FP Canada

Workplace pensions can ease pandemic financial worries, panelists say

December 3, 2020

A recent online event, COVID-19 and Canada’s Workforce: A Crisis of Financial Security, suggests the pandemic has thrown a wrench into the retirement plans of Canadians.

The event, hosted by the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP) and Common Wealth, took a look at how the pandemic is impacting our finances.

Common Wealth’s founding partner, Alex Mazer, noted that even before COVID-19, 43 per cent of Canadians were living cheque to cheque. Forty-four per cent had less than $5,000 in emergency savings, and 21 per cent had less than $1,000, Mazer says.

On the retirement savings front, Mazer says, things are even bleaker. “The median retirement savings of near-retirement households is only $3,000,” he notes. Four of 10 Canadians have no retirement savings at all, and 10 million lack any kind of workplace pension program.

With the pandemic now impacting work and income, many Canadians “don’t feel they have the capacity to save… and that is a real problem for our society,” he warns.

Citing recent research from FP Canada, Mazer noted that worries about money impact our performance at work. That research found 44 per cent of Canadians are “stressed” about their finances, and research from the Canadian Payroll Association found we are spending “30 minutes a day worrying” about money.

“If you are worried about your finances, it’s hard to bring your full self to work,” Mazer notes.

He noted that the lack of workplace pensions, long considered a pillar of Canada’s retirement system along with government pension benefits and individual savings, is having a negative impact.

“The greatest weakness in the Canada’s retirement system is the lack of workplace pensions,” he says. Coverage levels today are at about half of what they were in the 1970s.

Mazer is a proponent of giving more Canadians access to pension programs; he says the most efficient types are “large scale pooled plans, or large Canada model (defined benefit) plans.” Both types feature retirement saving at low fees, professional investing, and risk pooling, he explains.

Elizabeth Mulholland, CEO of Prosper Canada, says 47 per cent of people working in the non-profit sector work freelance or part time, and face lower pay. “Insecurity is a way of life for our sector,” she says.

She notes that 28 per cent of Canadians have raided their registered retirement savings plans or Tax Free Savings Accounts due to the pandemic. “They have depleted their already inadequate retirement savings, and are now further behind due to COVID,” Mulholland says, adding that the pandemic has been “a wakeup call for the financial vulnerability of Canadians.”

Pension plans should consider automatic enrolment – an “opt out” feature rather than “opt in” – and need to be flexible for part-time workers. She says support for workers with general financial literacy would help them make the most of their retirement benefits.

Bell Canada Vice-President, Pension & Benefits and Assistant Treasurer Eleanor Marshall says her company’s pension plan is appreciated by employees. “Eighty per cent strongly value the pension plan,” she explains.

When COVID hit, she says, “there were a couple of responses from our employees.” Top priority, she says, was health and safety and social distancing. Next was job security. But the third concern was their pension plan and its investments.

Marshall says there needs to be more emphasis on individuals building emergency savings for situations – such as during the pandemic – when they need to “bridge the gap” for a period of job loss.

Pension plans, she adds, are important “for attracting and retention.” While younger employees don’t worry much or think about their pensions, they “will eventually appreciate having a pension plan” once they get older.

In general, Marshall said, there’s a link between financial wellness and mental wellness, and delivering a retirement system for employees is a positive measure on both fronts.

Renee Legare, Executive Vice-President and Chief Human Resources Officer at The Ottawa Hospital, says that during the pandemic, the worry for hospital workers wasn’t so much job security but definitely “their health and wellness.” She says healthcare workers feel lucky to have a good workplace pension.

She says portability – the ability to continue with the pension when you move from one job to another – is a solid feature of the plan. “It’s a major benefit for healthcare workers; they can move from one employer to another without losing their (pension) investment,” she explains.

The event was chaired by Ivana Zanardo, Vice President of Client Services at HOOPP. Save with SPP would like to thank James Guezebroek of HOOPP for directing us to the presentation.

If you’re among the many millions of Canadians who don’t have a workplace pension plan, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan may be the savings program for you. It features low-cost, professional investing and pooling, and since it is a member-directed savings program you can continue to belong to SPP even if you change jobs. SPP can also be offered as a workplace pension. Why not check out it today!

Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.


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

September 10, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.


Aug 26: Best from the blogosphere

August 26, 2019

A look at the best of the Internet, from an SPP point of view

A new snag for retiring boomers – helping the kids buy a house

Troubles for the poor old boomers continue to mount.

Not only are they carrying more debt into retirement than ever before, prompting some to work longer than they planned, but they also want to help their kids. A new survey carried out by the Leger group for FP Canada finds that nearly half of boomers with kids under 18 intend to help them buy a home, even if it postpones their retirement.

The survey is covered in a recent Advisor’s Edge article. The Housing Affordability Survey found that “48 per cent of these parents intend to help their children buy a home, up from 43 per cent of parents surveyed in 2017,” Advisor’s Edge reports.

As well, 39 per cent of those surveyed “expect to postpone their retirement to help their kids buy a home,” which is up from 27 per cent two years ago, the article notes.

The reason for a delayed retirement may be that 30 per cent of respondents planned to dip into their retirement savings to help the kids, up from 21 per cent in 2017. As well, 26 per cent said they would tap into their own home equity to aid the children, up from 23 per cent a couple of years ago.

Thirty-four per cent, the article notes, report that “the financial strain of helping their children” is creating problems with their ability to pay down debt. That’s up from 22 per cent in 2017.

“Even though it’s natural to want to help your children, it’s essential to carefully consider the impact on your own financial security before helping with such a huge purchase,” Kelley Keehn, a consumer advocate for FP Canada, states in the article.

This is a great point. More and more retirees are finding that the biggest costs of retirement come near the end, when a growing number of seniors find they need long-term care in nursing homes, a cost that can be quite significant. You want to help the kids, sure, but you must avoid (if you can) the danger of leaving yourself short when you are too old to work, and your savings are beginning to dry up.

The takeaway from this is that our kids are facing a much more expensive life than we have experienced. Of course they will need some help. That’s a good reason to increase your own commitment to your retirement savings. If you have a little more income in retirement, why, you will have a little bit more to help the kids, right?

An easy way to prevent being short on cash in retirement is to join the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. The money you put away now, while you’re working, will grow into a future stream of income that will supplement whatever you get from government pensions, workplace retirement programs, equity, and so on. It’s a wise step to take!

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, classic rock, and darts. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22