COVID

Nov 15: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

November 15, 2021

Canadian pension system earns a “B” rating

Canada’s pension system stacks up reasonably well against those of other developed countries, reports Wealth Professional.

The magazine cites new research from the Mercer CFA Global Pension Index, research that covered pension systems that served “65 per cent of the world’s population,” and notes that Canada retained its prior “B” rating.

“Ranked for adequacy, sustainability, and integrity, Iceland came top … with an overall score of 84.2, followed by the Netherlands (83.5) and Denmark (82.0),” Wealth Professional reports.

Canada, the magazine reports, came in at 69.8, putting it “ahead of countries including the U.S. (61.4), Germany (67.9) and New Zealand (67.4).”

So while “B” is not bad, there is still work to be done, the magazine article continues. A higher overall savings rate (thanks to COVID) and economic growth help, but there are still issues that need to be addressed, the magazine adds.

“While COVID-19 had a disproportionate impact on the retirement savings of certain groups, such as women, gender gaps in retirement savings have long existed,” Scott Clausen, a Mercer Canada partner, tells Wealth Professional. “Employers are encouraged to review the design of their pension plans, as well as other compensation programs, to ensure that they are not unconsciously disadvantaging women in their workforce,” he states in the article.

The article points out that “most of the Canadian workforce are left to save for their pension themselves rather than through workplace schemes.”

Clausen tells Wealth Professional that this shortfall in coverage represents an opportunity for the country.

“Employers can provide a pension to their employees, while delegating the governance and administration responsibilities to a third party, by joining a collective defined benefit pension plan or by providing an outsourced defined contribution pension plan,” he states in the article.

Making it easier for women to save is something that pension systems in Canada and worldwide need to improve on, says Mercer’s Dr. David Knox. He tells Wealth Professional “the world cannot sit idle as data shows that poverty among older people is more prevalent for women.”

He suggests making it easier for individuals to join pension plans generally, as well as adding some sort of pension credit system that factors in time spent caring “for the young and the old.” Decades ago, it was quite common for most employers to offer some sort of pension plan for their employees. Over the years, the level of coverage has slipped.

The bottom line is this – if there’s any sort of pension arrangement at your place of work, be sure to join and contribute to the maximum. After a while, like any benefit deducted from your paycheque, you won’t notice money being put away for your future.

If there isn’t a plan to join at work, the responsibility for retirement saving has been shifted onto your shoulders. If you’re not sure how to go about the job of saving, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan may be an answer. SPP will invest the money you contribute – professionally, and at a low rate – and then can convert your nest egg to retirement income down the road. This do-it-yourself pension plan has been getting it done for an impressive 35 years. 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.


Pandemic created a wave of migration to smaller towns and other provinces – will it continue?

November 4, 2021

Many people young and old made a big change in their living arrangements during the pandemic.

Younger people – liberated from having to go to the office each day – sought more affordable housing in other cities or provinces. City dwellers generally, including retirees, wondered if it would be safer during times of COVID to move to places with lower infection rates.

Save with SPP took a look around the Interweb to see how this is playing out now that the pandemic is (hopefully) starting to turn the final corner towards “over.”

Better Dwelling magazine reports on how people have left Ontario to live in Atlantic Canada. In the second quarter of 2021, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick attracted 4,678 and 2,145 interprovincial newcomers. Ontario saw an outflow of 11,857 people in the same quarter, the magazine reports.

What’s the attraction?

“Lower COVID spread in the Maritimes probably amplified the region’s appeal. But relatively affordable housing was likely an even bigger draw, especially as home prices skyrocketed in already-expensive parts of the country and more Canadians were able to work remotely,” states RBC economist Carrie Freestone in the article. 

“With housing affordability worsening in major urban markets in Central Canada, this may mark the beginning of a trend: young talent moving east for an improved quality of life,” she tells Better Dwelling.

But it’s not just Ontario that is seeing people move. Closer to home, Alberta is also seeing people pack up to start over elsewhere, reports the CBC via Yahoo! News.

Why are they leaving?

The article says high COVID case counts may be one reason, but quotes Mount Royal Professor David Finch as saying “”Young people are leaving the province for a variety of reasons — some tied to employment, some tied to economics or education.”

A recent study, the 2020 Calgary Attitudes and Outlook Survey, found that a startling 27 per cent of Calgarians aged 18 to 24 planned to leave the city in the next five years, the CBC reports.

“In Alberta, there is a perception that there is a lack of diverse career pathways, leading people to look at other parts of Canada or beyond for opportunities in education or employment that may be closer aligned to their career objectives and social values,” Finch states in the article.

