savings vehicles. Research shows that this individualized retirement reality results in low savings at retirement for all but the wealthiest among us, Mazer says.

Turning savings into retirement is also a complex process, he says. You have to keep investing while you are taking money out of your savings plan, he explains. If your money doesn’t continue to grow there is the danger “of overspending your savings, which can translate into reduced income later in retirement,” Mazer warns.

A collective approach is better than an individual one, Mazer says. With collective savings, investments can be pooled, reducing investment and longevity risk and reducing management fees. Finally, there can be simple, cost-effective ways to turn the savings into retirement income in a collective plan, he explains.

Working with different partners, Common Wealth is developing new collective retirement plans that are aligned with these principles, Mazer explains.

The company developed a plan for lower-income healthcare workers that combines a group TFSA with some of the key characteristics of a pension, including fiduciary governance, pooled investment management, and the potential for mandatory contributions through payroll. By using a TFSA structure, Mazer says, income at retirement is tax free, which means eligibility for the Guaranteed Income Supplement is not impacted.

The firm’s latest project is developing a nationally portable retirement plan for the non-profit sector, where about 850,000 workers who don’t have any sort of retirement vehicle at work. That number represents about half the non-profit workers in Canada. Again, the plans call for a pooled, collective system with professional investment management, low fees, and a plan for turning savings into income.

Mazer says that if he could personally influence one policy change, it would be to create “high quality collective plans with auto-enrolment” for workers lacking a pension plan at work. Auto-enrolment has worked well in the UK’s NEST program – very few people opt out. Mandatory plans are also popular in Australia. The result in both countries is a much higher level of retirement saving, he concludes.

We thank Alex Mazer for taking the time to talk to us. The Saskatchewan Pension Plan is an open defined contribution plan where contributions are invested collectively with professional management. Annuities are available to help you convert savings into an income stream. Perhaps SPP is the missing piece of your own retirement puzzle.


Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. After a 35-year career as a reporter, editor and pension communicator, Martin is enjoying life as a freelance writer. He’s a mediocre golfer, hopeful darts player and beginner line dancer who enjoys classic rock and sports, especially football. He and his wife Laura live with their Sheltie, Duncan, and their cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22
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