Tag Archives: DC

Actuary Karen Hall: Turning DC savings into an income stream

By Sheryl Smolkin

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Today I’m interviewing actuary Karen Hall for savewithspp.com. Prior to her recent retirement, she was a vice president at the consulting firm Aon Hewitt, based in Vancouver. In addition to enjoying her retirement, she is continuing to explore cost effective and easy ways to create a steady income out of defined contribution (DC) pension savings.

Karen has 35 years of professional experience in the areas of pension actuarial consulting, flexible benefits consulting, senior management and HR leadership. She is also the author of the book, Risk Management Strategies for an Aging Workforce available on Amazon. Thanks so much for joining me today, Karen.

 

Q: Most Canadians in the private sector today have defined contribution pension plans. Tell me how a DC plan works.
A: Well, Sheryl, defined contribution means the contributions going in are defined or fixed. The member and her employer each contribute to the plan. The member often chooses how the money is invested from a number of investment options provided by the plan. Then, when the member comes to retire, she has a lump sum amount saved.

Q: On retirement, the conversion of DC assets into retirement income is for the most part left up to retirees. Why is that a problem?
A: If you buy an annuity you don’t get much in income for the amount you saved. The only other alternative is doing it yourself, that is, choosing investments, deciding how much to withdraw and figuring out how to make the money last for your lifetime. If you rely on advisers for any of this, you’re typically paying a substantial fee of at least 2% of your assets every year. The average person is just not equipped to make these decisions. I find it complicated enough and I’ve been living and breathing pensions for 35 years.

Q: Frequently, insurance companies or other DC or Group RRSP carriers, have group registered retirement income funds that retiring members of client group retirement plans can move their money into at retirement. Do these plans resolve some of these issues of high retail fees and poor financial literacy that you identified in our last question?
A: I don’t think they do. It would depend, of course, on the deal. But, often the fees are still quite high, near 2%, and the individual is still making all of the decisions I just mentioned.

Q: So how common are Group RRIF’s established for retirees of just one employer and what are the pros and cons of these types of arrangements?
A: Based on my experience, they aren’t that common. I can see why plan sponsor companies don’t want the ongoing administration. But I do think it would be great if the retiree could basically just stay in the plan and get the same investment options and fee deals as when they were active.

What I do see more often is where the insurance company that is the record keeper for the plan will have options for the member to transfer into their individual RRIF products, perhaps with a modest reduction in fees as compared to a retail purchase.

Q: How much clout do individual DC plan sponsors have in negotiating fees for their former members in rollover plans or single organization Group RRIF’s?
A: Well, as with everything, it depends on the size of the employer and on how much the employer wants to push for such a service. I do know of large employers who have negotiated such services.

Q: How should investment options be structured in rollover plans and single company Group RRIFs to maximize value from a DC plan in the decumulation phase?
A: In my view, the same options as when the member was active should generally be fine. The plan could add a target date type option for accounts and payments. But I think the typical choice of a range of balance funds and funds with conservative to moderate risk. You are going to live a fair number of years in retirement, so your time horizon isn’t that short.

Q: Saskatchewan and several other provinces, plus federal pension legislation, now allow payment of a variable pension from a DC plan – that means a stream of income that tries to simulate a defined benefit pension. Could you briefly explain to me how it works?
A: Well, it does depend on the plan and the legislation how they set it up, but very generally such an arrangement would allow the plan to provide payments to retirees. Like you said, it would simulate a defined benefit type of pension. There would generally be monthly payments and the amount of each payment would vary depending on plan experience.

For example, one client I know determines the amount of the monthly payment once a year. The amount is leveled for the year, so it’s paid every month at a level amount, but then it gets recalculated every January and depends on how well the fund did in the previous year. Generally – hopefully – it usually goes up or slightly or stays about the same. However, if it was a really bad year like 2008, the monthly pensions would likely be reduced.

Q: And how do they draw down funds in terms of various funds or investments the members are invested in or cash or whatever is actually sitting in the member’s account?
A: Well, in this particular one, when you retire and choose a variable pension, you have a lump sum amount and that lump sum amount gets translated into a number of units in the fund. Then, the fund pays a pension based on a dollar amount per unit, so the dollar amount per unit times the number of units you have, that’s what you get.

And what’s happening in this one is they’re insuring the mortality, so you don’t actually see your lump sum getting drawn down, you’re guaranteed to get that amount however long you live, and then the mortality is spread amongst the group.

