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May Pension Newsletter

We hope you enjoy this year’s modern version of the ELCIC Pension Plan 2021 Annual Report

With the work of the honey bee as our theme, we provide you with buzz on plan membership, investment results, and more! We hope you find the information interesting and relevant and we always welcome your feedback.

This report was prepared for plan members and participating employers as part of ELCIC Group Services Inc.’s ongoing strategic review and as a response to the 2021 Eastern Synod Assembly motion:

That the Eastern Synod petitioned Group Services Inc. to prepare a report detailing the advantages and disadvantages of the ELCIC joining a public sector type defined benefit pension plan and to make the report available to ELCIC congregations and GSI pension plan members.

We trust that this report provides useful information and an appreciation of the complexities around this issue and assessing other options. We will begin with a general governance framework and then get to more details.

What is ELCIC Group Services Inc. (GSI)’s role regarding the ELCIC Pension Plan?

GSI’s role is threefold:

  • Plan Sponsor – responsible for designing the structure of the plan.
  • Plan Administrator – responsible for oversight, management, and administration of the plan in accordance with the regulations and guidelines. This includes, but is not limited to, investment decisions and selecting and monitoring any third-party providers.
  • Record-keeper – responsible for maintaining accurate accounts for each member.
How does GSI carry out these responsibilities?

GSI has:

  • hired staff with the appropriate education and experience;
  • nominated directors with related skills and who undergo continual board education;
  • engaged consultants to provide additional expertise.

The directors provide oversight, monitoring, and review. A general review is done on a regular schedule (mostly quarterly) and deeper due diligence is done on a rotational basis for the various mandates or programs.

What reviews have been done by GSI on the ELCIC Pension Plan?

Here is a high-level summary of the past two decades:

  • 2001 to 2012 - resolving the unfunded liability in the Retiree Fund portion of the Pension Plan
  • 2011 to 2015 – improve member outcomes by revising the contribution policy and changing the investment structure
  • 2018 - review of the ELCIC Pension Plan text to eliminate discrimination based on age or employment class and clarify other attributes
What are the pension design options available under Canadian legislation?

There are currently only three options:

Defined Contribution (DC):

  • defined level of contributions,
  • investment income is earned,
  • upon retirement, the account balance is used to purchase an annuity or Life Income Fund (LIF).

Defined Benefit (DB):

  • works in reverse; pension benefit is defined by formula and works back into what contributions are needed in relation to the investment risk taken.

Target Benefit (TB):

  • Combines features of both DC and DB,
  • Contributions are fixed and benefit defined, but benefit can be modified, which is why it is a ‘target’.

The motion refers to a public sector type defined benefit pension. These plans are not accepting new employers. Certain defined benefit plans have created a new option under their structure to accept other employers. These are known as Target Benefit Plans; therefore, this report examines that option. 

What are the differences between the plan designs beyond the basic definitions above?

In April and May 2021, the GSI newsletter provided a two-part education series on the general differences between a DC and DB pension. These issues are archived on the GSI website if you would like to refer back to them. We will summarize some of the attributes between the DC and TB in the table below:

Defined Contribution plan Target Benefit plan
Sponsor employer joint employer and member or

in some cases, member only

Governance typically, employer shared or member only
Regulatory funding no additional funding beyond

stated contributions

no solvency funding;

benefits may be reduced

Risk allocation 100% member future benefit changes are 100% member; some plans may allow contribution changes 50/50 between member and employer
Investment and longevity risk borne by members individually borne by members as a group
Retirement balance to Life Income

Fund (LIF) or annuity

target retirement benefit

payable monthly

How would you summarize these differences to a plan member that is not versed in pension matters and generally a non-financial person?

In a DC plan, you as a plan member, have all the risk; if you use the account to purchase a Life Income Fund (LIF), you may run out of money or you may have lots left over when you die, which becomes part of your estate.