Retirees thinking of relocating to cheaper places need to think the idea through carefully, suggests the Boomer & Echo blog.

Most seniors making such moves do so for better weather, as well as “proximity to family, affordable housing costs, the availability of healthcare facilities, and things to do,” the blog notes.

A lower housing budget will give you more money for travel (when travelling is more common), the blog adds. The blog advises that you try visiting your intended destination for a long stay before committing to the move, and go in both summer and winter. Check differences in provincial tax rates, and find out about transferring your provincial healthcare.

The grass may appear greener down the highway, but you may expect some higher costs and fewer services if you move from a city to a smaller centre, warns the Globe and Mail.

The article cites the example of Ian Cable and Amy Stewart, who decided to move from Toronto to Owen Sound, a small city on the shores of Lake Huron. They found that the cost of a house in Owen Sound “was a fraction (of the cost) of a similar property in Toronto.”

But in Toronto, with a vast public transit system, they only needed one vehicle; in Owen Sound they have two. Isaiah Chan of the Credit Counselling Society tells the Globe that smaller town residents usually have to drive more often, and farther – instead of a half hour drive for your kids’ hockey you might now be looking at two to three hours, Chan says.

The article flags other possible problems – are you on a water and sewer system, or septic tanks and wells? If you need to return to the office from the country, can you afford the commute, the article asks.

The article concludes by suggesting anyone moving to a smaller place to save money must do thorough research on what the full costs of living there will be.

The key takeaways here seem to be that you need to get as much intel as possible about the place you are thinking of moving to before you make the jump. Save with SPP once travelled two hours by car – each way – to work from about 10 years. The cost of keeping the car going tended to wipe out any advantage from the lower cost of living.

In a way, retirement is like a destination – a place where you are going to go one day. The intel you need to know now is whether or not you have sufficient retirement income. If you are in a retirement plan at work, great; if not, consider joining it. If there isn’t a plan, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan has everything you need to set up your own individual or employer-based one. Wherever you end up in retirement, things will go more smoothly if you can unpack some retirement income when you get there, so check out SPP – celebrating 35 years of building retirement futures – 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.


Aug 2: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

August 2, 2021

COVID did a number on the retirement rate, but it’s climbing again

One unexpected side effect of the pandemic was a dampening of people’s plans to retire.

According to new research from RBC, covered in a story from CTV News, there was an unexpected drop of 20 per cent in the retirement rate last year – likely due to COVID-19.

RBC’s Andrew Agopsowicz tells CTV that the dip “was likely a result of uncertainty about retirement savings as the pandemic arrived.”

“It’s what held people back,” he affirms in the story.

But – perhaps an indicator of better times ahead – retirements are starting to return to normal levels, he notes.

“The return to normal could be a good period for people to make a decision they were probably going to be making (anyway),” Agopsowicz states in the story.

There has been a general rise in retirements over the last decade as the boomer generation hits age 65, the story notes, and “that trend will continue for several years.”

A fringe benefit of the boomers getting out of the workforce may be “a near-term labour shortgage for some types of jobs,” Agopsowicz tells CTV. This will be due to a trifecta – boomer retirements, a low national birthrate, and lower levels of immigration, the story states.

In mid-July, CTV reports, Statistics Canada reported that the Canadian economy added 230,700 new jobs, “as restrictions put in place to slow the pandemic were rolled back across the country.”

Savings may have to last a long time

If you are among those planning to log out for the last time in 2021, Money Control outlines some of the steps you may want to consider to ensure your retirement stash isn’t exhausted before (ahem) you are.

Most retirees will live beyond age 85, the article notes. “We could live for up to 30 years or more post our retirement… (and) women live longer than men,” the article states.

With that in mind, you should plan for your investments to outperform inflation, the article says. If you can’t get there with fixed-income investments, “investing in equity will give you long-term growth; in between, there will be volatility.”

So, putting these two bits of information together – the stampede towards the workplace exit for boomers will soon resume its normal pace. The nest eggs boomers have built, and that younger folks are still building, will need to last for maybe 30 years. And while conventional wisdom suggests that the older you are, the less exposure to risky equities you should have, inflation hasn’t been a factor for a while but could one day reappear.

One answer is a “balanced fund” approach, where experts position their fund with exposure to both fixed income and equity, making strategic moves in advance of emerging trends. A great example is the Saskatchewan Pension Plan Balanced Fund, which has produced an average rate of return of eight per cent since its inception 35 years ago. While past returns aren’t a guarantee of future performance, the idea of having someone else decide when to get in or get out is a sound one – you can instead focus on your golf game or line dancing steps. 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.


