October 2013

Canada needs more sustainable pension options

With its aging population and growing longevity, Canada needs to overhaul its public and private pension systems in order to secure the future of new retirees, according to a fresh report.

Published by the independent non-profit Public Policy Forum, the report is based on discussions during the National Summit on Pension Reform, held in February in Fredericton.

The document notes that while Canada is not experiencing a pension crisis, the current situation is not sustainable, with demographics being a major challenge.

Aging population

“For the first time, there will be more people retiring than entering the workforce,” the report predicts. “Fewer workers and more retirees will strain the system of public services, including healthcare, social services and, perhaps most acutely, retirement income security.”

The public and private programs that underpin retirement income security in the country, such as pensions, income supplements and personal savings, will come under serious strain, according to the document.

“Pension plans, like many social programs in Canada, were established when people did not live as long after retirement, when there were more workers paying into plans than retirees drawing from them, and when there was greater certainty of good returns,” the study notes. “Those ratios are rapidly shifting.”

Lifetimes in Canada, home to the world’s largest group of baby boomers, are increasing. In 1950, a 35-year-old Canadian had a remaining life expectancy of 38.6 years, but in 2010, this climbed to 46.8 years, according to the C.D. Howe Institute.

Inadequate pension access

Uneven and incomplete pension coverage is another issue plaguing the country. More than 60% of Canadian workers do not have access to a registered pension plan, according to 2010 data from the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions.

There is also a big discrepancy between the public and private sectors. While 87% of public employees have pension coverage, only 24% of private sector workers do—even though private sector employees make up the bulk of Canada’s Labour force.

Also, public servants still have mainly DB plans, but these plans have become more scarce in the private arena—52% in 2010 from 76% in 2000.

So how can Canada address these problems?

Flexibility

One of the recommendations made during the conference was that pension systems must adapt better to changing demographics and market conditions, with provisions such as contingent ancillary benefits being introduced into new models. New Brunswick’s shared risk pension model could serve as an example, the report says.

“However, it is not just pensions that need to adapt—other savings vehicles need to change in order to meet the needs of the current working generation,” the paper says. “Canadians need more options to make it easier and more rewarding to save.”

Private coverage

Another recommendation was to help employees who currently have no access to a company pension by either expanding the Canada Pension Plan or introducing new private sector measures such as pooled registered pension plans (PRPPs).

Several provinces have expressed willingness to adopt PRPPs, whose features include auto-enrollment (with an opt-out) and nudge tools that facilitate greater retirement savings.

Read More :  “As longevity increases, retirement savings fall short”

excerpts provided by: Benefits Canada, August/September 2013

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