Category Archives: Interviews

People behind the scenes at SPP.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do millennials think about retirement?

It’s clear to most of us – especially older Canadians – that younger people have a very different way of doing things. So that said, what do they think about retirement?

Save with SPP spoke recently to David Coletto, founding partner and CEO of research firm Abacus Data. His firm has carried out a lot of research on millennials – indeed, he has a book in the works – and he has noticed quite a few things about how younger people approach money and saving.

“No one young Canadian is going to be the same,” he says. As well, he adds, the current COVID-19 situation was not yet a factor when he carried out his research. However, he notes that the data suggests that some millennials are “as well off as the previous generation,” but others, less so. It really comes down to whether or not they live somewhere where they can afford a home, he explains.

There are reasons why housing affordability is an issue for millennials, he notes. For starters, housing prices in Canada’s major cities are near all-time highs. As a group, millennials do tend to have debt, and “the debt levels are much higher” than those of older generations, he explains. Dealing with heavy debt from student days, or the cost of raising kids, tends to “delay key milestones” for millennials.

“So much of their experience is different,” he says, “that it is difficult for them (millennials) to think of retirement when they are still focused on today. About one-third of this generation is struggling more than their parents did, and they will be less well off as a result.”

Abacus recently did some research with the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan that found, among other things, that 80 per cent of respondents would take a job that paid less money if it offered a pension.

Job security isn’t what it once was, Coletto explains. “There’s more freelance work, more part-time work – what we call precarious work, and less pensions available.”

When there’s no workplace pension, the onus for retirement saving falls on the individual. “It’s lower on the list for them, and saving (for retirement) is difficult to do,” he explains. “They are having to manage a lot of other expenses. And we are talking about the pre-COVID era, here.”

“It’s a big chunk that has to go to savings for a down payment, or to pay for a mortgage,” he says.

And it’s not just the workplace that has changed. Millennials are dealing with “a climate change crisis that is existential.” Some “are putting off having a family” over climate concerns, he says.

Millennials therefore tend to want to do things now, while they still can, instead of deferring life experiences and grand trips until they are older. “If the experiences won’t be there, or are not possible, what’s the point of trying to save? Especially when you can’t afford to,” asks Coletto.

Statistics show that only “one in four millennials put any money into an RRSP, and even those that do don’t have a lot of equity in them,” Coletto explains. And while Tax Free Savings Accounts are more attractive to younger people (due to the fact they aren’t locked in) take-up is pretty low there as well.

Absent personal savings, Coletto is concerned that the gap between those with pensions – such as their parents – and those without will create a real split. “There’s an inequality there which will continue to grow,” he predicts.

A way to avoid that scenario might be for Canada to adopt the Australian model for retirement savings, he explains. There, a percentage of every worker’s salary is automatically placed into retirement savings, no matter where you work. The money is then invested by large funds offering pooling and low-cost investing. Moving to an Australian model is “something that needs to be seriously discussed,” he says.

A final piece of advice from Coletto for millennials is this – look at what your parents did for their retirement, and see what you can learn from them.

We thank David Coletto for taking the time to speak with us.

There’s no question that access to a workplace pension is a great benefit for an employer to offer. The Saskatchewan Pension Plan can help. Please contact us for more details.

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

Unless it’s mandatory, most people can’t or won’t save: Gandalf’s David Herle

Much is said and written about the need to get more people to save for retirement, particularly younger folks who typically lack a retirement program at work.

According to David Herle, Principal Partner at research firm The Gandalf Group, and a noted political and retirement commentator, it’s not just younger people who aren’t saving for retirement.

“We know that young people do not think about the end state of their lives,” he tells Save with SPP in a recent telephone interview. “They are focused on their more immediate needs.” Those needs include the cost of education, housing, and consumer debt.

When talk turns to millennials, the Saskatchewan-born Herle points out that their ability to save is hampered by the fact that there are “less jobs, and specifically, less good jobs with pensions and benefits” in today’s “gig economy.”

So not only are young people not saving, neither are old people. No one, he explains, has any extra money kicking around to save for retirement.

Herle says his firm’s research has shown repeatedly that the best way to get people to save is to make it mandatory, with no way to opt out. That way, he says, ensures money is directed to their long-term savings without the individual “having to think about it.”

Otherwise, he notes, getting people to save is challenging. “There’s not a lot of benefit from lecturing people,” he explains.

Asked if there are any public policy options to increase savings, Herle noted one idea from the past that could be revisited – payroll Canada Savings Bond purchases.

In the recent past, you could buy a Canada Savings Bond and pay for it via payroll deductions, a sort of “pay yourself first” option that did encourage some savings. “It might be worth considering bringing it back,” he suggests.

He points to the expansion of the Canada Pension Plan as “the most significant public policy development” in the retirement savings space. Ontario considered bringing in its own pension plan to supplement CPP, but the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan was shelved when CPP expansion got the green light a few years ago, he says.