Your retirement income may flow from many different streams: Sheryl Smolkin

July 29, 2021

We got a chance to catch up recently with Sheryl Smolkin, the original Save with SPP writer who has had a long career as a pension lawyer, a magazine editor, and a freelance writer/blogger.

Speaking over the phone from her Toronto home, Sheryl explains that because she worked at a variety of jobs over her working years, her retirement income comes from a variety of different streams.

She was Canadian Director of Research and Information at a global consulting firm for 18 years. Later, she became editor of Employee Benefit News magazine for four years, and subsequently she turned her talents to freelance writing. Sheryl played a pivotal role in setting up the Saskatchewan Pension Plan’s (SPP) social media efforts, including the Save with SPP blog that she pioneered.

When she left consulting, she received a defined benefit pension and retiree health insurance, she explains. As a result, she and her husband have retirement income from an employment pension, government benefits, and other registered and un-registered savings, including SPP. They have been “drawing down” income from various streams since their mid-50s.

Sheryl says she regularly transferred $10,000 annually from her RRSP to SPP over the years. When she reached 71, she looked at her SPP options and decided on the prescribed registered retirement income fund (PRRIF) to draw down her savings. With that option, she will cash out the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) required minimum amount from her account each year.

So, she says, while some folks (including this writer) might think that 71 is a sort of magic age when all retirement savings gets converted to retirement income, that’s probably not the case for many people.

“My recommendation is always this,” she explains. “Everybody worries about having enough money in retirement; but the real worry is, are you going to have enough time” to spend it. “Enjoy spending the money – there are very few people who actually run out of money.”

She’s been busy since she wrapped up her writing work for SPP back in 2018. In the pre-COVID era, she took courses at Ryerson University, took care of her aging mom who passed away in 2019, visited the kids and her granddaughter in Ottawa, and went to every sort of live theatre, music performance or other show on offer. “We were having a lot of fun before COVID,” she says, and that will resume now that the pandemic appears to be winding down.

Her husband, a “serial hobbyist,” has not slowed down on his woodworking during the pandemic. She has taken advantage of the quiet period to catch up on her reading.

Sheryl does not hanker for a return to the workforce. When she left her consulting position in 2005, she notes, “I was NOT ready for retirement, but by 2018, it was time.”

She says however, that occasionally she does “miss the satisfaction of producing a piece of work, and seeing it online or in print – creating.” With her job at the magazine, there were a lot of conferences and travel, which she liked – but recalls that at one conference, she also agreed to produce a daily newspaper which was particularly hectic.

Fun is a central theme in talking to Sheryl. She says it is very important to have fun in your retired life. “Everyone has something they want to do, but the beauty of it (retirement) is that you don’t HAVE to do anything, if you don’t want to,” she says.

These days, she is anticipating getting involved “in the rhythm of the year” again through visits with friends and family. She looks forward to resuming “long distance travel” again once things are safe. Until then, “I’m excited to be able to go back to Stratford, back to the Shaw Festival, and other Canadian destinations.”

Sheryl says retirement really consists of three phases – the early stage, the mid-stage, and the later stage.

“Don’t be afraid to spend money in the earlier, more active stage of retirement,” she advised. “There will be less travel and shopping as you get older.”

She is glad that the SPP has provided one of her retirement income streams. “I think it’s a very good program,” she says. “For us, SPP is part of a bigger overall plan, which has both registered and unregistered components.”

So retirement income is a river fed by multiple income streams – we thank Sheryl for that lovely, and very evocative image. She says hi to everyone at SPP in Kindersley, and we all thank her very much for her time and wish her continued happiness in her life after work.

Need to add a good stream to your future retirement river? Consider joining the SPP. It can augment the income you’ll receive from workplace and government plans, and the best part is that you can now contribute up to $6,600 a year – and can transfer in up to $10,000 a year from other RRSPs. 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.


As offices gear up for re-opening, will everyone want to return?

July 22, 2021

The summer of 2021 has seen the start of what looks like a return to normal. COVID numbers are down, vaccination rates are up, the economy is re-opening (carefully) and there’s talk again of travel, and of going back to the office.

Yet there’s also talk from some of NOT going back to the office? What gives? Save with SPP had a look around to explore this issue.

Research from Robert Half, an HR consulting firm, from April found that about one-in-three office workers “would quit their job rather than return to the office,” reports Western Investor.

