Tag Archives: SPP

SPP Flourishing, says General Manager Katherine Strutt

By Sheryl Smolkin

 

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Hi, today I’m very pleased to be talking to Katherine Strutt, General Manager of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. Since I first spoke to Katherine for savewithspp.com in December 2010, she has been featured numerous times in print, on radio, and on TV.

But when I realized it’s been four years since I formally interviewed her, I decided it was time to ask Katherine to bring savewithspp.com readers up to date on some more recent SPP developments.

Welcome, Katherine.

Thanks a lot, Sheryl.

 Q: Katherine, how many people are SPP members, and how much money is in the plan?
A: Well, we’ve had a real growth spurt over the last few years. We now have just over 23,000 contributing members and approximately 10,000 retirees. So our total plan membership is 33,332. And these members collectively have $403.8 million in assets. So we’ve had a real growth spurt.

Q: I see from your 2013 annual report that 1,415 new people joined SPP and 801 people transferred funds from existing retirement savings to their SPP account. I was one of them. Has the plan continued to grow at the same rate in 2014?
A: We want to reach a target of 1,500 new members in 2014. As of mid-December we had 1,228 people joining so far this year so we may not quite get to the 1,500 mark, but we’re going to be very close. And in terms of people transferring money in, 981 members have transferred in, so we’re past the limit that we had last year and still growing. We anticipate that that will continue to the end of the year.

Members had until December 31 to transfer money in for 2014 because it’s on a calendar year basis. But in terms of contributions, they can make their 2014 tax year contributions up until March 2, 2015. 

Q: Now I know there have been more middle-aged or older plan members. Are you starting to see the younger people waking up and realizing that they should start saving earlier?
A: Well, the average age last year was around 42 years old, and now it’s down to 40. So that two year drop may not seem like it’s a lot, but it is because that means that we are getting the younger members in.

It’s always a struggle to attract younger members because I don’t think eighteen-year-olds ever think they’re going to be sixty-five and they have other financial priorities. But I believe we’ve made some inroads by advocating they “start small and start now.” You know, you don’t have to wait until you’ve got a lot of money to invest. A little bit consistently saved is the answer.

Q: Because the annual maximum SPP contribution is $2,500, most people have additional RRSP contribution room. Why should they belong to both the SPP and a personal RRSP instead of concentrating all their savings in their own or their company RRSP?
A: That’s a really great question, Sheryl, and we get members who ask that as well. We tell them that the SPP gives members access to top money managers they may not be able to access on their own. SPP also gives members a strong investment product at a very low price. The costs of running our plan are around one percent or less, and this compares to fees in a retail mutual fund that can be anywhere between two and three percent.

So many members tell us that they wish they could put more money into their account because they see value in the product. However, if they have more than the $2,500 contribution room, a lot of them typically contribute both to SPP and to a personal RRSP in order to get the maximum value from their SPP investment.

Q: Employers can offer SPP as a retirement savings option to their employees. Tell me how that works.
A: Employers can set up an SPP pension plan and allow their employees to contribute via payroll deductions. We work with both the employer and the employees to establish the plan at the workplace, and then we handle all the paperwork and communication. SPP makes it so simple for both the employer and the employee to be part of it because we have a dedicated team at our office to help employers. Gail Genest, our Manager of Business Development, works with many companies to help set up SPP in workplaces. So anyone, employer or employee, who would like a presentation about SPP should contact our office.

Q: How many Saskatchewan companies are taking advantage of this easy way to help their employees save for retirement?
A: We saw about a 7% growth in 2014, so I think that’s a testament to Gail getting out there and talking to businesses and creating some awareness. We currently have 303 employers with just over 1,500 employees who are taking advantage of SPP through their workplace. It’s also available on the payroll platform.

Q: You did some interesting research in April 2014 around how important a pension plan is for attracting and retaining employees. Why did you conduct this study and what did you learn from the results?
A: We really wanted to know what employers and employees thought about saving for retirement partly as a way of helping us frame our message to these groups. And we learned that the expectations of the two groups are quite different.

For example, 57% of employees surveyed said a pension plan is very important in deciding a new career opportunity. They also ranked pension plans as more important than cash bonuses. But because employers assumed the opposite there was a disconnect between what employers thought their employees wanted and what employees really wanted.

We also found (not really surprisingly) that only 12.5% of employers surveyed offered a pension plan. Those that offer plans do so because they feel it’s the right thing to do and as a way of attracting potential employees. Most companies that don’t offer a pension plan cited the cost as the main reason.

Q: How would you respond to small employers who say they can’t afford to set up a pension plan because it’s too expensive and too time consuming to administer?
A: Well, it certainly doesn’t have to be that way. Using SPP as an example, it’s very easy to set up. We handle all the paperwork, and the employer simply establishes the payroll deduction and the payment schedule. We handle the employee signup, the questions, the distribution of the tax receipts and statements. I think we take the complexity out of the equation and allow employers, no matter how small, to set up a pension plan. Furthermore, in discussions with employers, we found that offering a pension plan is a very important tool in retaining and attracting staff, especially for the small employer. I think a lot of people don’t expect a small employer to be able to offer a pension plan so it’s a way of helping them distinguish themselves from their competitors.