Q: Oh, that’s really interesting. So it’s not just a matter of investments being sold and your money being distributed once a year, like if you had your own individual RRIF.
A: Right. So the plans can offer an individual RRIF and in those circumstances you’d see your money getting drawn down. But these variable pension ideas are to do with pooling the mortality risk.

Q: So to what extent have employers taken advantage of their ability to pay variable pensions to enhance the value of their DC plans to plan members in this all important decumulation phase?
A: As far as I know, not many have done so. Well, I know the one I gave in my example, but I don’t know of any other examples.

Q: And why do you think that’s the case?
A: Well, I think that it’s just new, right? CAP Guideline Number 8 says that plan sponsors should help members transition, but it’s new and sponsors are still considering their options. They are watching to see what others will do.

Q: Is there a real cost or a potential liability to employers that take on this responsibility?
A: That’s the big issue. For example, if you don’t have a big enough group, it’s hard to pool the mortality risk. The other thing is I’m not sure members are clamoring for variable pensions. Plan sponsors will pay attention when it affects active members and their appreciation of the benefit. I know there are plans that are interested in designing this and we’ll probably see how it develops in the next few years .

Q: Do you think it will be more of interest to public sector or private sector?
A: I think the public sector will have more ability to implement these and I think that union groups without a defined benefit plan might be interested.

Q: How important is effective employer communications in adding value to DC benefits for retirees in the decumulation phase?
A: Some employers are doing more to help members understand their options and prepare for retirement in the decumulation phase. For example, they provide one to three day retirement preparation seminars that can help considerably. I do still think, however, that individuals are not equipped to make many of these decisions. And you can put design features into DC plans that would help members better with the decision making.

Q: Could you give me an example of one or two of those?
A: Auto enrollment, auto escalation, and the design feature that we were just talking about — variable pensions — that would assist members with decision making in the decumulation phase would help.

Q: What role can annuity purchases play using all or part of the money in the plan members, DC account or RRIF to enhance the orderly draw down funds after retirement?
A: Annuities are expensive when the person is first retiring. However, I would definitely consider purchasing an annuity after about my mid 70’s. At that point, the insurance element becomes more interesting and significant because you don’t know if you’re going to live a few more years or a couple of more decades.

And the financial impact of living 2 or 20 years more is huge. The security that an annuity can give becomes much more worthwhile. So one strategy could be to separate your savings into two buckets: A: the amount you will need at age 80 saved via the annuity and B: the RRIF or the amount you’re going to spend between now and age 80. This is a bit easier to deal with, because the time frame’s better defined.

Q: That’s interesting. So do you have any other comments or suggestions that people are approaching retirement with a DC pensions or group/individual RRSPs to think about?
A: Well, focusing on just the DC pension is helpful, but I do think it’s also an incomplete solution. If the person has properly saved for retirement, he/she doesn’t have just one DC or Group RRSP account.

Even if they combine savings from previous employers, the spouse probably has registered savings, both spouses might have their own tax-free savings account and they probably have non-registered money too.

All these sources of income must be coordinated so the individual can meet their retirement and personal financial goal. Either the person has to educate themselves to manage on their own or they need help in finding an appropriately qualified financial adviser to assist them.

Right now in Canada, the price of such assistance is, in my view, unreasonably high. I also feel that many financial advisers do not have much experience with effective decumulation of retirement savings. Individuals have to look hard to find the right person.

Well, thank you very much. I really appreciate that you spoke to us today, Karen.

You are very welcome. It’s a pleasure, Sheryl. Thank you for asking me.


This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted by telephone in July 2015.

How will the ORPP affect Saskatchewan?

By Sheryl Smolkin

At this point it is not clear how the Ontario Registered Pension Plan (ORPP) that will come into effect in 2017 will affect Saskatchewan says Katherine Strutt, General Manager of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan.

“I don’t believe the provincial government is interested in a mandatory pension plan,” she says.

The ORPP is a plan that will require employer and employee contributions to generate additional government benefits in excess of monthly Canada Pension Plan benefits. The average amount of CPP for new beneficiaries in January 2015 was $618.59/month. The maximum monthly CPP benefit in 2015 is $1,065.

