Q&A will Rolls Royce Canada’s Hosam Azara

Rolls Royce Canada Ltd.’s reward and pension manager talks benefits plan costs, Excel spreadsheets and playing soccer with his daughter.

Q. What top challenges do you face in your role?

A. Before the coronavirus crisis, a challenge I’d been dealing with was promoting awareness of the hidden value in group benefits plans, their escalating cost and who’s ultimately responsible for use within the plan. Employees often understand the value and cost of their defined benefit plan . . . , however, when it comes to benefits plans, the plain, vanilla-flavoured communications aren’t enough to promote a reasonable level of awareness. Based on the latest increases we’ve seen, the cost of benefits plans will be higher than the cost of pension plans if nothing is done.

Read: Q&A with BMO Financial Group’s Mona Malone

Q. What new programs or initiatives are you looking to implement?

A. We completed a request for proposals for an insurance carrier, used new technology with our insurance carrier and embarked on a captive arrangement. We’ve launched strategic communications with employees on a yearly basis so they understand what’s been done in the past, where they are right now and what could happen in the future. Last, but not least, we launched targeted education sessions about prescription drugs at the beginning of 2019.

Q. How do you judge the success of a program or initiative?

A. Group benefits aren’t usually black and white; there’s a grey zone. One simple way to know whether an initiative or a change was successful is to look at the utilization and the funding position of the plan, at the earliest, a year after the change or initiative was implemented.

Career crib sheet

February 2014
– present
Reward and pension manager, Rolls-Royce Canada Ltd.

February 2009
– February 2014
Pension senior associate, Mercer Canada

September 2006
– February 2009
Pension associate consultant, Morneau Shepell Ltd.

July 2002 –
September 2006
Pension senior actuarial analyst, Morneau Shepell

Q. What program do you consider the most successful?

A. The communications sessions we offered at the beginning of 2019. We often offer education sessions on retirement, but there wasn’t anything offered to employees . . . when it came to the benefits plan. With the help of a pharmacist, I looked at the most-used drugs over the course of two years and then we launched targeted education sessions to promote awareness on cost and use. We’ve identified elements related to behaviour . . . and with some behavioural changes by plan members we could achieve some savings and avoid plan design changes.

Read: Q&A with Telus Communications’ Carol Craig

Q. What key human resources issues do you expect in 2020?

A. We’ve reduced our fees following the RFP and guaranteed those fees over a period of time. . . . But the goal is to be transparent and communicate a lot about the implications at the end of the guarantee period. We send out communications at the beginning of each year, including a direction on elements of the plan we find relevant. We need to be mindful of the plan’s cost and, if the communications don’t result in the desired outcomes, we would have to resort to other cost-containing measures.

Q. What do you like to do in your spare time? What are your hobbies?

A. I’m a very technical person, so I enjoy looking at Excel files and spreadsheets, even on the weekends for my personal use. I’m married and have an eight-year-old daughter. One of the things I enjoy doing with my family is to play soccer with my daughter. My favourite soccer player of all time is Diego Maradona.

Read: Q&A with IBM Canada’s Katherine Faichnie

Q. What’s your favourite employee benefit and why?

A. I’m a risk-averse person, so I’d say the disability benefit, a policy that would help me stay on my feet financially in the case of an unforeseen event. During the coronavirus crisis, we’ve received a high number of questions for that benefit from different age groups. For me, it’s an addition to my asset portfolio. It complements my life insurance policy and savings.

Cassandra Williamson-Hopp is conference editor at Benefits Canada.