Interviews

Retirement saving “out of sight, out of mind” for many – financial planner Janet Gray

April 1, 2021

Asked if Canadians are paying enough attention to the importance of retirement saving, Janet Gray of Money Coaches Canada has a simple answer. “No,” says the Ottawa-based financial planner.

“It’s always a case of `out of sight, out of mind,’” she explains over the phone to Save with SPP. A lot of people “don’t really look at it (retirement saving) until five to 10 years from their perceived retirement date.”

Some, she says, belong to pension plans and expect those will look after them. Most don’t have such workplace plans.

A key question, then, is whether or not your retirement savings from all sources will be enough, explains Gray. “You need to know your numbers – have you got enough?” she says. Will you be able to cover your costs after work is over?

And your perceived retirement date may change, she explains. Many of us find that poor health, or changes at work, force them to start retirement earlier than they expected. Again, the question for them is will they have enough, she explains.

When it comes to retirement savings, Gray says she has noticed that many have a sort of “all or nothing” mindset on the topic. People are either fully engaged savers, or they aren’t doing anything.

That said, some people are doing well on the retirement savings front.

“I’ve got clients in their 30s, professionals, who are doing well,” she explains. They want to have an enjoyable retirement, and unlike their parents, “they don’t want to work forever.” But not everyone is so organized, especially at a young age, she warns.

“We really need more financial literacy in Canada,” she says. Retirement savings, she explains, is really a case of “pay me now, or pay me later.” As an example, to match the money saved by someone who starts putting away $100 per month in their 30s, a 50-year-old would need to start putting away thousands a month (due to compound growth and early start), she says. And if you can’t do that, “you’re working until a later age than first planned,” she notes.

With retirement savings, “every little bit helps.” The stats show that most people live on average well into their 80s and even beyond, so without some sort of savings plan, you “won’t have as much money as you’d think you would have.”

It takes discipline to save. “Our culture is really hinged on a `spend now, buy now, live now’” theme, she says. People use credit, which works against them. “A $5,000 purchase plus interest on a credit card would take the average Canadian, making the average income of $29 per hour (from Stats Can), 211 hours to pay off,” Gray notes. Before you buy something for $5,000 on credit, remember that it could take 200 hours of work to pay for it, she warns.

So, how do people change their habits?

“The first step is awareness,” she explains. Once you get the need to have savings, “it’s like the old Nike ad – just do it. Starting small, say $25 a pay, is a good way, because once you’ve started and the money starts to pile up, you will be able to say to yourself “this is working!” and then keep doing it–or more, she says.

There are so many thousands who never take that first step, she says. Many have high levels of debt, which “holds people back so much,” she says, but even if you are restricted by debt you need to set aside what you can for retirement. The biggest mistake people make, therefore, is never getting started on retirement savings, she says.

We thank Janet Gray for taking the time to speak with us. Check out her Facebook page.

Starting small, and making automatic contributions, is something the Saskatchewan Pension Plan can help you with. SPP contributions can be made via automatic transfers from your bank account, and you can choose to increase those contributions when you earn more, or owe less. Why not check them out today?

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.


Research suggests many should take CPP, QPP later – and use RRSPs to bridge the gap

February 25, 2021

Are Canadians doing things backwards when it comes to rolling out their retirement plans?

New research from Dr. Bonnie-Jeanne MacDonald of the National Institute on Ageing at Ryerson University suggests that in some cases, we are putting the cart before the horse when it comes to our Canada Pension Plan (CPP) or Quebec Pension Plan (QPP) benefits.

Save with SPP spoke by telephone with Dr. MacDonald to find out more about her research.

In her paper, titled Get the Most from the Canada and Quebec Pension Plans by Delaying Benefits, Dr. MacDonald notes that “95 per cent of Canadians have consistently taken CPP at normal retirement age (65) or earlier,” and that a mere one per cent “choose to delay for as long as possible, to age 70.”

This, she writes in the paper, can be a costly decision. “An average Canadian receiving the median CPP income who chooses to take benefits at age 60 rather than at age 70 is forfeiting over $100,000 (in current dollars) of secure lifetime income.”

She tells Save with SPP that tapping into your (registered retirement savings plan) RRSP and other savings first, as a bridge to a higher CPP or QPP later, can make a lot of sense. “Rather than holding on to the RRSP, why not use the RRSPs sooner and CPP later,” she explains.

Even waiting one year – taking CPP or QPP at 61 instead of 60 – means you will get nearly 12 per cent more pension for life, she says. The longer they wait to start CPP, the more they get – about 8.2 per cent more for each year after age 65, Dr. MacDonald explains.

If you go the other route, and take your government pension at 60, “you don’t know what your savings will look like at 70,” she notes. As well, those savings may be harder to manage when you are older, especially if you are “drawing down” money from a registered retirement income fund (RRIF).