Key features of the ORPP as set out in the consultation paper Ontario Retirement Pension Plan: Key Design Questions are as follows:

  • The plan would be phased in beginning in 2017 with the largest employers. Contribution rates would be phased in over two years.
  • Employees and employers would contribute an equal amount, capped at 1.9% each on an employee’s annual earnings up to $90,000. Earnings above $90,000 would be exempt from ORPP contributions.
  • Earnings below a certain threshold would be exempted to reduce the burden on lower income workers.
  • Contributions would be invested at arm’s length from the government. ORPP would pool investment and longevity risk and aim to replace 15% of an individual’s earnings.
  • Participation would be mandatory, but workers who already participate in a “comparable workplace pension plan” would not be enrolled in ORPP. The government says its preferred definition of a comparable plan includes defined benefit and target benefit multi-employer pension plans.
  • Additional conversations will be held on the best way to assist the self-employed.

An article on the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans website aptly summarizes some of the controversy that still surrounds the new program:

“The ORPP proposal has raised concerns among many plan sponsors of defined contribution (DC) plans because the government is proposing that they may not be considered comparable workplace pension plans. Many DC plan sponsors say they already provide adequate contributions. If those plans are not considered comparable, some question whether employers will continue them and/or lower their contributions in order to fund both ORPP and a DC plan.

Another concern is that mandatory contributions will reduce take-home pay and may result in the reduction of other workplace benefits. In the paper, the government said “ . . . some employers may take stock of their current approaches and make decisions about the right compensation mix going forward . . .’”

Both the federal Liberals and NDP parties have publicly supported a CPP enhancement. If either of these parties forms the newly-elected federal government in October, Ontario might opt to hold off on ORPP implementation until a similar national program can be adopted.

Are Canadians saving enough for retirement?

By Sheryl Smolkin

Are Canadians saving enough for retirement? It depends who you ask.

A BMO survey conducted in early 2014 revealed that only 43% of Canadians planned to make RRSP contributions by the March 1st deadline, down from 50% the previous year. An October 2014 study from the Conference Board of Canada reports that almost four in 10 Canadians are not saving and nearly 20% of respondents said they will never retire.

Yet a 2015 study of 12,000 Canadian households conducted by consulting firm McKinsey & Co. says that four out of every five of the nation’s households are on track to maintain their standard of living in retirement. The research reveals that most of the unprepared households belong to one of two groups of middle to high-income households:

  • Those who do not contribute enough to their defined contribution (DC) pension plans or group, and
  • Those who do not have access to an employer-sponsored plan and have below average personal savings.

The McKinsey study suggests that since the retirement savings challenge is quite narrow, the best way to address it should be an approach targeted to these groups that is balanced and maintains the fairness of the system for all Canadian households.

And now, Malcolm Hamilton, a Senior Fellow at the C.D. Howe Institute and a former Partner with Mercer has weighed in on the issue with his commentary Do Canadians Save Too Little?

Hamilton agrees with the McKinsey research that Canadians are reasonably well-prepared for retirement. Most save more than the five percent household savings rate. Most can retire comfortably on less than the traditional 70% retirement target. Furthermore, the size of the group that appears to be “at risk” cannot be accurately determined nor can the attributes of its members be usefully described.

He notes that a couple can live comfortably after retirement despite a reduction in income of more than 30% for several reasons:

  • They no longer need to save for retirement.
  • They no longer contribute to CPP and EI.
  • One of their largest pre-retirement expenses – supporting children – ends.
  • During their working lives the couple acquires non-financial assets like the family home, cars, furniture, art and jewelry. Some can be turned into a stream of income. Some cannot. But they do not need to budget to re-acquire these items during retirement.
  • Finally, any tolerable reduction in post-retirement income is amplified by a disproportionate reduction in income tax due to the progressive nature of our tax system and special tax breaks reserved for seniors.

As studies of our retirement system become more sophisticated, Hamilton thinks we should focus more on solutions for individuals who are not saving enough as opposed to a blanket approach that will impact everyone

So how can we fill the “gaps” identified by these studies?

Hamilton is not a big fan of an enhanced Canada or Quebec Pension plan. He agrees that CPP/QPP are effective ways to increase the post-retirement incomes, and to reduce the pre-retirement incomes, of all working Canadians.

However, he says they are ineffective ways to increase the post-retirement incomes of hard-to-identify minorities who are thought to be saving too little. “Their strength is their reach – they can efficiently move everyone to a common goal,” Hamilton says. “But what if there is no common goal? What if there are only individual goals dictated by personal circumstances and priorities?”

