When the World Economic Forum met this year in Davos, Switzerland, it chose a very timely topic: the fourth industrial revolution that’s about to be wrought by automation.
Like every revolution, it will have winners and losers. Artificial intelligence will massively increase productivity and create jobs that don’t even exist today. But at the same time, it will render many positions obsolete.
By now, from a talent position, the response is well-understood: invest heavily in skills development programs, so workers whose positions are made obsolete by the march of progress will transition neatly into new roles.
But how retirement plan sponsors should respond is less well-understood. That’s why Mercer made this sweeping economic change the subject of our 2019 retirement outlook report. In an uncertain world, plan members will be looking for guidance and help to achieve a secure and dignified retirement.
The good news is that with careful planning, a commitment to real change and some fresh thinking, this can be done. In an economy entirely transforming, employers should do four things:
1. Rethink the approach to risk. It’s not as simple as defined benefit versus defined contribution. DC plans come with their own set of risks that must be mitigated. The fourth industrial revolution is also a personalization revolution, as AI and the internet allow personally catered experiences. But with personalization comes problems. Individuals must be able to make effective choices and plan sponsors must arm themselves with appropriate information.
Further, the gender gap in retirement outcomes, and its tie to the gender pay gap, must be proactively considered and accounted for. According to Statistics Canada, women are paid 87 cents for every dollar paid to men. Not only is this an injustice on its own, but this wage gap also leads to a retirement savings gap.
The math is simple. If wages are 13 cents lower, contributions are lower and living standards in retirement will be lower in turn. Compounding this problem, women also tend to be more conservative investors. This is the wrong approach, particularly because women live longer than men.
Mercer’s 2017 global white paper on mending the long-term savings gap found women’s retirement incomes can be 30 to 40 per cent lower than men’s due to the dual problems of a conservative investment philosophy and an earnings gap. This is unacceptable. But it’s a problem that can be fixed.
In order to help employees achieve financial security, irrespective of gender, employers should make sure they always have access to the information and advice they need. When they’re armed, they’ll be able to make informed, strategic investment decisions that fit their personal circumstances.
2. Accept the new risk environment and double down on new opportunities. Traditionally, DB plan sponsors have believed exposure to non-fixed income investments will lead to a significant increase in contribution volatility. Our modelling shows this isn’t the case and that exposure to a greater variety of asset classes can lead to growth and rewards, as well as helping to control costs and ensuring the plan is sustainable in the long term. If the plan isn’t fully funded with the option to de-risk, in a low interest rate environment, fixed income investments won’t be enough — they must be actively sought out for growth.
3. Manage the risks you can. In an aging society with five generations in the workplace, liability and longevity risks are real factors that must be confronted. This means thinking about pension risk transfer. Thankfully, the modern industry offers a number of liability management options, such as the longevity swap. Long believed to be only the province of large plans, the industry now offers solutions for plans of all sizes. There are also interesting new design options allowed under provincial regulations, such as the jointly sponsored pension plan, which now offers the opportunity to transfer past and future liability.
4. Transform when you must. With generation Z now entering the workforce, the demand for personalized benefits has never been higher. To keep plan members engaged, it’s critical to offer them what they’ve been conditioned to expect — a personalized, digital benefits experience and the know-how to leverage this personalized experience to its fullest extent.
Employers make commitments to employees to provide them with the tools and training needed to do their jobs properly. Plan sponsors need to help them achieve their retirement goals and ensure a sustainable and dignified retirement through active advice and partnership.
Change is coming, for employers and employees alike. To meet commitments to employees, plan sponsors must future-proof plans, making them agile to react to change and be ready to transform even in the face of the most challenges.