In a TB plan, the risk is pooled, so that if you die young, your funds are used to provide a pension to those plan members who live longer and vice-versa, and there are no funds available for your estate.

In other words, in a DC plan, what’s yours is yours and in a TB plan what’s yours is ours as everything is shared.

How do these differences become advantages or disadvantages as outlined in the motion?

This is where it becomes subjective. What is an advantage to one member may be a disadvantage, or at least not a priority, to another member. A DC plan provides flexibility, especially since most provinces now allow a LIF to be fully unlocked, which means you can withdraw from the fund as much you wish, at any time, to be used as you see fit. This is good for members who may want to use their retirement savings to purchase a home or make home improvements, for travel and hobbies while young or delay using retirement savings for future care and health situations or who want to leave an estate for family or favorite charities. A TB plan provides a guaranteed income for life (with possible modifications), which is good for members who are healthy, not concerned about leaving an estate (or have other funds for leaving an estate), and have little interest in financial matters.

Therefore, while there are differences, these are not universally comparatively better or worse.

Then what about the pension benefit amount? Does one plan design provide a greater pension payment over another?

All pension plans are built on this basic principle:

contributions + investment income = annual lifetime pension amount

This equation holds true for any pension plan, so any differences between pension amounts are due to risk decisions, constraints, and goals for each element. If the underlying assumptions in pension calculations (including using online calculators) are the same, then the projected amounts will be similar.

Has GSI surveyed the market to determine what target benefit plan options might be available?

Yes, GSI engaged an Actuarial Consulting Firm to provide current market options with information and details on the aspects, design, and formulas of those plans. This list encompassed several plans, including DBplus among others.

Did GSI compare financial outcomes between various plans and the ELCIC Pension Plan and if so, what were the findings?

Yes, the Actuarial Consulting Firm tested a sample of ELCIC members with different ages, earnings, and length of service to determine if there were significant differences between pension benefit amount outcomes. The comparison specifically was between the ELCIC Pension Plan converting to a Life Income Fund at age 65 to different target benefit plans with retirement at age 65. This exercise was repeated using an age 70 retirement as a significant portion of the plan members are over age 65.

The findings indicate that no one plan produced better financial results for all members. At age 65 most of the outcomes were fairly similar and at age 70 the ELCIC Pension Plan was the leader in all cases.

Were there any other findings communicated from the Actuarial Consulting Firm that may be of interest?

Yes, they indicated that the ELCIC Pension Plan is well managed and provides a good pension for its members. They also advised that the ELCIC Pension Plan has a unique membership and demographic which may present significant challenges and transition complexities, all of which could be costly should a decision be made to join certain other plans. Examples of some of the challenges include but are not limited to: requirement to have a centralized payroll, no contributions allowed on taxable benefit amounts, and restrictions and/or reductions in amount transferred in to purchase past service.

What will GSI, as the ELCIC Pension Plan Sponsor, do going forward?

GSI will continue to consider what is in the best interest of plan members and congregations. GSI will monitor pension outcomes for its members as it reviews ongoing expenses and policy strategies. As always, market information, options, and opportunities will be part of the ongoing knowledge and education that GSI receives.

2022 Q1 Investment Commentary ELCIC Pension Plan

There were several adverse factors influencing the investment markets in the first quarter of 2022. So, we are not surprised to see the disappointing results shown in this table. Most of us have likely noticed many of these influences in our everyday lives, including higher prices for fuel, difficulty getting goods and services, a lot of help wanted signs, and a housing boom. The events in Ukraine have given rise to a humanitarian crisis and a rippling effect on global economies. Inflation was also a major force as it climbed to the highest level in decades.

ELCIC Pension Plan Investment Return

Jan 1 to Mar 31, 2022

Median Balanced Pension Plan as a comparison

Jan 1 to Mar 31, 2022

Excess return
-5.8 -3.9 -1.9

*Please note that information is not intended to be investment advice or to be a recommendation for your personal investment portfolio.

