In 2021, the Saskatchewan Healthcare Employees’ Pension Plan set out to gauge just how well-versed its 60,000 members were about their defined benefit pension plan.

The SHEPP launched a six-week survey focused on member demographics, their perception and understanding of the plan, expectations, communications preferences and interest in retirement topics. The survey yielded interesting results, including that while almost all (98 per cent) of its members value the pension plan, only half (50 per cent) were even aware it was a DB plan. It also found a large majority (83 per cent) of the SHEPP’s membership wanted more information on the plan and retirement planning in general.

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In response, the pension plan sponsor ramped up its communications efforts, said Alison McKay, the SHEPP’s chief executive officer, during a plan sponsor panel at the Canadian Investment Review’s 2022 Investment Innovation Conference. Equipping plan members with information allows pension plan sponsors to build trust and avoid misinformation, she added.

“We find the members support us better if they understand us and they’re engaged. If we have educated and informed members, what we find is we have good advocates for the plan if [it] ever does come under scrutiny; for example, to convert to a defined contribution pension plan. We have our membership right behind us that would advocate to stay as a DB plan.”

As a result of the survey’s findings, the SHEPP added webinars to its communications strategy. “We were doing it individually and in-person prior to the [coronavirus pandemic] and then, once COVID hit, we had to find alternative ways to meet with our members,” she said.

About a thousand plan members accessed its Ready to Retire webinar over the last year, an increase from when the education session was held in-person. Indeed, webinars have been so successful in fuelling engagement, said McKay, that the SHEPP is developing one aimed at its younger members to educate them on the plan and retirement issues. “Based on our survey results, our . . . younger members are interested in education. It’s how we . . . get out and talk to them [because] they have a lot of competing priorities . . . and [retirement] is so far down the road, they [don’t] necessarily want to talk about it.”

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For millennials and generation Z employees, the thought of losing a chunk of their paycheque is a tough pill to swallow, added Colyn Lowenberger, founding president and CEO of Möbius Benefit Administrators Inc., who also spoke on the panel. “As an industry, we haven’t done a great job of getting in front of the generations as they come up. When you’re 25, you don’t really care about retirement. We have to change how we communicate with them and try to at least make them aware of the value they have.”

Möbius, which manages the assets of five Regina-based pension plans, is exploring using external tools and partners to develop resources to help promote financial literacy among its younger membership. It also revamped its annual reports to speak more to its membership than CEOs, accountants and Additionally, the organization partners with its membership’s unions, often including pension-related information in its newsletters, websites and annual events.

One of the organization’s biggest challenges is communicating the risk that inherently lies in pension plans, particularly since its portfolio includes a target-benefit plan, said Lowenberger, noting it’s crucial that plan members understand the risk and the steps being taken to protect their interests.

Constant communication is key, added McKay. Indeed, the SHEPP sends out biannual letters to its membership in addition to its annual statements. She also highlighted the importance of communicating with deferred members to keep track of them and let them know they still have a benefit. “If you lose them, it’s really difficult to try to find them later down the road when you want to pay that benefit to them.”

Read more coverage of the 2022 Investment Innovation Conference.