Assistant vice-president of retirement platform development, Manulife Investment Management

Michael Banfield


Michael Banfield always enjoyed going into the office and collaborating face-to-face with his colleagues, but shortly after he joined Manulife in February 2020 as assistant vice-president of retirement platform development for North America, he found himself pivoting to the COVID-19 pandemic reality like everyone else. Fortunately, because Manulife’s digital journey was already well underway, the transition went smoothly for his team and their customers, and he’s proud of what the team has been able to accomplish over the past two years above and beyond negotiating the massive change to how many of us work.


What are you proudest of achieving since you joined Manulife?

In 2021, we made extensive enhancements to the i-Watch platform, which is our core retirement investment platform in Canada. These changes reinforced our strategic investment priorities, designed to meet the needs of plan sponsors and plan members today and well into the future. We added funds with a special focus on diversity and environmental stewardship and brought in proven global and international funds and fund managers that offer leading and unique opportunities beyond our borders. Highly experienced investment management firms such as Boston Partners Asset Management, Aristotle Capital Management and Nordea Asset Management have different disciplines and management styles that make our investment platform even more robust. In total, we added 21 new funds and closed nine funds that no longer align to our platform’s rigorous requirements. Twelve of the new funds are managed by Manulife Investment Management – a testament to the strength of their broad investment capabilities. They’ll continue to play a key role on the i-Watch platform moving forward.

How important is it for organizations to recruit fresh perspectives to advance?

Manulife and Manulife Investment Management are focused on expanding our diversity of talent and building an even stronger inclusive culture to foster strong connections, capture diverse points of view, and enable greater innovation, growth, and ultimately a stronger company. At the same time, I appreciate the opportunity to leverage the expertise of my colleagues who have been at Manulife for long periods of time and have institutional knowledge. That will always be important. I’ve had the good fortune of being in the industry for over 25 years, from starting out in the mailroom to working on the distribution and product sides of the business. My background allows me to bring a complementary diverse voice to the table.

How do you approach challenging the status quo?

I was given a very clear mandate when I joined the organization, and I’ve always had the support of the leadership team at Manulife to develop a plan for the modernization of our Canadian retirement platform and to execute on that plan. So, I wasn’t intimidated to come in and respectfully challenge the status quo where and when I needed to. Everything we do aligns with Manulife’s mission to make decisions easier and lives better and, through our values, we have the power and the permission to change our industry from the inside out. It’s time to obsess about customers, think big, get it done together, own it, do the right thing and share your humanity.

That said, I didn’t come in professing to have all the answers. It was important to learn and understand the Manulife way and what I could bring to the table to amplify and build on the company’s strong foundation. I spent time listening to and learning from my team, our distribution partners, consultants, advisors and plan sponsors to understand their needs.

What is your vision for Manulife’s market-leading retirement platforms?

We want to continue to build a highly curated platform of best-in-class investment solutions that meet and respond to the needs of our customers – both plan sponsors and plan members. We’ll continue to leverage the strength of Manulife Investment Management’s investment capabilities where appropriate and complement those capabilities with highly regarded investment managers from around the world. We believe this combination has allowed us to build a dream team of sorts and to continue to offer our clients a market-leading retirement platform.

How have you modernized the i-Watch program to better serve plan sponsors?

First, some of the Manulife Investment Management funds we’ve launched on our platform have been very successful on our retail and institutional platforms. Consultants and advisors often asked us why those funds were not available on our retirement platform. Now 12 more of them are.

Second, we added investment opportunities in areas that demonstrate environmental stewardship, as well as social and governance leadership. For example, the Manulife Global Climate Fund takes a prudent approach aimed at capital appreciation and invests in a wide range of climate leaders that believe in reducing carbon emissions and combating the effects of climate change. The fund aligns with the principles of the Paris Agreement.

We’ve also introduced Shariah-aligned investment opportunities to meet the needs of underserved plan members in Canada: the Manulife SP Funds S&P 500 Shariah Industries Exclusions ETF Fund and the Manulife SP Funds Dow Jones Sukuk ETF Fund. These funds comprise investments that align with Shariah principles and provide an alternative investment option for plan members.

These are just some of the ways we’ve modernized the platform. The exciting thing is that this is just the beginning. We’ll continue to make enhancements that will benefit our customers.

What other positive changes can plan sponsors expect from Manulife in the future?

First and foremost, we listen and take direction from our clients and we’ll continue to do so. We will not be shortterm trend chasers. Our goal is to be nimble and responsive to long-term trends in the investment industry and to address the diverse needs of our clients to help them meet their retirement needs.