Many people, she notes, worry that taking government benefits at 70 is too late, and that they will potentially die before getting any benefits. Most people who are in good health will live long beyond age 70, she says; the data shows that only a small percentage of Canadians don’t make it past their 60s.

Dr. MacDonald notes as well that the retirement industry tends to help people save, but doesn’t help them on the tricky “decumulation,” or drawdown phase. It would be akin to having an adviser set you up with skis, boots, poles and bindings, and deliver you the top of the ski hill – where you would be on your own to figure out how to get to the bottom, she says.

While “Freedom 55” was a popular concept in decades past, the data shows that the retirement age is creeping back up to age 65 and beyond, she says.

“Finances… are part of the reason why people are retiring later,” she explains. Pension plans are less common these days, and not all of them still offer an early retirement window. Few offer incentives to late retirement, she adds.

Her paper concludes that Canadians – and the financial industry that advises many of them – need to rethink the conventional idea of taking CPP or QPP as soon as possible in retirement, and then hanging onto RRSPs until it is time to RRIF them up the road.

“Despite wanting and needing greater income security, Canadians are clearly choosing not to delay CPP/QPP benefits, thereby forfeiting the safest, most inexpensive approach to get more secure retirement income,” she writes. By showing, through the Lifetime Loss calculation, that Canadians can lose out on $100,000 of secure retirement income, the hope is that the industry and policymakers will begin to rethink how they present retirement strategies to Canadians, the paper concludes.

We thank Dr. Bonnie-Jeanne MacDonald for taking the time to speak with Save with SPP.

Celebrating its 35th year, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan (SPP) has a long tradition of building retirement security. SPP is flexible when it comes to paying out pensions – you can start as early as 55 or as late as 71. Check out SPP, it may be the retirement solution you are looking for.

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.


Now is the time to act on boosting retirement security: C.A.R.P.’s VanGorder

January 14, 2021

For those of us who aren’t yet retired, it’s difficult to put ourselves in the shoes of a retiree and imagine what issues they may be facing.

Save with SPP reached out recently to Bill VanGorder, Chief Policy Officer for C.A.R.P., a group that advocates for older adults, to find out what it’s like once you’re no longer working.

For a start, says VanGorder, all older people aren’t set for life with a good pension from their place of work. In fact, he says, “65 to 70 per cent of those reaching retirement age don’t have a (workplace) pension.”

As a result of that, most people are getting by on income from their own retirement savings, along with government benefits like the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), Old Age Security (OAS), and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS).

“Politicians don’t understand what it’s like to live on a fixed income,” VanGorder explains, adding that any unexpected expenses hit those on a fixed income really hard. Right now in Nova Scotia C.A.R.P. is trying to stop plans to end a longstanding cap on property taxes – a move that would hit fixed-income folks the hardest.

In removing the cap, the province has suggested it would “look after” low-income seniors, but VanGorder points out that retirees at all levels of income are on fixed income. “It’s not just low-income earners… everyone would be hit by this,” he says.

It’s an example of how older Canadians seem to be overlooked when the government is writing up new public policies, VanGorder says. When the pandemic struck, all that older Canadians were offered was a one-time $300 payment, plus an extra $200 for the lower income group, he notes. Meanwhile younger Canadians were eligible for Canada Emergency Response Benefit payments of $2,000 per month, there were wage subsidies and rent subsidies for business, and more.

Older Canadians “feel they’ve seen every other part of the country get more economic assistance,” he explains. That’s because there’s a misconception that older Canadians “are already getting stuff… and are being looked after.”

“Their cost of living has gone up exponentially,” VanGorder says, noting that many services for seniors – getting volunteer drivers, or home support visits – have been curtailed for health reasons. These changes lead to increased costs for older Canadians, he explains.

C.A.R.P. is looking for ways to keep more money in the pockets of older people. For example, he notes, C.A.R.P. feels that there should be no minimum withdrawal rule for Registered Retirement Income Funds (RRIFs). “It’s unfair to force people to take their money out once they reach a certain age,” he explains. “A lot of people are retiring later (than age 71).” He notes that since taxes are paid on any amount withdrawn anyway, the government would always get its share eventually if there was no minimum withdrawal rule.

Another argument against the minimum withdrawal rule is the increase in longevity, VanGorder says. Ten per cent of kids born today will live to be over 100, he points out. “We’re adding a year more longevity for every decade,” he says.

C.A.R.P. is also pushing the federal government to move forward with election promises on increasing OAS payments for those over age 75, and to increase survivor benefits. While the feds did improve the CPP, the improvements will not impact today’s retirees; instead they’ll help millennials and younger generations following them.

Another area of concern to C.A.R.P. on the pension front is the rights of plan members when the company offering the pension goes under. “C.A.R.P. would like to see the plan members get super-priority creditor status,” he explains. That way, they’d be first in line to get money moved into their pensions when a Nortel or Sears-type situation occurs.

He notes that Canada is the only country with government-run healthcare that doesn’t also offer government-run pharmacare.

