Saying a fond farewell to SPP’s Executive Director, Katherine Strutt
June 24, 2021
After nearly 31 years of service, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan’s Executive Director, Katherine Strutt, starts her “life after work” July 31.
Over the phone from Kindersley, Strutt tells Save with SPP that she has seen “a lot of changes” over her decades of working for the plan.
“When we started in 1990, we didn’t all have our own computers and the secretaries, as we called them then, did the typing. It was quite a revolution when we got our own computer,” she adds. “We kept the same number of people, but the computer changed how we did things.” SPP was an early adopter of having a toll-free number for members, and Strutt says it is still very important for the plan to have “that human touch” when members contact them with questions. “They tell us that it is so nice to have a person to talk to on the other end of the line,” she says.
A key change along the way for SPP was raising the contribution ceiling from the old $600 back in 2010, to $6,600 today. That was a “game changer” in terms of growing the plan’s assets, she says. Similarly, moving to pre-authorized contributions years ago allowed members – who had tended to make contributions at the February deadline – to spread contributions out throughout the year.
Over the years, SPP “grew, and grew well – we had very good investment earnings, and a lot of loyalty from our members,” she says. She has high words of praise for the team at SPP. “It’s a good solid team… a good bunch of people with some really good synergies,” she says.
Strutt says she takes great pride in the improvements SPP has made in outreach, via the web and social media. “That has been gold for us,” she says. Having a great website, videos, e-updates, and “leveraging the use of social media has helped make us a leader” in outreach and communications, she explains.
A more recent achievement Strutt looks upon with pride is the introduction of the Variable Benefit, a program that lets a retiree keep his or her money within SPP at retirement, with income being gradually drawn down, much like a registered retirement income fund (RRIF) operates. “This benefit has been very well received,” she says, and while it is currently only available to Saskatchewan residents Strutt is hopeful it will be rolled out to members in other provinces soon.
Another growing effort has been outreach to businesses, with the goal of having them offer SPP as their company pension plan. “Having a pension plan is a big benefit to a small business, and with SPP, they can offer a pension plan no matter how small a business they are. It’s a great way to retain, and attract people,” she says.
SPP has always been about delivering a pension savings program to those who wouldn’t have one otherwise. The plan initially was aimed at homemakers, but gradually expanded its reach. Today SPP has, according to its 2020 annual report, $528.8 million in assets under management, and more than 32,000 members.
That growth speaks to the success SPP has had bringing pensions to those who otherwise wouldn’t have them. “The whole point is being able to save at a reasonable cost, and to offer the pooling of risks,” she explains. With SPP, all contributions are pooled together and invested, which lowers the investment cost, lately to about 85 basis points or less. And with a rate of return exceeding eight per cent since the plan’s inception 35 years ago, the strategy is a winning one, Strutt says.
And SPP is more than just a retirement saving vehicle. Through e-updates, presentations, and other outreach a goal is to build up the financial literacy of plan members, she says.
Strutt – already active with several service clubs – doesn’t plan to slow down much in retirement. She’ll have more time to farm, with her husband, their farm near Kindersley. There’s a son to visit in Finland, a daughter in Nova Scotia, and a spry, 92-year-old mom in B.C. – so travel is in order, she says.
“When I started in November 1990 I was so pleased to be given the opportunity,” she says. “It has turned into a 31-year career. I’m proud to have been part of such an innovative program, one that is a made in Saskatchewan success story.” She says she is excited for incoming Executive Director Shannan Corey, who will benefit from “a really great staff” at SPP. “I’m looking forward to positive things coming out of SPP – I feel I’m leaving on a really good note,” she concludes.
Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.