More than half of those surveyed on the idea of returning to work said they “prefer a hybrid work arrangement, where they can divide time between the office and another location,” the article notes. Some of those surveyed did express concern that working from home has its downsides, such as the “loss of relationships with co-workers” and “fewer career opportunities and decreased productivity.”

Those who do imagine coming back want some perks, the article says, such as “greater freedom to set office hours, employer-paid commuting costs, a relaxed dress code and providing childcare.”

Ouch. What would the “dress for success” workaholics of the ‘80s make of this office aversion?

The numbers are similar south of the border. An article in Commercial Observer says that while 62 per cent of Manhattan workers were expected to return to the office, that leaves “one in three” who don’t plan to come back.

Only about 12 per cent of Manhattan’s 1.5 million office workers had returned to work by early summer and “39 per cent of people would be willing to quit their job rather than give up remote work,” the article says.

A more recent survey from Canada Life sheds some light on the concerns people have about re-entering office life.

Even given the dropping COVID numbers and higher vaccination rates, “46 per cent of Canadians working from home are anxious about the threat of the virus if and when they return to the office,” Canada Life reports in a media release.

Mary Ann Baynton of Workplace Strategies for Mental Health, who partnered on the research with Canada Life, explains this reluctance.

“For those working from home, this transition presents new and unique concerns, because they’ve been more isolated and have been able to limit their exposure to the virus for a long time. Employers need to understand what their teams are concerned about so they can effectively support them during this significant adjustment,” she states in the release.

COVID risk was by far the biggest concern identified in the research, the release notes – only 10 per cent were concerned about changes to their work-life balance, nine per cent about increased commuting, and less than one per cent about impacts to children and their care, the release notes.

From our informal research amongst friends and colleagues who have been working at home, there is certainly interest in having the flexibility to work from home – at least some of the time – going forward. If you’ve ever been crammed onto a train or subway car packed with commuters, or stuck in a 10-km long traffic jam each workday, or circling some lot in a fruitless quest for the last parking spot, it’s hard to look forward to starting all that up again. Only time will tell how it all plays out.

One thing that works as well at home as it does in the workplace is the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. You can sign up as an individual, effectively creating a tailored, end-to-end pension plan for yourself that looks after not only investing your savings, but converting them to income later on. If you’re an employer, you can offer SPP at your workplace, creating a great way to attract new team members and hanging on to the people you’ve got! Why not 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.


Has COVID affected Canadians’ ability to donate to charities?

July 15, 2021
Photo by Katt Yukawa on Unsplash

A few years ago – before the pandemic – Global News reported that Canadians were cutting back on charitable giving.

Citing research from the Fraser Institute, Global reported that in 2017 Canadians donated just 0.54 per cent of their income to charity – less than half of what Americans donated (1.25 per cent) in the same timeframe.

Given the severe economic mayhem the pandemic has wrought upon us, Save with SPP wondered if charitable giving has taken an even further plunge.

It sounds like a recovery in charitable giving is underway, states an article posted in the Globe and Mail.

According to the article, authored by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), “in the 12 months since March 2020 when the pandemic was declared, more than three-quarters of Canadians who had given previously to charity continued their philanthropy and gave larger gifts than in past years.”

And while only 70 per cent of Canadians made charitable donations in 2017, 76 per cent did in 2020, and “the average size of the gifts was much higher – up from $772 in 2017 to $965 in 2020,” the article adds.

The AFP’s chair Susan Storey is quoted as saying “Canada is a phenomenally, uniquely generous nation, and philanthropy, at its core, is about helping others and strengthening communities,” she says. “So, it’s not surprising that for those that could give, they did – and generously.”

The Canada Helps website says that while “year over year” giving grew, the overall rate of giving is expected to decline about 10 per cent due to COVID-19.

This site suggests that our charitable giving is more targeted during tough economic times.

Canada Helps reports that Canadians gave 1.6 per cent of their income to charity; however, the percentage of Canadians who make donations is down from the level of 24 per cent it reached in 2007.

Charities have had to be resourceful during the COVID-19 pandemic, when traditional avenues, such as displays in malls or street corners, weren’t available. Online donations are one solution, and in Ottawa, local branches of the Royal Canadian Legion used a drive-thru approach for last fall’s poppy campaign, reports CTV News.

“I think it’s a great idea. First off you don’t have the older veterans out in the cold and wet, obviously it’s keeping them safe from the people in the stores and malls,” Richard Coney tells CTV, praising the idea of a drive-thru poppy campaign.