VanGorder agrees that there aren’t enough workplace pensions anymore. “Canada doesn’t mandate employers to offer pensions, making (reliance) on CPP and OAS more critical than it is in other countries,” he explains. The solutions would be forcing companies to offer a pension plan, or greatly increasing the benefits offered by OAS and CPP, he says.

“If we don’t start fixing it now, we are going to end up with a horrible problem when the millennials start to retire,” VanGorder predicts. Now is the time to act on expanding retirement security, he says. “They always say the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago,” he says. “But the second-best time is today.”

We thank Bill VanGorder for taking the time to speak to Save with SPP.

Don’t have a pension plan at work? Not sure how to save on your own? The experts at the Saskatchewan Pension Plan can help you get your savings on track. SPP offers a well-run, low-cost defined contribution plan that invests the money you contribute, and provides you with the option of a lifetime pension when work’s in the rear-view mirror. An employer pension plan option is also available. See if they’re right for you!

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.


U.S. research warns of retirement’s hidden costs – housing and long-term care

November 26, 2020

Is retirement really a gilded life at the end of a rainbow of work?

Not necessarily, says a new research paper from the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) in the U.S., titled The Growing Burden of Retirement . The paper warns that unexpected costs may prove daunting when we’ve reached the after-work stage of life.

Save with SPP reached out to Tyler Bond, one of the authors of the NIRS report, to find out what else the research discovered.

“A lot of people still go into (retirement) with the `golden years’ in mind; they are going to live off their nest egg, travel, they now qualify for Medicare, and they’ll visit their grandkids,” he explains.

But near retirees should also be thinking about any debt they may be carrying into retirement, such as mortgages. “If you own your home, is it paid for?” he asks. “Do you have any health concerns that might cause you to need long-term care? For me, the most important finding of this report is for people to see there is a wide range of outcomes in retirement,” he tells Save with SPP.

As in Canada, “the lack of (retirement) savings has been a problem in the U.S. for a long time,” says Bond. “Fifty per cent of working Americans don’t have access to a retirement savings plan at work, and all the data points to the fact that people are significantly more likely to save for retirement via a plan at work.”

Bond believes “improving access to workplace retirement plans is an essential first step.”

South of the border, 12 states have taken this bull by the horns and have started their own pension plans for those without workplace pensions. These “state-facilitated retirement savings plans” are being rolled out in California, Illinois and Oregon, Bond says, and Colorado and Pennsylvania are expected to follow suit shortly.

Employers set up their employees for automatic payroll contributions, but the employers don’t contribute. The state plans feature “auto-enrolment,” meaning employees get signed up automatically with a right to opt out if they want. Other features include “auto-escalation” of contributions, Bond explains. Most plans start with a five per cent contribution which is gradually ramped up over time to eight or 10 per cent, he explains.

Another great feature liberates people from the tricky decision of choosing what to invest their money in. Most plans place the first thousand dollars in a money market fund and then switch it over to a target-dated fund.

And the plans help turn the savings into retirement income, the “decumulation” phase. “There will be help with decumulation,” Bond says. “The idea is to come up with some way to annuitize the savings,” converting the saved dollars to a lifetime income stream, he explains.

“All these automatic features make it easier for people, easier for them to save, so we are hopeful (the state plans) will adopt these features,” he explains. There has been talk of launching a national version of these “auto-IRA (individual retirement account)” plans, Bond adds.

The new plans are reminiscent of older defined benefit (DB) plans that were “dominant” in the U.S. years ago. Those plans had similar “easy” enrolment and contribution, and looked after investment and decumulation too.

“In the last 30-40 years, defined contribution (DC) plans have dominated in the private sector,” Bond explains. But these plans didn’t all feature contribution increases and don’t always help with the drawdown, retirement income stage. “Over the next decade we will probably see more innovation in the DC space,” says Bond.

Making savings easier is part of the solution, but so is understanding the retirement spending side, Bond explains. “That’s definitely part of it,” he agrees. People “don’t know how to spend their money over the course of a long retirement – the rest of their lives – and all the challenges associated with it.”

“You don’t know how long you’re going to live – 20, 25 years? More? Will you need long-term care, or will your spouse? There’s an assortment of challenges whenever you get to retirement.”

These are issues “that don’t get talked about much,” he says. “Retirement income and retirement costs are not brought together a lot.” The number of Americans carrying mortgage debt into retirement “has significantly increased” over the past decades, and those who are renting are also experiencing cost increases.

Long-term care in the U.S., as in Canada, is very costly. While some citizens qualify for lower-cost long-term care if they qualify for Medicaid (a program for people with low incomes and savings), the rest have to pay many thousands per month for care.

While long-term care insurance exists, it is expensive – mainly because those buying it tend to be those most likely to need it. One state – Washington – is looking at a “social insurance model” for long term care, a state-run program that would help citizens with long-term care costs. Citizens would contribute 58 cents on every $100 of earnings towards this program, he explains. “A social insurance model (for long-term care coverage) is the best way to go… a system where everyone pays a little bit, versus private insurance.”