The other trend he calls “troubling” is the lack of good pension plans in the workplace. For many years most people had a decent pension plan at work, the defined benefit variety which spells out what your retirement income will be. But employers “have started cutting pension plans,” moving to other arrangements, such as group RRSPs or capital accumulation plans where future income is not guaranteed.

He cites the recent labour dispute over pensions involving Co-op Refinery workers in Regina as an example of an employer trying to cut pension benefits for their employees. “If this happens, we could be seeing the end of the line for pensions,” he warns.

“Most people have lost the security of having an employer-sponsored pension plan,” Herle explains. There’s a large chunk of “middle and low-income earners” who are being expected to compensate for the lack of a plan at work with their own private savings.

“Our research found that those aged 55 to 65 – and this is not counting real estate – have more debt than savings. So this is people in the 10-year run-up to retirement,” he says. The lack of savings will force people to use home equity lines of credit, and the “reverse mortgage business is going to take off.”

Debt is restricting the ability to save, and CPP changes “won’t kick in in time for many people.” Herle says he has not heard of any plans to fix the other pillar of the federal retirement system, the taxpayer-funded Old Age Security program. Recent governments have tried to raise the age of entitlement, and a clawback program is already in place to reduce OAS payouts for higher income earners.

The outlook for retirement saving is “a very gloomy picture,” Herle concludes. He blames “a systematic societal failure… where the risk (of retirement investment) has been transferred to employees from employers.”

We thank David Herle for taking the time to speak to Save with SPP, and encourage readers to check out his podcast, The Herle Burly.

It’s true that paying yourself first – directing something to savings and then spending the rest – can work, especially if it is an automatic thing and the money moves before you can spend it. The Saskatchewan Pension Plan has flexible contribution options that include a direct deposit program; you can set it and forget it. SPP also has an option for employers to set up an easily administered pension plan for their employees. 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

Life after retirement doesn’t need to be scary, says Life Two author Don Ezra

We all spend a lot of time worrying about retirement – can we afford it, will we enjoy it, will we feel like we’re on the sidelines of life – but very little is written about what that phase of life is actually like.

Save with SPP reached out to noted retirement expert Don Ezra, whose latest book, Life Two , explores what it’s like in that other place, life after work.

Q. You talk about the “u-curve” and how 70-year-olds are as happy as 20-year-olds, which is a great analogy. What are some of the reasons why retired folks are so happy?

Yes, retirement (which I prefer to think of as Life Two) really is the best time of life. Happiness studies in every country say the same thing: that this is the time when we tend to rate our happiness highest. There are so many reasons.

The neurological reason is that our brain chemistry changes, and we’re less stressed and less driven, and more inclined to be content, and see the glass as half full rather than half empty. Our measuring stick changes.

Even without the science, think of it this way. When we’re kids, we have no money. We have lots of time. When we work and raise a family, we start to accumulate money. But we’re very stressed for time, during Life One, our working life. It’s not until we retire, or at least stop working full-time, that we have both the time and the money to truly enjoy all of life. That gives us freedom!

So think of Life Two as a full life; a mature life rather than an immature one; a happy life rather than a stressful one.

That’s how we ought to reframe retirement.

Q. We love the casino analogy and the advice about investing (safety and growth). Why do you think so many people think they know enough about investing to do it by themselves without professional advice? Is there anything that could be done to help improve general investing knowledge?

It’s strange, really, isn’t it? We don’t think of ourselves as knowing enough about medicine or the law to practise it ourselves. And yet, as you say, so many people think they can do investing by themselves. It’s a field of study, a discipline that requires expertise, that’s all I can say. And I’m not convinced that general education can help the cause much, just as it wouldn’t with medicine or the law.

We do need to understand some fundamental aspects of medicine and the law – what it’s about, how it operates, how to explain our own circumstances to the professionals so that they can help us. (Because, yes, we are the experts on ourselves!) I think it’s the same with investing.

That’s what I tried to do with the analogy of the casino, because that’s something that most people can associate with: uncertain outcomes, with chances of making money and losing money. And then, very importantly, we should understand the ways in which investing differs from a casino. All of that leads to the general notion that there are two main financial goals. To some extent we’d like safety and predictability, and to some extent we’d like long-term growth. Typically the two are fundamentally opposed, and the more we want of one, the less scope there is for the other. So, the most important decisions regarding our financial selves are the ones that say how much safety we want and how much growth we want. The rest, the implementation to deliver our goals, can be left to the experts.

Q. We get more research, like the recent research carried out by the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan and Abacus Data that suggests that folks are afraid to retire, largely because they fear they can’t afford it. Is this because everyone has so much debt they can’t imagine living on less money. Are there other reasons driving this?

There are lots of reasons for the fear. In fact there are three main questions that people fear thinking about, and two are not financial at all.

The first is psychological: Without my work to define me, how do I define myself? A sort of: what would I put on my new business card? “Retired” is so negative. So … you need to learn how to find new motivation and redefine yourself.