Donations to Indigenous Peoples’ Charities – for example are up 2.25 per cent, as are donations to social services charities (up 2.2 per cent) and health charities (1.8 per cent).

If you’re able to help out the charity of your choice – and maybe have had to cut back due to the pandemic’s impact on your finances – consider resuming your contributions now that we are emerging from the darkness of the pandemic. There’s a lot riding on it for a lot of people.

Similarly, if you’d had to cut back on retirement savings during COVID-19, gear back into it as soon as you can. A nice feature of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan for its individual members is that you can gear up your contributions when times are good, and gear down when they aren’t. The flexible SPP – celebrating its 35th year of operations — is open to accepting monthly pre-authorized contributions, or a little bit at a time through the “online bill payment” section of most banks. It takes many small steps to complete a journey, after all!

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.


Remembering the good old saving days of 1981

April 8, 2021

Before the pandemic, we read countless stories about how the savings rate among Canadians had fallen to its lowest level in decades.  Now, possibly due to the fact that the pandemic has limited our ability to spend money, the opposite is now true. We are reaching the highest personal savings rate we’ve experienced in 35 years.

According to a report in the Toronto Star, Canadians in 2020 “saved a greater chunk of their income than they had in three and a half decades.”  Canucks put away 14.8 per cent of their income last year, representing about $5,000 per person in savings.

“People weren’t able to spend on a lot of things they normally can, because of the lockdowns. And in some cases, they chose not to spend,” Pedro Antunes, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada, tells the Star.

Save with SPP can still remember 1981, but at that time, working as a cub reporter, one’s focus was not on the long term, or savings. So, we had to check back to see what it was like the last time we had a high national savings rate.

At RatesDotCa, there’s a nice article that recaps what it was like 40 years ago for Canadian savers.

For starters, the article notes, interest rates were the opposite of what they are today – at all-time highs.

“If you’re not old enough to remember the recession of the early 1980s, your parents certainly will. In 1981, mortgage rates peaked at more than 20 per cent,” RatesDotCa reports.

“Many people whose mortgages were up for renewal during that period found themselves signing up for mortgage rates that were twice as high as they were just five years prior. Some resorted to paying hefty upfront fees to get private lenders to offer them rates in the mid-teens,” the article continues.

Other things – most goods and services – kept going up. The Inflation.eu website shows that throughout 1981, the consumer price index went up by more than 12 per cent. While your pay tended to go up to address higher costs of living, it usually didn’t go up as fast as prices did.

Save with SPP recalls getting a car loan at 16 per cent interest from CIBC. The effect of the high cost of borrowing was that we got a little used Plymouth Horizon – a little car for a big interest rate. Today, it’s the opposite – people are getting big houses and cars because it’s a low interest rate.

But we also recall the benefit of high interest rates on our savings back in the early 1980s. You could get a Canada Savings Bond that paid double-digit interest. It was the same story with GICs. Your parents and grandparents were probably chiefly buying interest-paying investments in those heady days. It was a thing, and payroll Canada Savings Bonds were commonplace.

Recently, we have begun to hear that our historically low interest rates may be on the rise once again.

The Globe and Mail reports that inflation went up 1.1 per cent in February, and one per cent in January. Rising gas prices are part of the upward push, the article notes. The Bank of Canada, the article notes, is expecting a 1.7% rate of inflation this year.

Will inflation hikes bring with them interest rate hikes – a return to the 1980s? It’s unlikely, says RatesDotCa.

“Although it’s unlikely that rates will hit the likes of 15-20 per cent again, we may very well see 5-7 per cent in the long run. That type of a jump may still be two to three times higher than your current mortgage rate.  Do you think you could afford paying nearly three times as much as you do today for your mortgage, and still afford those other essentials like heat and groceries,” the article warns.

The takeaway here is that things change. We have had low interest rates for so long, only us greybeards remember when we didn’t. Will savers start to pile into interest-bearing investments once again if rates begin to tick upwards? We’ll need to wait and see.

A balanced approach makes sense when you are saving for the long term. When interest rates are low, other investment categories – Canadian and international equities, real estate, and so on – tend to do better. But when you’re in a balanced investment fund, the experts are the ones who figure out when to rebalance, not you.

The Saskatchewan Pension Plan has a Balanced Fund that invests your contributions in Canadian and international equities, infrastructure, bonds, mortgages, real estate and short-term investments. All this diversity at a management fee of just 0.83 per cent in 2020. Put your retirement savings into balance; why not 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.