We thank Tyler Bond for taking the time to speak with us.

If you don’t have a workplace pension plan – or you want to supplement the plan you have – the Saskatchewan Pension Plan may be the program for you. SPP is defined contribution plan. You can contribute up to $6,300 a year (indexed annually) towards your future pension; SPP will look after your investments and will convert your savings to income once you’ve reached retirement age. Employers are able to offer SPP as a workplace pension. Why not check SPP out today?

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.


Start early and work the tax system in your favour, says Gordon Pape

October 1, 2020

Gordon Pape is one of Canada’s best-known authors and commentators on investing, retirement and tax issues. Save with SPP reached out to him by email to ask a few questions about our favourite topic – saving for retirement.

Q. What are the three most important tips you can provide on saving for retirement?

A. Create a savings plan and stick to it. To do that, make sure it’s realistic. To maximize the odds of success, set up an automatic monthly withdrawal at your financial institution, with the proceeds going directly into a pension plan, Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) or Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA).

  • Start as early as possible. Let the magic of compounding work for you for as many years as you can. If you invest $1,000 for 20 years with a five per cent average annual return, it will be worth $2,653.30 at the end of that time. After 40 years, the value will be $7,039.99.
  • Use the tax system to your advantage. All RRSP and pension contributions within the legal limit will generate a deduction that will lower your tax bill. Contributions to Tax-Free Savings Accounts are not deductible, but no tax is assessed on withdrawals.

Q. Given today’s markets, are there any things you think people should be doing differently with their retirement investments?

A. This is a very difficult environment in which to invest because of the uncertainty related to the pandemic and the time it will take the economy to recover. In these circumstances, I advise caution, especially with retirement money. Aim for a balanced portfolio (typically 40 per cent bonds and cash, 60 per cent equities). Dollar-cost average your stock or equity fund investments over time. Always have some cash in reserve to deploy in market corrections.

Q. Given what seems to be a lack of workplace pension plans in many job categories, is saving for retirement more important than ever before?

A. It has always been important but it’s especially so if you do not have a pension plan (most people in the private sector do not). Few people want to scrape by on payments from the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Old Age Security (OAS). To enhance your retirement lifestyle, you’ll need your own personal retirement nest egg – and the larger, the better.

Q. Do you think we’ll see more people working beyond traditional retirement age – and if yes, why do you think that is?

A. Absolutely. We’re already seeing that trend. In some cases, the motivation is financial – people simply don’t have the savings needed to quit work. But in other cases, people keep working because they want to. I’m in my 80s and still work full-time. I enjoy what I do and don’t intend to stop until health forces me to. I know a lot of people that feel the same way.

We thank Gordon Pape for taking the time to answer our questions. Be sure to check out his website for more great information.

If you don’t have a workplace pension, or are looking for a way to top up what you are already saving, consider the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. It’s a one-shop, personal retirement plan that you can set up for yourself or your employer can offer it as part of a benefit package. Once you are a member, your contributions are grown via risk-controlled, low-cost investing, and when it’s time to receive the gold watch, you can choose from a variety of retirement income options including life annuities. Consider checking them out today.

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.


Canadians stressed about money, financial buffers can help: FP Canada’s Kelley Keehn

September 10, 2020

FP Canada recently released their annual 2020 Financial Stress Index. Save with SPP reached out to FP Canada’s consumer advocate Kelley Keehn, a noted financial author and educator, by email to find out about the survey’s results.

Q. Research shows money is number one worry, and that people worry about saving for retirement and debt. Is there a relationship between the two – like, if you are paying down debt you can’t save for retirement, and vice-versa? And maybe also did you find out what people think the consequences are of not having enough for retirement (working forever, a less exciting retirement, etc.)

Yes, money still is the #1 worry. FP Canada’s Financial Stress Index found yet again that people worry more about money than health, relationships or work.

The survey didn’t go into your exact questions, but I can anecdotally state that without a clear financial plan, it’s nearly impossible to figure out complex scenarios like paying down your debt vs. saving for an RRSP (or using the tax deduction to pay down on your debt), etc.  And you’re correct, that the consequences for not having saved enough for retirement means either living with less or working longer.  

Consistent with previous years, in 2020 money is the number one cause of stress for Canadians by a large margin. Money (38 per cent) outranks personal health (25 per cent), work (21 per cent) and relationships (16 per cent) as the top source of stress in Canadians’ lives. This is particularly significant given multitude of non-financial stresses related to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

The 2020 Financial Stress Index also reveals that as Canadians age, they feel less stressed about money – with 44 per cent of 18-to-34-year-olds listing money as their leading concern compared to one-in-four (25 per cent) of those aged 65+.

