Niagara Casinos and Sun Life Financial were the recipients of the Strategic Partnership Award for Benefits Canada’s 2011 Pension & Investment Awards.

After Colleen Falco, director of HR services with Niagara Casinos, assumed responsibility for the company’s benefits initiatives in early 2010, she noticed significant gaps in the way employees interacted with the company’s pension plan.

Of 4,200 employees, approximately 3,800 were enrolled in the plan. But 22% of those employees were fully invested in the default money market fund, and 13% didn’t take full advantage of the company-matching component. And almost nobody was making use of the online tools available to members through Sun Life Financial, the plan’s recordkeeper.

Falco realized that the plan communications didn’t truly encourage members to take action around retirement planning. “I was looking at it from an end-user perspective and even taking my own experience. I’m not somebody who is investment-savvy,” she admits. “It’s more of a chore for me, so I can relate to the folks who are not taking the time to manage it.”

Falco then began working with Franck Lasry, client relationship executive with Sun Life Financial, to develop a campaign to engage plan members in learning opportunities available in their workplace. Pension Awareness Week—held at Niagara Casinos’ two locations from Nov. 16 to 20, 2010—featured seminars on financial planning and retirement issues, offered from 7:00 a.m. through to 11:00 p.m. to accommodate various employee shifts. Information booths were also set up in the employee lounges, and giveaways encouraged members to access online pension tools.

One of the most successful parts of the campaign, according to Falco, was the opportunity for employees to meet one-on-one with a Sun Life financial advisor—on-site at the casinos—to discuss their plan participation and savings goals.

It was challenging, however, to address the wide demographic makeup of Niagara Casinos’ employee base: more than half are age 40-plus, and there are many different cultures, languages and education levels represented. “We needed to have several solutions to cover a broad spectrum of employees,” Lasry explains. The company identified two main groups: those needing education on how the plan works and those needing basic financial planning advice.

In the weeks following Pension Awareness Week, there were more than 12,000 hits to pension information on the company’s intranet, and member traffic to the Sun Life site increased by 24%.

While Falco was encouraged by the employee response to the initiative, she attributes much of this activity to the “immediacy effect,” noting that statistics began trending downward again throughout 2011. “That’s when we realized that this can’t simply be a one-time effort,” says Falco. “We need to always keep it fresh.”

To that end, Niagara Casinos is partnering with Sun Life again, throughout the latter half of 2011 and into 2012, to make sure that pensions remain on employees’ radar screens. The company is introducing a target date fund (TDF) on Jan. 1, 2012, and it will be the default fund for new plan members going forward. All members will meet one-on-one with a financial advisor in the first six months of 2012 to be educated about the TDF, and they will be required to re-enrol and choose between default fund options.

Lasry believes that Niagara Casinos’ renewed focus on making its employees aware of the pension plan has raised the organization’s profile. “They are doing something meaningful by helping their employees gain a better understanding of their retirement needs.”

Neil Faba is associate editor of Benefits Canada.

Get a PDF of this article and other coverage from the awards gala.

Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in Benefits Canada.

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