Editorial: Looking back — and ahead — in an unprecedented year

Once again, the end of year is near. Besides the extraordinary presence of vaccines and the movements in public health restrictions across the country, most Canadians are likely experiencing a significant déjà vu of late 2020.

But despite a rather stagnant 2021, this year’s December issue heralds several promising signposts for the year ahead. We feature our 2021 Workplace Benefits Awards winners — across 10 categories, eight employers stood out for the innovative and heartfelt way they’re supporting employees’ holistic well-being. Our coverage of the 2021 DC Plan Summit highlights the top-of-mind topics for defined contribution plan sponsors. And this month’s Investment Feature shows how institutional investors are tackling a growing risk they can no longer ignore.

Read: Who are the winners of the 2021 Workplace Benefits Awards?

Despite facing the continuing external and internal pressures of the coronavirus pandemic, these leading companies — 3M Canada, Canadian Forest Products Inc. LifeLabs, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., Scotiabank, Shopify Inc., SSENSE and Unilever Canada Inc. — have truly stepped up this year.

The winning entries expanded and enhanced their benefits and pension offerings with input from past data, employee feedback and senior leadership to support their employees’ mental, physical and financial well-being.

Once again, we congratulate all of the winners and finalists — which provide benefits and pension plans to nearly 300,000 Canadians — for their encouraging and inventive work on behalf of their employees and organizations. I hope the winners’ stories inspire other employers to explore their own communications, mental-health, diversity or financial wellness programs and tell Benefits Canada all about it when the 2022 Workplace Benefits Awards are launched in April next year.

Read: Coverage of the 2021 DC Plan Summit 

Alongside the pension and investment industry’s prominent thought leaders, the 2021 DC Plan Summit, hosted virtually on Oct. 6, featured a panel discussion with three DC plan sponsors about decumulation and the challenges facing the expansion of in-plan options for retiring plan members.

While I wrote a bit about that discussion in last month’s Editorial, this issue features coverage of the entire event — from how to fit liquid alternatives into DC investment portfolios, use investment lineups to tackle high interest rates and inflation, the importance of longevity pooling in decumulation and DC plan member views on target-date funds and environmental, social and governance factors.

Also, a legislative update panel later in the event demonstrated that many of the topics discussed throughout the day are on the radar of regulators, including the federal government’s yet to be introduced decumulation options — advanced life-deferred annuities and variable payment life annuities. And a new decumulation committee recently formed by the Canadian Association of Pension Supervisory Authorities shows there’s more to come in this space and I hope we hear about it in 2022.

Read: Risks of cybersecurity breaches top of mind for pension funds

Finally, this month’s Investment Feature looks at the rising risk for institutional investors around cyber hacks and breaches — a relatively new frontier that investors like the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board have already experienced firsthand.

For the Alberta Investment Management Corp., these risks have been top of mind for a long time, according to Sandra Lau, its executive vice-president of fixed income. “Good governance is always a requirement when we’re looking at an investment and cybersecurity is part of that,” she says.

If pension funds and other institutional investors aren’t paying attention to cybersecurity risks, 2022 is a good time to start.

So the year ahead looks like an interesting one for our industry. Whether in the human resources, benefits, pension or investment space, there are many topics on the horizon — and Benefits Canada will be sure to dig in and deliver our characteristic in-depth and unbiased takes.

In the meantime, we wish you a cozy and family-filled holiday season.

Jennifer Paterson is the editor of Benefits Canada.