Financial Literacy Month: Western moves beyond pensions in week of workshops

In its sixth year of offering employees educational workshops during Financial Literacy Month, Western University has changed its approach this time by delivering information on a range of topics rather than just the organization’s pension plans.

In the past, the university has used the financial literacy focus to communicate the details of its two defined contribution plans, one for faculty and one for staff and each with different contribution levels. “Across the plans, there’s a minimum combined contribution that works out to 10 per cent between employee and employer,” says Cara Bourdeau, senior human resources consultant at Western, noting employees contribute between 1.5 and 5.5 per cent as a minimum requirement, while the university puts in between 7.5 and nine per cent.

Read: Top 50 DC Plans Report: What’s the magic number for DC pension contributions? 

Because there’s leftover contribution space to get to the Income Tax Act’s 18 per cent limit, the university also allows employees to make additional voluntary contributions. “That way, they’re taking advantage of the low fees and the investment structure,” she says.

When it comes to determining which topics were of interest to employees this year, the university learned about a broad range of themes when it offered its in-person counselling sessions, says Bourdeau. “We might see a theme around new members not knowing they can do additional voluntary contributions or people getting mixed up about the investment options. Or we’ve got people who are heading into more retirement planning and are wanting to think about income options, how do [life income funds] and [retirement income funds] and annuities work.”

Until last year, Western did all of its pension administration itself and delivered all of the associated financial education. But this year, it consolidated its services with a third party because the structure for managing its pension plans was very complex, says Bourdeau.

“In terms of having a third-party system for doing all our record-keeping, and we were doing all the counselling in-house . . . we felt it was becoming more risky for us to have so many different players involved. With that consolidation, it’s allowed us to leverage our third-party provider, in terms of delivering some of the content for financial literacy this year.”

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The university’s pension provider, Sun Life Financial, delivered two of its sessions last week, including one about investments and the other on retirement readiness. Representatives from Sun Life were also on campus throughout the week to for one-on-one appointments with employees.

And the university enlisted Service Canada to deliver some of the financial literacy workshops, a perk Bourdeau says is available to all employers at no additional cost. The sessions covered the Canada Pension Plan and old-age security benefits, as well as employment insurance and leave provisions.

“We didn’t know where that was going to be at when we planned this, but one of the things we’ve moved to in the last few years is trying to meet people where they’re at,” says Bourdeau, referring to the new bill passed in Ontario last week that includes changes to leave provisions.

Read: Parsing Canada’s patchwork of sick, emergency leave rules as Ontario passes new bill

“Rather than pushing pension down everybody’s throat, it’s really to listen to what we’re hearing in our community about questions people have, what are the topics that are of interest to younger members. So the leaves and EI was a nice fit around pregnancy and parental leave, compassionate care leave, so a lot of different angles where people might need support.”

The focus on those area also fits with the broader idea of financial wellness, adds Bourdeau. “If we step back and think about financial wellness, if people aren’t feeling financially well, it has repercussions in all other areas. So that can implicate physical health, mental health, social health, career development and their productivity at work, your benefits costs — all kinds of different pieces.

“For us, it’s really trying to remember that it doesn’t have to be about pension or direct finances associated with their employment, but if we can be providing information and support that helps members make educated decisions and stay on top of their financial health, that they, and we, have positive impacts from that.”

Read: Financial Literacy Month: Allstate staff get 30-minute sessions with retirement consultant