Q. Putting money aside for an emergency fund is a great idea – we would like to hear a bit more about this, if possible. Are people basically realizing they need to create one for the first time? Or are they moving from having a sort of contingency credit line to having actual savings? We guess it’s because of the pandemic that this is being considered more?

Before the crisis, many stats revealed that 50 per cent of Canadians were just $200 away from insolvency.  I don’t know the current numbers, but one could suggest that it’s much worse now.  And, many people don’t realize that the time to get a line of credit is when you don’t need it (i.e. not after you’ve lost your job). 

A recent Canadian Payroll Association survey revealed that it’s not the amount of income that you earn that reduces stress, it’s the financial buffer that you have.  The problem for younger Canadians is that they haven’t been in their career long enough to save (i.e. student loan debt, getting into a home). 

Q. The financial regrets part is fabulous. We wondered whether “having a better job” might refer to having a job with better benefits (or maybe just better money). We retirees sure wish we had had the brains to try and find a job with a good workplace pension earlier (this writer got such a job in his mid-30s). That sort of thing.

The survey didn’t dig deeper unfortunately.  But people really should think of their career as their fourth asset class. If you’re in a high-risk career like an entrepreneur, your investments should perhaps be less risky.  On the flip side, a professor with tenure likely takes less risk with their investments, but possibly should. It’s essential that your career is part of your financial plan (do you have a pension or not, benefits, etc.)

Q. The number one takeaway from the research – what results surprised you the most, and why?

That Canadians are still not reaching out for help and thus suffering sleepless nights.  We wouldn’t self-diagnose when it comes to our health, nor would we go on a new road trip without the help of Google maps on our phone.  Why do so many Canadians still not reach out to a financial pro like a Certified Financial Planner (CFP)?

We thank Kelley Keehn for taking the time to answer our questions, and her colleague Emma Ninham for setting things up.

Is the Saskatchewan Pension Plan part of your own financial plan? The SPP could serve as your personal defined contribution pension plan, a workplace pension or can supplement any workplace or government pension plans to which you belong. It’s a plan with a long history of successful investing returns at a very low management cost, and has averaged returns of more than eight per cent since inception. Consider checking out SPP as a way to help take the stress out of retirement saving.

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.


Retiring later means more experience and skills stay in the workforce: Prof. Donna Wilson

July 30, 2020

A wide-reaching report by University of Alberta Professor Donna Wilson reveals some compelling facts about retirement – including the idea that working to or even beyond traditional retirement age may make sense for many of us.

Reached by Save with SPP in Edmonton, Prof. Wilson, who teaches in the Faculty of Nursing, says the “whole idea of Freedom 55, and that wonderful retirement with big vacations, is a fantasy.”

“The reality of retirement is quite different,” she explains. Sixty-four is the median age of retirement in 2020. “A year ago, it was 63, the year before it was 62, and the year before that it was 61,” she notes. “This is a massive shift – more and more people are not retiring early, and that fact is not widely recognized.”

Many are working longer because they simply lack the retirement savings or workplace pensions to be able to afford to retire, she explains. Prof. Wilson points to European studies that see a lot of people still on the job there to age 68, 69, or even 70.

“In Europe, they have worker shortages and an aging population – open jobs that can’t be filled,” she notes. Yet, often “highly qualified people” are lured into retirement because of the terms of their workplace pension plans, and are leaving work when they still have a lot to offer.

“Many pensions are based on age and years of service, such as the 85 factor. When you hit that factor, many people say `I’m outta here,’” she explains.

Prof. Wilson says Canada should seriously look at modernizing its retirement systems to align better with the reality of people wanting to work or needing to work later.

Early retirees can find they are barely making ends meet in retirement, and “a lot end up going back to work. Finances are a huge part of it but many are not prepared to be cut off from their jobs and the people they work with,” she says.

The current pandemic crisis may offer some of us “a taste of what it (retirement) could be like,” she says. “You are stuck at home, you are lonely and bored, you’d love a nice trip overseas but you can’t go.”

Prof. Wilson says that with age 64 being the current median retirement age, it means half retire before that age and the rest after it. While it’s true that some folks may have health problems and truly need to retire at a younger age, most others don’t. What can be done to keep their experience and skills in the workforce?

The professor has spent time working in Ireland, which – like Alberta – has had a boom and bust cycle in its economy. When the economy is booming, “immigration is up, there are lots of jobs, housing prices rise – and then there’s a crash, and no jobs.”

Her Irish experience found that there are many “practical, concrete things” managers can do to retain older workers, most rooted in more open communication.

“When an employee is 55 or 60, and it is time for their annual review, the boss should say `we hope you don’t think you should retire,’” so the employee feels valued and needed, the professor points out.

Similarly, “if someone becomes a grandparent, they often retire to spend more time with that grandchild. Why couldn’t the boss say `wow, how nice, do you need to work half time or do you want a few weeks off to help with the new baby?’” By being accommodating about older workers’ needs to take care of grandchildren, but maybe also ill spouses or parents, managers could offer reduced hours and leaves, Prof. Wilson explains.