Q: Do you have sort of a ballpark number of your employers who put some money into the plan to employee contributions? 
A: That’s truly anecdotal because we don’t track that, but I would say half or more.

Q: What happens if someone joins SPP planning to contribute, let’s say, $200 a month but can’t afford to continue contributing for a few months because his car broke down or he loses his job.
A: Life interferes, right? And again, I would have to say that SPP is very flexible in that regard. So contributions can be changed, stopped or started by a member at any time. We know the best approach is to keep contributing, but sometimes it’s just not part of the game plan, and SPP can accommodate those circumstances very easily.

Q: Who determines how members’ contributions are invested, and how can members be sure their money is safe?
A: The plan is governed by a board of trustees, and they are responsible for setting the investment policy and hiring the investment managers. They work with an external consultant to review the investment policy on at least an annual basis, sometimes more often. The board also reviews the managers’ performance on at least a quarterly basis.

Furthermore, we have administrative staff who are monitoring investment performance, and the board reviews it as well. Within the investment policy, the Board has implemented both quality and quantity guidelines. This is a way of reaching the goal of strong returns while controlling risk. Finally, the investment managers invest in companies of the highest quality.

Q: Are there any plan changes or enhancements on the drawing board you can talk about?
A: Well, we’re always looking at our web services and seeing what enhancements we can make in that area. For instance, we often get members looking for their tax receipts or statements online, and we’re certainly looking at how we can enhance that online experience, but only as we can afford it.

We are very mindful that we are dealing with member funds and we must keep expenses as low as possible so that more can be returned to member accounts.

Q: If readers want to find out more about the plan and fund performance, what sources of information are available to them?
A: We have a number of sources: obviously our website, saskpension.com, our blog, savewithSPP.com and our toll-free line 1-800-667-7153, which is available all across Canada. We also encourage members to sign up for our monthly newsletter which is another source of ongoing information.

Q: Thank you very much for talking to me today, Katherine.
A: My pleasure, Sheryl.


This is an edited transcript of a podcast recorded on December 14, 2014.

 

Another Look At Life Annuities (Part 2)

By Sheryl Smolkin

If you are considering purchasing a life annuity using funds in your registered (RRSP, RRIF, LIRA, RPP) or unregistered accounts (Savings Accounts, GIC, TFSA, etc) you will need to consider what features to select and how your decision will impact the level of benefits you receive.

For example, a life annuity may be:

  • A single life annuity based only on the age of one annuitant.
  • A joint and survivor annuity that pays a portion of the benefit (i.e. 60%) until the death of the surviving spouse.
  • A single or joint and survivor annuity that guarantees payments for a specific period (i.e. 10 years).
  • A deferred annuity that does not start paying monthly benefits in the same year the annuity is purchased.

Other more specialized annuities include term certain or fixed term annuities, guaranteed annuities with cash back features, impaired and child inheritance annuities. You can read about them here.

To give you an idea how the nature of an annuity can impact your monthly benefits, I got a series of quotes from the RetirementAdvisor.ca Standard Annuity Calculator on October 28, 2014 which I summarized in the table below. In all cases it is assumed that a lump sum of $100,000 was used to purchase an annuity and when invested by the insurance company, the lump sum earned 4%.

While these quotes assume the primary annuitant is female and the second annuitant is male, when a male and female of the same age purchase individual life annuities, the male will receive a slightly higher periodic payment than the female because the male’s life expectancy is shorter.

Table 1: Annuity Purchase quotes

Single life Joint Single Life, COLA Joint, COLA Single, 10 yr, COLA
Gender of primary annuitant F F F F F
Age purchased 65 65 65 65 65
Age payouts begin 65 65 65 65 65
Gender of joint annuitant M M
Age when annuity purchased 65 65
Cost of living increases (COLA) X X X
10 yr. guaranteed payments X
% Payable to 2nd annuitant when 1st dies 60% 60%
MONTHLY BENEFIT $637 $592 $522 $481 $503
Joint, 10 yr, COLA Single, 10 yr, COLA Age 71 start Joint, 10 yr, COLA Age 71 start Single, 10 yr, COLA Age 80 start Joint, 10 yr, COLA Age 80 start
Gender of primary annuitant F F F F F
Age purchased 65 65 65 65 65
Age payouts begin 65 71 71 80 80
Gender of joint annuitant M M M
Age when annuity purchased 65 65 65
Cost of living increases (COLA) X X X X X
10 yr. guaranteed payments X X X X X
% Payable to 2nd annuitant when 1st dies 60% 60% 60%
MONTHLY BENEFIT $473 $762 $719 $1,401 $1,355

Source: RetirementAdvisor.ca calculator as of October 28, 2014. Assumption: $100,000 lump sum purchase earns 4%.