Growth Fund

RBC Global Equity Focus Pension Trust
RBC Global Equity Investment Return

Jan 1 to Mar 31, 2022

MSCI World ($CAD)

as a comparison

Jan 1 to Mar 31, 2022

Excess return
-12.1% -6.1% -6.0

The investment manager admitted that the underperformance was mainly due to stock selection with their most highly rated stocks performing the worst and vice versa. The manager has made some changes and is confident they are now positioned to better withstand environments with the dynamics of this past quarter.

Baillie Gifford Global Equity Fund

 

Baillie Gifford Global Equity Investment Return

Jan 1 to Mar 31, 2022

MSCI World ($CAD)

as a comparison

Jan 1 to Mar 31, 2022

Excess return
-16.0 -6.1% -9.9

Specific stock selection is a significant factor in the performance outcomes in an actively managed portfolio such as this Fund. Unfortunately, investment in a global technology firm facing some recent regulatory concerns, an e-commerce company that is causing investors to worry as they expand into new markets and a fall in value of a company that had excelled growth during the pandemic, all negatively affected the investment performance this quarter.

PH&N Canadian Equity Value Fund
PH&N Canadian Equity Investment Return

Jan 1 to Mar 31, 2022

S&P/TSX Capped

as a comparison

Jan 1 to Mar 31, 2022

Excess return
+6.3% +3.8% +2.5

The manager reported that the Canadian equity market was volatile, like most equity markets this past quarter. While this was particularly challenging, the general positioning and specific stock selections added to performance.

Fixed Income

PH&N Core Plus Bond Fund

 

PH&N Core Plus Bond Fund Investment Return

Jan 1 to Mar 31, 2022

FTSE Canada Universe Bond as a comparison

Jan 1 to Mar 31, 2022

Excess return
-6.7% -7.0% +0.3

The manager cited that continuous strategic positioning including anticipation of interest rate movements was instrumental in creating the excess return.

PH&N Mortgage Pension Trust
PH&N Mortgage Pension Trust Investment Return

Jan 1 to Mar 31, 2022

FTSE Canada

Short-term Bond  as a comparison

Jan 1 to Mar 31, 2022

Excess return
-2.9% -3.0% +0.1

This portfolio of first rank mortgages saw continuing strong growth in the commercial real estate investment activity. While 2021 was a record year for new mortgages with the fund, the first quarter of 2022 saw that growth continuing but with higher competition. Currently, many organizations are evaluating their return-to-work policies and determining their space needs, however, the manager continues to gain confidence in office lending with the current return trends.

PH&N High Yield Mortgage Fund
PH&N High Yield Mortgage Investment Return

Jan 1 to Mar 31, 2022

FTSE Canada

Short-term Bond 

as a comparison

Jan 1 to Mar 31, 2022

Excess return
.8% -3.0% +3.8

In case you missed this...

Twenty years ago, the need to provide members with timely and relevant information on changes and reminders to the Plans grew, and the “what’s News at GSI” newsletter was born. Since then, GSI has been consistently evolving and focusing on integrating financial wellness wherever possible. This Pension issue marks the first under the new name, “Your Plan Notes.” GSI chose this name to signify that the newsletter is about you, the plan member, learning about your Pension Plans, and creating plans for your retirement.

You may have heard about a phenomenon called languishing—an aimless, joyless state somewhere between depression and flourishing.

A New York Times article in April 2021 helped start a trend of discussion around languishing, describing it as a “sense of stagnation and emptiness” that many people seemed to be experiencing as part of the “emotional long-haul” of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But is languishing a real health condition? How might it appear in your life, or in the life of a loved one? And if it does, what can you do about it?

Have a question for GSI?

If you have a question for GSI, please reach out. Information and resources can also be found on the GSI website.
GSI Website:  elcicgsi.ca
Winnipeg Residents: 204-984-9181
Toll Free: 1-877-352-4247
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