Second: How will I fill my time? Linked to this: I have a partner, and we’re frankly not used to spending that much time together.

And third (and this is what surveys say is the biggest fear): Will I outlive my money? This is the one you’ve asked about, so let’s deal with it.

One reason is that most people have little idea about longevity. And to the extent they’ve ever thought about it, they tend to remember a number for life expectancy at birth. They don’t realize that life expectancy for the average retiree takes you much further than life expectancy at birth, because some people pass away before they retire. And they don’t realise that life expectancy is simply an average, not the limit of life.

For example … Suppose there’s a country for which life expectancy at birth is 80. That means it’s the average age at death. But some people pass away before they get to 65. They are the ones who keep the average as low as 80. Those who survive past 65 are, in general, a longer-lived group, and their average age at death may be more like 85. And in addition, that’s an average: half of them will outlive that age. But typically people in this hypothetical country, to the extent they think about lifespan at all, will believe they’ll be gone by 80.

Even if people realised this, it still wouldn’t tell them how to calculate an annual drawdown from their assets that ought to be sustainable over their future lifetimes. Most people tend to grossly overestimate how much they can draw down each year: they guess something like 10 per cent every year instead of a much lower number.

These are all technical reasons, of course, and they say nothing about one’s personal circumstances, like ongoing debt. Even without debt and a mortgage, people are still afraid of thinking about these things.

That’s why I wrote my book Life Two, first to reassure them that they’re not alone in their fear. In fact, even the experts have those three fears! And second, to show them how they can think through some of the issues and answer those questions for themselves. I can’t tell them, “Don’t worry, everything will be all right” – because that simply isn’t credible. What I try to do is show them how to relate the expertise to their own circumstances. And that should give them a feeling of control. It’s like driving a car. They’ll still have their own decisions to make – direction, speed – but at least it’ll put them in the driver’s seat.

Q. What’s the best thing you have experienced – maybe the nicest change – now that you are in Life 2?

Oh gosh, so many things! And that’s even though at first I felt totally discombobulated, like a tree that had been uprooted, and I didn’t know what kind of new tree I wanted to be, nor where I should plant my new roots. The long (for me) transition between Life One and a good Life Two is what caused me to start doing the research (hey, let’s learn from what others have experienced) that led to my Life Two book.

If I had to pick out just one thing, it would be very personal. It’s the totally unexpected gratification of hearing from readers of the book and the accompanying website that something I wrote or identified caused them to change their thinking or to take action that made life better for them. And they come from countries around the world – because of course the three fears are not country-specific. Every personal note makes my day, my week, my month – and together they make my life.

I suppose I could generalise and say that the discovery that, in your own Life Two, you realise things about yourself that you were unaware of, and which please you, is a very nice unexpected aspect.

Q. Why do you think it is so hard for working folks to visualize what it will be like to be retired?

I think it’s that we become so used to the routine of our Life One. And then we’re forced to change it. It’s that tree analogy. I experienced this myself.

For over 40 years I had planted my roots deep into soil that nurtured growth.  I loved the experience of life and work. It had a pattern, a rhythm, that I grew deeply attached to. Then that changed, when I retired. Harry Levinson, a pioneering professor of psychology at Harvard, had this piece of wisdom in one of his books; he said: “All change is loss, and all loss must be mourned.” Retirement was a big change. And mourning isn’t something we look forward to.

I needed to plant a new tree. But, as I said earlier, I didn’t know what kind of tree I wanted it to be, nor where exactly I wanted to plant it, nor if I would change my mind. The freedom to choose, freedom that I’d dreamed about, freedom that was the first word in our family Christmas letter that year … it was still new. And it took time – more than three years, in my case – before I had some idea about my personal answers to those questions. And even then, I remember thinking: some roots are growing in new soil, but they’re new roots and not yet deep; and only time will give them traction.

That’s why the questions “Who am I?” and “How will I fill my time?” are so scary, for many of us. As you can guess, the conferences that I speak at are attended by geeky types (like me!), and it’s terrific to see how pleased they are that someone actually talks about these touchy-feely issues.

Q. What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about retirement?

How much I like it. I’ve been flattered to be asked, many times, if I would take something on as a part-time role. No! Anything that imposes an ongoing obligation will send me back to a condition that I’m thrilled to have solely in my past, and I don’t want it in my future. Now I’m free and I’m happy. I had always thought that part-time work (yes, I really loved my work) would be something I’d love to do forever. And for a few years that was great. Now … my family says I work as hard as ever, but the difference is that it isn’t a job, it’s pursuing a passion.  Makes all the difference in the world. Freedom.

We thank Don Ezra for taking some time from Life Two for some questions from Save with SPP. Be sure to check out his website.

If you are saving for your own life after work, a helpful resource is the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. This plan, unlike most, isn’t related to anyone’s workplace. The money you contribute is grown by professional investors at a low cost, and at the time you retire you can receive it as a lifetime 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