At the Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology (CAAT) Pension Plan (No. 29 in the 2012 Top 100 Pension Funds Report), those charged with overseeing the retirement savings of nearly 34,000 plan members from participating Ontario colleges aim to respond to changes before they happen. And they try to be as transparent as possible with members when changes to the plan are deemed necessary.

So when the plan’s funding task force—formed in 2010—concluded that the longevity risk posed by increasing member life expectancy should be addressed by a 1.6% increase in contribution rates, phased in between 2012 and 2014, management knew it had to communicate this to members in a timely manner. “Our experience has been that the rumours are always worse than the reality,” says Derek Dobson, CEO of the CAAT Pension Plan.

Plan stakeholders received frequent newsletter updates during each step of the task force’s process. As a result, says Dobson, both employees and employers were on board with the increase by the time it was finally announced. “Not one member or employer called and complained.”

Dobson explains that while the response around the contribution increase demonstrates the strength of the plan’s communications strategy, the team isn’t content to rest on its laurels. “People seek their information from different sources. We’ve attempted to evolve our communications program to reflect the ways that people learn.”

While most communications to this point have been via hard-copy newsletters, email distribution was introduced in 2011, and in 2012, members had the choice to opt for distribution via Web notification. So far, results indicate that members who signed up for electronic news have viewed about 50% of the materials they’ve received.

Short videos were also posted online to educate members on how their DB plan works, as well as on specific issues such as the plan’s funding policy. And short online backgrounders have taken the place of lengthy pension booklets—“We don’t think people read them cover to cover,” Dobson concedes—to help members understand aspects such as inflation protection and what happens to your pension in the event of a separation or divorce.

Dobson adds that the plan now emphasizes more face-to-face interaction with members, after management realized that pre-retirement information seminars were mostly attracting those who were nowhere near retirement—some with as little as a year or two of service.

“With the amount of news coverage on pensions, and risks and volatility in the marketplace, there are a lot of misconceptions out there. Through face-to-face [meetings], we can see the body language and react to that.”

He says the goal isn’t to share every piece of information through all possible communication vehicles, but to make sure that members have access to everything they need to make informed decisions around saving for retirement.

“We’re not trying to be everything to everybody. We’re investing wisely in our communications program, so we’re connecting with members who want to learn more.”

Neil Faba is associate editor of Benefits Canada.

Get a PDF of this article and the full Top 100 Pension Funds Report.

Copyright © 2021 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in Benefits Canada.

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Ruth Tracy:

While this article presents a very positive ‘spin’ on the Plan’s communications – one issue isn’t mentioned. A significant minority (in the 25% range, based on informal surveys) of the Plans retirees aren’t on the internet – and hence miss out on e-mailed communications. These tend to be the lower income, older retirees – ,many of whom did read any printed communications they received in the mail.

Wednesday, July 11 at 6:19 pm | Reply

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