Plan Sponsor Week: Rogers engages staff in retirement savings amid plan design changes, coronavirus

In considering changes to its retirement savings programs, Rogers Communications Inc. is generally focused on three main internal and external factors: regulatory changes, employee feedback and demographics.

“As we see the millennial and gen Z workforce grow quite a bit, we’re really trying to understand what that’s going to do to our plans in terms of what people want and taking that holistic financial well-being approach to what we’re offering our people,” said Jason Traetto, the communications company’s director of benefits, wealth and recognition programs, during a session at Benefits Canada and the Canadian Investment Review‘s 2020 Plan Sponsor Week in mid-August.

The organization has four defined benefit plans, four defined contribution plans, a registered retirement savings plan, a tax-free savings account and an employee share plan. According to Mureth Rhone, senior manager of benefits and wealth programs, the combined assets in these programs is currently about $3 billion and close to 80 per cent of its 25,000-strong workforce is enrolled in one or more plans.

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In 2016, Rogers Communications closed its DB plans to new entrants. “I think every initiative in [human resources] starts with that tap on the should from a finance person, saying, ‘You’re spending too much money or there’s too much pressure or there’s too much that’s going on,’” said Traetto. “So the financial profile of the plan and cost predictability was definitely a driver to change. In the last five years, we’ve seen our deficit double by 100 per cent, so it went up $200 million. The interest rates were causing pressure on the pension expense.”

As well, the organization was finding a huge portion of its workforce — its frontline workers — didn’t want to enroll in the DB plan because it was too costly and not flexible. “We wanted to find a solution that appealed to all of our employees and that contributed to our shift to the DC pension plan,” he said. “We did see a huge shift upwards in participation in our DC plan from our frontline groups because they could go in at one per cent or eight per cent . . . and they could change it throughout the year. I think that added a lot of value.”

When it comes to considering changes in its retirement savings plans, Rogers Communications uses regular meetings with its providers to take the pulse of its plan members and the industry. “We’re looking to understand what our employees are asking, what are emerging trends, what are the new regulatory changes, what’s happening in the industry, what are the best practices in the market, as well as the challenges other employers are facing,” said Rhone.

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And the conversations have changed, she added, noting it’s less about which employers are moving away from DB plans and more about the member experience and ensuring they have the right tools to manage their financial wellness.

With more recent developments connected to the coronavirus pandemic, Traetto said the organization didn’t implement any changes, whether related to investments lineups or contribution structures. “Generally speaking, our financials have been really strong and we’ve been able to maintain our programs and not had to look at contribution suspensions or any kind of limitations imposed on employees.”

That said, the company still wanted to make sure its staff felt supported at this time, he added. “We know that financial stress is a major driver in the mental-health space.”

To support staff during the pandemic, Rogers Communications bundled all its coronavirus activities under one umbrella, the National Wellness Fund. It rolled out a series of online educational sessions, which Traetto and Rhone hosted with several experts, and it did a lot of work in its financial tools and budgeting space to make sure all employees felt supported.

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“We got so much positive feedback,” said Traetto. “I think our lowest session had 1,500 people join, so we have a huge amount of engagement from our people.”

In terms of ensuring employees are engaged with their retirement savings and financial well-being, the company hosts an annual communications and education campaign. It includes targeted communications to remind employees to review their asset allocation and quarterly information sessions on a variety of topics.

“Another big part of our communications plan is our annual financial fitness month,” said Rhone. “For the entire month, the activities are focused on ensuring employees are aware of the whole suite of programs we offer at Rogers and to review their retirement readiness, their contributions . . . and [look] at the investments in their portfolio.”

It’s so important to set some time aside every year to get employees in the habit of looking at their investments and making the right decisions, added Traetto. “Having that period of time that happens every single year, . . . we’re getting to the point now where people are starting to gear up for it. . . . There’s a lot of engagement, so it’s really building on that momentum to make sure we’re keeping that engagement going within our organization.”

All of the 2020 Plan Sponsor Week sessions are available on-demand at