The first issue of Benefits Canada hit the desks of the country’s human resources, benefits, pension and investment professionals in 1977, four years before I was born.
That same year, Canada’s inflation rate was eight per cent, very close to July 2022’s annualized inflation rate of 7.6 per cent. A lot has changed in 45 years, but a lot has stayed the same. Or at the very least, some moments of the past are seeping into the present.
While many of Benefits Canada’s readers will recall the various developments of the last 45 years, I haven’t always been tuned into the issues affecting Canadian employers. First of all — as I mentioned earlier — the magazine is older than I am. And I certainly wasn’t keeping up with these subjects in my elementary, high school or even university days. My introduction to the wonderful world of workplace benefits was 12 years ago, when I lived in London, England and joined the staff of Employee Benefits magazine, a British publication that mirrors Benefits Canada in many ways. My engagement and enduring attachment to these topics was almost immediate and I learned so much in my five years — researching and writing about many of the same themes we write about at Benefits Canada today.
Back home, I joined the Benefits Canada team in 2015, learning the ropes of the Canadian legislative landscape for both pensions and benefits, as well as the federal and various jurisdictional employment standards. It was a steep learning curve, for sure, especially compared to the comparatively simplistic regulatory systems in the U.K.
However, many of the topics I started writing about in the U.K. in 2010 and in Canada in 2015 are still ubiquitous today. As you’ll notice across this whole special issue, many people have noted that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
We asked two former editors — Don Bisch (2005-2008) and Alyssa Hodder (2008-2015) — to share their thoughts on the evolution of the benefits industry over the last 45 years and what may be coming in the decades ahead. Both Bisch and Hodder are still in the industry, so they’re in good positions to take a wide view of this question.
At the centre of this issue, the Benefits Feature, Pension Feature and Investment Feature also tackle this question. With plenty of research and interviews with industry professionals who have seen it all, each feature takes a stroll down memory lane then gazes into a crystal ball to see what’s on the horizon for employers and plan sponsors.
Again, ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’ seems to be the general consensus. Certainly, group benefits plans have evolved with developments in technology, an increased focus on personalization and other design changes aimed at combating increasing costs, but especially in the midst of a global pandemic, employers continue to use their benefits offerings to support their employees’ health and well-being.
The pension industry has witnessed the decline of defined benefit plans alongside the rise of defined contribution plans, subsequently seeing the traditional paternalistic approach to retirement savings shift to an individual focus that aims to support employees’ divergent financial needs and priorities. However, the central goal is still the same — guiding Canadians to a secure and sustainable retirement. And while the inflationary environment may look similar to the one facing Canadians in the 1970s, institutional investors are accelerating the move towards alternative assets, as well as the growth in environmental, social and governance investing.
Finally, I want to emphasize that, while Benefits Canada is made up of an amazing team, we’re nothing without all of the thought leaders across these industries. We learn from all of you every single day and we always aim to translate those learnings into our print articles, online stories and industry leading events.
Jennifer Paterson is the editor of Benefits Canada.