HR departments, she adds, ought to consider offering health and wellness programs to help retain older workers. “There’s a lot more (employers) can do to be more proactive, and positive about older people to avoid the ingrained ageism that is out there,” she says.

Ageism is a two-faceted problem, Prof. Wilson explains. First, younger people can treat their elders with a sort of disdain, assuming they can’t hear as well, see as well, or work as hard. And, worse, there’s “self-ageism,” where older folks tend to sell themselves short.

Ageism is a myth. Recalling the old Participaction commercials from years ago, Prof. Wilson notes that a 60-year-old today could be in much better physical shape than someone half their age.

We thank Prof. Wilson for taking the time to talk with Save with SPP. Here’s a link to her research.

Flexibility is important with any retirement savings program. If you plan to work later than age 65, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan allows you to delay the start of your retirement to age 71. At that point, you’ll be able to choose from a variety of income options. Be sure to check out SPP today.

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.


The CAAT is out of the bag – any employer can now join established “modern DB” plan

July 9, 2020

We often hear how scarce good workplace pensions are, and how many employers, notably those in the private sector, have given up on offering them altogether.

But, according to Derek Dobson, CEO and Plan Manager of the Colleges of Arts and Technology (CAAT) Pension Plan, there is an option for any Canadian employer that doesn’t want to go through the effort and expense of managing a pension plan for their employees. That option is CAAT’s DBplus plan.

Dobson tells Save with SPP that there are three main themes as to why some employers – with or without their own pension plan – might want to look at DBplus.

Running what is called a “single employer” defined benefit (DB) plan means the risk of ensuring there’s enough money invested to cover the promised benefits rests on the shoulders of one employer. In a multi-employer plan, however, many employers are there to shoulder the load – the risk is shared.

As well, he notes, it might be a chance to upgrade pension benefits. “A lot of organizations want to have access to something better for their people… some employers offer nothing, or a group RRSP. Now they can move to a modern DB plan,” Dobson explains. One study by the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (see this prior Save with SPP post) found that most Canadians would take a job with a good pension over one that pays more, Dobson notes.

A final benefit, he says, is the ability that DBplus has to move all employees to a common retirement benefit platform. “In many organizations, you may find that one group of employees has nothing, one has a defined contribution plan, others have a DB plan that is now closed to new entrants… DB plus allows you to put everyone on the same platform,” he says.

Noting that another large pension plan – Ontario’s OPSEU Pension Trust – has launched a similar program for non-profit organizations, Dobson says the idea of leveraging existing pension plans to deliver pensions to those lacking good coverage “is great…the long and the short of it is that there’s a general belief that these larger plans want to put up their hands to help where they can.”

“It’s the right thing to do,” he says.

Why are pensions so important?

Dobson points out some key reasons. “The average person these days will live to age 90, and on average, they retire at age 64 or 65,” he explains. “That’s 25 years in retirement. So having a secure, predictable income, one with inflation protection and survivor pensions, and that is not being delivered for a profit motive – that’s why these plans are so powerful.”

Another great thing about opening up larger plans to new employers is that it addresses the problem of “pension envy,” Dobson says. Instead of pointing out who has a good pension and who doesn’t, now “everyone has access to one, to the same standard.”

Those without a pension have issues to face when they’re older, he warns. “The Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security systems weren’t designed to be someone’s only source of income,” he explains. “We had a three-pillar system in the past – CPP, OAS, and the third pillar, your workplace pension plan and your private savings,” Dobson says. But a large percentage of Canadians don’t have pensions at work, and a recent study by Dr. Robert Brown found that the median RRSP savings of someone approaching retirement age is just “$2,000 to $3,000,” Dobson says. Yet the same study found Canadians are willing to try and save 10 to 20 per cent of their income for retirement.

Dobson says he is energized by the goal of bringing pensions to more Canadians. “It’s a way of making Canada better,” he concludes.

Here’s a video about how the CAAT pension plan delivers on benefit security.

We thank Derek Dobson for taking the time to speak to Save with SPP.

If you don’t have a workplace pension, or the one you have offers only modest benefits, don’t forget the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. SPP allows you to decide what your savings rate will be, grows those dollars at a very low management rate, and can convert the proceeds to a variety of lifetime pensions when you retire. Check them out today.

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.


Guaranteed income even more valuable in times of market chaos: Alexandra Macqueen

June 11, 2020

Save with SPP recently had a chance to ask retirement expert Alexandra Macqueen, co-author of Pensionize Your Nest Egg  and a frequent financial blogger, for her thoughts on the state of retirement in Canada.

Q: Can you expand a bit about why annuities may start looking more appealing to retirees and and those who are soon to be retired? Is it because the markets are so volatile and negative due to the pandemic? And the idea that you have a steady lifetime income (with an annuity)?