The report concludes that because gross replacement targets are unreliable measures of retirement income adequacy due to the diversity of our population, programs like the CPP/QPP can go only so far in addressing our retirement needs. They can establish a lowest common denominator – a replacement target that all Canadians should strive to equal or exceed.

“Beyond that, we need better-targeted programs – programs that are better able to recognize and address our individual needs,” Hamilton says.

What is a prescribed RRIF?

By Sheryl Smolkin

If you are a member of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan you can elect to retire any time between the age of 55 and 71. You can purchase an annuity from the plan which will pay you an income for the rest of your life.

You can also transfer your SPP account into a locked-in retirement account (LIRA) or a prescribed registered retirement investment account (prescribed RRIF). Both options are subject to a transfer fee.

LIRA

The LIRA is a locked-in RRSP. It acts as a holding account so there is no immediate income paid from the account. You direct the investments and funds in this option and funds remain tax sheltered until converted to a life annuity or transferred to a prescribed RRIF. You choose where the funds are invested.

The LIRA is only available until the end of the year in which you turn 71. One advantage of a LIRA is that it allows you to defer purchase of an annuity with all or part of your account balance until rates are more favourable.

Prescribed RRIF

You must be eligible to commence your pension (55 for SPP) to transfer locked-in pension money to a prescribed RRIF. If you are transferring money directly from a pension plan, the earliest age at which your pension can commence is established by the rules of the plan.

You may transfer money from a LIRA at the earlier of age 55 (SPP) or the early retirement age established by the plan where the money originated. Funds in your SPP account or your LIRA at age 71 that have not been used to purchase an annuity must be transferred into a prescribed RRIF.

Unlike an annuity, a prescribed RRIF does not pay you a regular amount every month. However, the Canada Revenue Agency requires you to start withdrawing a minimum amount, beginning in the year after the plan is set up.

The Income Tax Act permits you to use your age or the age of your spouse in determining the minimum withdrawal. This is a one-time decision made with the prescribed RRIF is established. Using the age of the younger person will reduce the minimum required withdrawal.

To determine the minimum annual withdrawal required, multiply the value of your prescribed RRIF as at January 1 by the rate that corresponds to your age:

Table 1: Prescribed RRIF + RRIF minimum Withdrawals

Age at January 1 Rate (%) Age at January 1 Rate (%)
50 2.50 73 7.59
51 2.56 74 7.71
52 2.63 75 7.85
53 2.70 76 7.99
54 2.78 77 8.15
55 2.86 78 8.33
56 2.94 79 8.53
57 3.03 80 8.75
58 3.13 81 8.99
59 3.23 82 9.27
60 3.33 83 9.58
61 3.45 84 9.93
62 3.57 85 10.33
63 3.70 86 10.79
64 3.85 87 11.33
65 4.00 88 11.96
66 4.17 89 12.71
67 4.35 90 13.62
68 4.55 91 14.73
69 4.76 92 16.12
70 5.00 93 17.92
71 7.38 94 and beyond 20.00
72 7.48
For revised RRIF withdrawal schedule based on 2015 Federal Budget, see Minimum Withdrawal Factors for Registered Retirement Income Funds.

There is no maximum annual withdrawal and you can withdraw all the funds in one lump sum. This is in contrast to other pension benefits jurisdictions such as Ontario and British Columbia where locked-in funds not used to purchase an annuity must be transferred to a Life Income Fund at age 71 that has both minimum (federal) and maximum (provincial) withdrawal rules.

The same LIRA and prescribed RRIF transfer options apply to Saskatchewan residents who are members of any other registered pension plan (DC or defined benefit) where funds are locked in.

RRSP/RRIF transfers

If you have saved in a personal or group registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) your account balance can be transferred into a RRIF (as opposed to a prescribed RRIF) at any time and must be transferred into a RRIF no later than the end of the year you turn 71 if you do not take the balance in cash or purchase an annuity.

The minimum withdrawal rules are the same as those of a prescribed RRIF (see Table 1). However, even in provinces like Ontario and British Columbia where provincial pension standards legislation establishes a maximum amount that can be withdrawn from RRIF-like transfer vehicles for locked in pension funds (LIFs), there is no cap on the annual amount that can be taken out of a RRIF.

Also read: RRIF Rules Need Updating: C.D. Howe

Splitting your pension on marriage breakdown

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK

 

When a family splits up, pensions accrued by one or both spouses (including the Canada Pension Plan) and the family home may be the most valuable family assets. This blog discusses the Saskatchewan rules for pension credit-splitting of non-government pensions.