It is apparent that the stripped down single life annuity pays a higher monthly amount ($637) than single or joint annuities with various combinations of guarantee periods and COLAs.

Benefit payments also increase significantly if the annuity payouts are deferred to age 71 ($762, single; $719, joint) even with a 10 year guarantee and COLAs. The payments are even higher payment if an annuity with the same features is deferred to age 80 ($1,401 single; $1,355 joint).

Furthermore, annuity payouts also vary as between insurance companies. For example, you can find current quotes from a series of insurance companies for single life annuities on a premium of $100,000 based on a guaranteed period of 5 years for both males and females on the Morningstar Canada website.

Receiving monthly annuity benefits in retirement can give you peace of mind. However, the monthly benefit you can purchase for any given lump sum varies considerable depending on the type of annuity you select, the age when you purchase the annuity, the age you begin collecting benefits and the interest rate assumptions.

Your financial advisor or an annuity broker can get quotes tailored to your situation that will help you to get the features you need for the best possible price.

You can also use your SPP balance to purchase a life annuity directly from the plan. For more information about SPP annuities, take a look at Understanding SPP annuities. Because you purchase the annuity directly from SPP, there are no commissions or referral fees and you can be sure you are getting competitive rates.

 

Another Look At Life Annuities (Part 1)

By Sheryl Smolkin

Receiving a regular paycheque makes it easy to budget. The amount that appears in your bank account every month is what you have available to spend on necessary and discretionary items.

But once you retire and have to figure out how to make your lump sum savings last for the rest of your life, budgeting isn’t as easy. How much can you afford to spend? What if your investments earn less than you expected when you set up a withdrawal plan?

One way to add financial certainty is to buy a life annuity with all or a part of your retirement savings. A life annuity is purchased from an insurance company for a lump sum amount and it guarantees that you will receive a set monthly amount for life (unless the annuity is indexed).

While payments from a basic life annuity typically end when you die, at an additional cost you can add provisions like a guarantee period (i.e. payments will be made for a minimum of 10 years even if you die) or a joint and survivor feature that will continue to pay out until the death of the last spouse.

Annuities are purchased from licensed life insurance agents representing insurance companies. Life insurance agents are compensated by commissions that are factored into the cost of the annuity.

Life annuities have got a bad rap in recent years because with lower interest rates they are more expensive to purchase. Also, many people do not like the idea that they lose control of their money and that upon the death of the last annuitant or the expiry of the guaranteed payment period, the principal will not revert to their estate.

However, the upside of an annuity purchase is that if you live beyond the age that it is assumed you will live to when the original annuity purchase is made, your return on investment could be much higher than if you invested the money yourself.

If you purchase an annuity with funds from a registered plan (i.e. SPP, RRSP, DC pension plan) you must begin receiving payments by the end of the year you turn 71. Because all of the money in your account has been tax-sheltered, the full amount you receive monthly will be taxed at your incremental rate.

In contrast, you can purchase an immediate or deferred annuity from a non-registered account. For example, at age 65 you could opt to manage a portion of your money for the next 15 years, but use a lump sum to purchase a life annuity beginning at age 80. Your monthly payments will be higher than if the annuity started at age 65. Furthermore, only a portion of the benefit representing investment earnings after the purchase will be taxed.

You can use the RetirementAdvisor.ca Standard Annuity Calculator (or other similar online calculators) to model either the size of the lump sum it will take to generate a specific monthly benefit or the amount of the monthly benefit a specific lump sum will generate.

Monthly benefits you receive from the Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security or a defined benefit pension plan are in effect, life annuities. Depending on your expected expenses and the amount of savings you have available, you may decide you do not need additional annuity income.

In the conclusion to his 2013 book “Life Annuities: An Optimal Product for Retirement Income”[1], Moshe Milevsky, Associate Professor of Finance at York University’s Schulich School of Business notes the following:

“Behavioural evidence is growing that retirees (and seniors) who are receiving a life annuity income are happier and more content with their financial condition in retirement than those receiving equivalent levels of income from other (fully liquid) sources, such as dividends, interest, and systematic withdrawal plans. Indeed, with growing concerns about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in an aging population, automating the retiree’s income stream at the highest possible level—which is partly what a pension life annuity is all about—will become exceedingly important and valuable.”

If you have rejected an annuity purchase in the past or if you have never seriously considered investing in a retirement annuity, it may be time to take another look.

You can also use your SPP balance to purchase a life annuity directly from the plan. For more information about SPP annuities, take a look at Understanding SPP annuities. Because you purchase the annuity directly from SPP, there are no commissions or referral fees and you can be sure you are getting competitive rates.

[1] This book can be downloaded in pdf and ebook format at no cost.