I have two reasons for thinking annuities might start looking more appealing to today’s and tomorrow’s retirees ­– one practical and one more theoretical.

The first, practical reason is just that when markets decline precipitously – like we’re seeing now with the COVID-19 pandemic – then the value of a secure, guaranteed income that is protected from market risk is more appealing.

My own feeling is that over time, the economic effects from the COVID-19 pandemic will be viewed differently than the last big market event, the global financial crisis.

The 2008-09 financial crisis was much more constrained to a single (albeit big) sector: “finance.” The pandemic, in contrast, stands to upend so much more than the financial world and I think that, over the long term, it could reorient how we think about income and risk in retirement. Of course, it’s easy to make predictions; only time will tell!

The second, more theoretical reason is that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed what you might call the “volatility of longevity” – and somewhat counterintuitively, if longevity is MORE uncertain, people should be willing to pay MORE to hedge that risk.

If your house was at increased risk of burning down, for example, you would pay more for fire insurance – but you would also value that insurance more, because you know you were at increased chance of actually needing it!

So even though the COVID-19 pandemic might actually “decrease” life expectancy “on average,” it also increases the range of possible outcomes (I might live fewer years than before the pandemic, and the uncertainty about how long I may live has increased).

In theory (but maybe not in practice), this means people “should” be more willing to “insure” against the uncertainty, and annuities are the most efficient way to do so.

Q. Do you think people may stay away from equities and look more at bonds, GICs, and that sort of thing for the same reasons – fear of market volatility?

Yes, but with rates near zero – and potentially going even below zero – it’s hard to make bonds and GICs work for retirement income. You get security, but very, very low yields.

For people who are risk-averse (many of us!), the solution isn’t to load up on more equities. What are the alternatives? If you’re looking at products with similar guarantees to GICs, then annuities again should be on your radar screen – and annuity yields, especially at more advanced ages, compare very favourably to GICs.

Q. The ideas in your recent MoneySense article about people working later, and being less likely to retire early, were great. Do you feel work will be harder to find, jobs harder to keep, so it’s less likely that folks will leave at 55 because they may have nothing to go back to in this market? Could you expand a bit on why you think folks won’t retire the way they have been?

Here, what I’m thinking about is that for years I’ve heard people say, “if my retirement doesn’t work out, I’ll go back to work in some capacity.” But what if you’re not able to “go back to work,” because there’s no work to go back to?

It will take a long time for the effects of the pandemic to be felt in all areas of society, including work – but my thinking is that the “easy” fallback of “I’ll find work” will no longer be available. And if that’s the case, people may think longer and harder about leaving the work situations they’ve got. More uncertainty – about work, about income, about home values, about longevity – equals fewer changes and less risk-taking.

Q. We love the idea of more focus on debt, and less assumption on “harvesting” the value of the house. Hopefully this won’t lead to more reverse mortgages, but do you think we are seeing the end of the tendency for boomers to fund their lives with home equity lines of credit (HELOCs)? 

It feels like all eyes are on “what will happen with home values” right now!

There are two ways that “funding our lives with HELOCs” might end: home values might drop, so that the value isn’t there to “harvest,” and lending standards might tighten, so that HELOCs aren’t available even if the value theoretically is.

I’ve been hearing about tightening lending standards for HELOCs in recent weeks – meaning lenders may be “calling” the loan, or “tightening” the lending terms (often this looks like reducing the amount of available credit).

There doesn’t seem to be any consensus about the future direction of home prices. I feel as though for every article I read suggesting values will drop, I read another saying values will hold steady. And keep in mind that in Canada’s large markets, even a reasonably large “drop” in value will just take prices back a few years.

The rise in home values that we’ve seen in the last decade or so – particularly in the GTA and the GVA – have no historical precedent. I don’t think we, as a society, have collectively grappled with how to integrate what economists might call this “shock” into our personal financial plans. The growth in home equity is a positive shock, but a shock nonetheless! In this area, like in so many others, I think we will need to wait and see what trends emerge. It may be that lenders make the decision for homeowners to put an end to using your house “like an ATM.”

Q. Do you have any other thoughts?

My main thought is that it’s really important to recognize the diversity of situations that people entering retirement are in.

It’s very tempting to provide generalized advice based on preconceptions about what retirement is and what “retirees” are like. But retirees and soon-to-be retirees are an incredibly diverse group, with varying views on what they need and want in life, and retirees enter the retirement stage of life with highly varied situations, from their health status to their expectations about how long they’ll live and what they’ll do in retirement.

“Retirement” as we know it is a fairly young concept, and so much has changed since the idea of retirement was first introduced. We’ve collectively never been here before, with so many people transitioning into the retirement phase – which is itself changing under our feet. Thinking about and digging into what “retirement” means is what gets me up in the morning! I’ll never get tired of wondering what life has to offer.

We thank Alexandra Macqueen very much for taking the time to answer Save with SPP’s questions!