If both partners live in Saskatchewan their pensions (including the balance in their Saskatchewan Pension Plan) form part of family property. The Family Property Act establishes as a general rule that each legally married spouse, common-law spouse and same-sex spouse is entitled to an equal share of their family property, subject to various exceptions, exemptions and equitable considerations set out in the legislation. For example, property acquired before the commencement of the relationship is exempt from distribution.

The court may divide the family property or may order that one spouse pay the other spouse enough money to equalize their shares. Alternatively, the spouses may make an agreement about how to divide their property. The agreement will be binding if it is in writing and each spouse has received independent legal advice.  If a member has named the soon to be former spouse as a beneficiary, that person will continue to be the beneficiary unless the member files a change with the plan.

Under the Saskatchewan Pension Benefits Act, pensions can be divided in a number of ways:1

  • If the member of a defined benefit (DB) pension plan is not yet receiving a pension and is not eligible for an unreduced benefit, the other spouse can have a lump sum transferred from the plan to a locked-in retirement vehicle like a locked-in registered retirement savings plan or another registered pension plan. The lump sum is calculated by assuming the member terminates membership in the pension plan. This calculation typically results in a very low value for the pension (ignoring possible early retirement benefits, future increases, etc.).2
  • If the member of a DB pension plan is not yet receiving a pension and is eligible for an unreduced benefit, the non-member spouse can either take an immediate lump sum transfer (see 1 above) or he/she can defer the division and the non-member can also receive a pension when the member retires.
  • If the plan member spouse is receiving benefits from a DB plan or an annuity from the SPP, the non-member spouse will receive his/her portion of the pension payment directly from the administrator. By default this pension is only paid in accordance with the form of pension elected by the member at retirement (i.e. life only, joint and survivor benefit) and therefore may not continue after the member’s death. However, the plan has the option of converting the spouse’s share to a pension payable on his/her life (not all plans offer this option). In addition, the plan may offer the non-member spouse the option to take his/her portion as a lump sum.
  • RRSPs (both locked-in and not locked-in) and defined contribution (DC) pension plans (including the Saskatchewan Pension Plan) do not need to be valued on marriage breakdown.

This is because, unlike with a DB plan, RRSPs and DC pensions are simply tax-deferred investment accounts and so the value at any point in time is equal to the account balance. For this reason, a valuation is not necessary to determine the pre-tax value for these assets.

However, in many cases, a proper income tax adjustment should be calculated. For more details on the reason for the income tax adjustment, see the question ‘Does the value of a pension have to be adjusted to reflect income tax?’ pension valuation frequently asked questions on the BCH Actuarial Services Inc. website.

Locked-in DC plan balances are subject to the same transfer restrictions as lump sum transfers from a DB plan described in 1 and 2 above.

During separation or divorce, either you or your spouse can transfer existing RRSPs to the other, without being subject to tax, provided that:

  • You are living apart when property and assets are settled; and
  • You have a written separation agreement or a court order.

Note that federally regulated pension plans (i.e. banks, airlines, rail) may not divide the pension in the same manner as mentioned above and may only allow the division options available under the federal Pension Benefits Standards Act.

Under the federal Pension Benefits Standards Act, up to 100% of the benefits earned during the relationship can be assigned to the spouse. If a portion of the member’s pension benefits are assigned to the spouse, the non-member spouse is deemed to have been a member of the pension plan and have terminated their membership in the plan.

Most federal pension plans have established administrative policies as to how the non-member spouse can receive their share of the pension, however, typically they will have the choice of an immediate lump sum transfer or a deferred pension in the plan if the member is not retired and they will receive a pension from the plan if the member is retired  (the plan may offer a lump sum option and they may convert the spouse’s pension to one payable for their lifetime). For more information, click here.

Federal government pensions are divided in accordance with Pension Benefits Division Act which only allows an immediate lump sum transfer from the pension plan to the non-member spouse. For more information, click here.

1. This blog is based in part on information provided on the website of BCH Actuarial Services Inc. and the material is reprinted with permission. In all cases of marriage breakdown you should consult with a family lawyer and/or an independent actuary who will advise you regarding the laws and actuarial valuations that apply to your situation.

2. A division of a pension on marriage breakdown must not reduce the member’s commuted value to less than 50% of the member’s commuted value prior to the division.