If you haven’t thought about including annuities in your retirement plans, a fact to be aware of is that if you are a member of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan, you will be able to choose from a number of life annuity options when it’s time to turn your savings into income. Check out SPP today!

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. He and his wife live with their Shelties, Duncan and Phoebe, and cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

Time to use realistic yardstick to measure senior poverty: John Anderson

May 7, 2020

It’s often said that Canadian seniors are doing fairly well, and that the rate of senior poverty experienced back in the pre-Canada Pension Plan days has dropped considerably.

However, says Ottawa-based union researcher John Anderson, the yardstick used to measure senior poverty levels needs to be updated to international standards. He took the time recently for a telephone interview with Save with SPP.

Currently, says Anderson, a “Market Basket Measure” (MBM) system is used to measure the cost of living, a “bizarre” system that factors in the cost of housing, clothing, food and other staples by province and region. By this old system, it is reckoned that 3.5 per cent of Canadian seniors live in poverty, although recent tweaks to the measurement process will see this number jump to 5.6 per cent.

The intricate MBM system – unique to Canada — goes into arcane details such as “what clothes you should have, how many pairs of long underwear, what kind of food you should buy, how many grams of butter. And there’s a sort of built-in stigmatization of rural living; it’s assumed that you don’t need as much money to live in a rural area as you do to live in Toronto,” Anderson says. The opposite is often true, he points out.

LIM system a better comparator

Anderson says the rest of the world uses a different measurement, one that’s much simpler, Anderson explains. The low income measure (LIM) scale defines poverty as being “an income level that is less than 50 per cent of the median income in the country,” he says. “This gives you a very clean comparison.”

By that measure, a startling 14 per cent of Canadian seniors are living in poverty, which is more than triple that figure that MBM currently quotes. “When you think about it, it means they are making less than half of what the average Canadian earns,” he explains. “They are not earning a lot.”

Why are today’s seniors not doing so well? Anderson says there has been a decline in workplace pensions over the years. “The numbers are way down,” he says. As recently as 2005, there were 4.6 million Canadians who belonged to defined benefit plans through work. By 2018, that number had dropped to 4.2 million, “at a time when we have seen a significant increase in the population, and more seniors than ever before.”

Defined benefit plans are the kind that guarantee what your monthly payment will be. About two million Canadians belong in defined contribution plans, which are more like an RRSP – money contributed over a working person’s career is invested and grown, and then drawn down as income in retirement.

“Only 25 per cent of workers have defined benefit plans now. And only 37 per cent have any kind of registered pension plan. Most have nothing,” says Anderson. This lack of pensions in the workplace, and the tendency towards part time and “gig” work that offers no benefits, is a primary reason why senior poverty is on the upswing, he contends.

“The kinds of jobs people are in today have changed,” Anderson explains. “People are working more non-standard jobs, gig jobs, contract work. Many are not even contributing to the CPP.” They tend not to be saving much on their own with these types of jobs, so it means that “when they retire, if they work that way, they don’t get much of a pension.”

That will leave many people with nothing in retirement except Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement, Anderson says. Neither the OAS or the GIS has “really kept up” with increases in living costs. The most anyone can get from these two programs is about $1,500 a month, for a single person, he says. “These major government pension plans have not yet taken a leap forward,” he says. “The government has improved the Canada Pension Plan, and people will benefit from that (in the future),” he explains, but these other two pillars should get a look too.

Looking forward

Anderson says by moving to a LIM-based measurement of poverty, governments could have a more realistic basis on which to make program improvements.

“We already have a form of universal basic income for seniors through the OAS and the GIS,” he says. “The monthly amounts these pay out need to be raised.”

The goal should be to raise income for seniors to the LIM target of 50 per cent of Canada’s median income which is $30,700 per person based on median after tax income for 2018.

He also thinks that the OAS should be an individual benefit, rather than being designed for couples or singles. “You get less per person with the couples’ benefit; people should get the same amount,” he explains.

He says seniors today face an expensive retirement, with possible time spent in costly long-term care homes. “Can I survive when I retire – this isn’t a question that our seniors should have to worry about,” he explains.

Anderson remains optimistic that the problem will be addressed. The Depression prompted governments of the day to begin offering OAS; experience during and after the Second World War led to the introduction of EI and the baby bonus. CPP benefits started following a serious period of senior poverty in the 1950s. “We have to do better, but maybe there’s a silver lining with the COVID-19 situation, and maybe government will take a closer look at this issue again,” he says.

We thank John Anderson for speaking with Save with SPP. John Anderson is the former Policy Director of the federal NDP and now a union researcher.

If you don’t have access to a workplace pension, consider becoming a member of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. It’s an open defined contribution plan – once you’re a member, the contributions you make are invested and grown over time, and when you retire, you have the option of turning your savings into a lifetime monthly pension. Check them out today.

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. He and his wife live with their Shelties, Duncan and Phoebe, and cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22