Pension Workshops and Planning Tools

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Choose a workshop based on your life stage:  early_car.jpg Early career     mid_car.jpg  Mid-career     late_car.jpg Late career

Coming up Next - Winter Wellness, February 2023

Watch this page for details about our Winter Wellness financial planning program. The deep days of winter are the perfect time to assess and enhance your own financial and personal well-being and to meet 1:1 with a Sun Life Education Consultant! 

On-demand Videos

Understanding the Value of your Western Pension Plan  early_car.jpg mid_car.jpg late_car.jpg

Helpful for all (10 min)

This video discusses saving for your future and the tools and services available to support that goal. Topics include sources of retirement income (government, employer pension, personal savings), examines key features of your Western pension plan, and points you to tools, resources and Customer Care options to help you get answers to your questions.

To view: Go to Western's home page on Sun Life. No login needed to access links to useful resources, including two featured videos (scroll down to see tulips photo). Select Understanding the Value of Your Western Pension Plan.

Choosing Your Investments in the Western Pension Plan  early_car.jpg mid_car.jpg

Designed for those in early or mid-career (11 min)

The video offers a good overview of how to save for your future and the tools and services available to support that goal. It will cover sources of retirement income and give you a closer look at Western’s Pension Plan and how to get the most from it. It will also show you the impact of starting early!

To view: Go to Western's home page on Sun Life. No login needed to access links to useful resources, including two featured videos (scroll down to see tulips photo). Select Choosing Your Investments in the Western Pension Plan.

Rebalancing your Pension Plan Investment Mix  early_car.jpg mid_car.jpg late_car.jpg

Helpful for all

Rebalancing the asset mix in your account is a recommended way to help manage risk. This session, recorded by the Western Pension Board's investment consultants at Mercer Canada, will help you understand what it means to rebalance and how you can do it in your Sun Life account.

View video on Rebalancing Your Western Pension Plan

Investing: The Essentials  early_car.jpg mid_car.jpg late_car.jpg

Helpful for all (11 min)

This recorded session reviews investment fundamentals around market volatility. It can help you understand your comfort with risk, help you focus on your end game, and diversify to help protect your investments. It can also show you resources and services available when you need information and advice.

To view: Go to Western's home page on Sun Life. No login needed to access links to useful resources, including two featured videos (scroll down to see tulips photo). Select Investing: The Essentials

Becoming Retirement Ready: Part 1- Assessing your Retirement Readiness mid_car.jpg late_car.jpg

Designed for those in mid or late career (17 min)

Part 1 of this series has a focus on the six to fifteen years prior to retirement, planning for your desired retirement lifestyle, reviewing expenses and creating a budget. You'll examine government sources of income, types of pension and savings plans, and vehicles for converting savings to income such as LIF/RIFs, annuities, etc.

To view: Go to the Western RIF/LIF login page on the Sun Life site. No login needed to access links to useful resources on this page, including all three parts of Becoming Retirement Ready

Becoming Retirement Ready: Part 2 - Planning for Retirement Risks mid_car.jpg late_car.jpg

Designed for those in mid or late career (13 min)

Part 2 focuses on the 10 years prior to retirement, covering risks (longevity, inflation, market downturns, unexpected events), the income options to mitigate those risks, and the features of each. Government benefits will also be explained as well as steps to take to plan for lifetime expenses and income.

With a focus on the Sun Life Retirement & Savings Plan for Western Retirees, this video uses a case study to convey possible income sources, available accounts (such as RIF/LIF, RRSP, etc), provides information about fees, sources of government income, and reviews the supports available to help you with your plan.

To view: Go to the Western RIF/LIF login page on the Sun Life site. No login needed to access links to useful resources on this page, including all three parts of Becoming Retirement Ready

Becoming Retirement Ready: Part 3 - Living your Retirement Plan  late_car.jpg

Designed for those in late career (12 min)

With a focus on the Sun Life Retirement & Savings Plan for Western Retirees, this video uses a case study to convey possible income sources, available accounts (such as RIF/LIF, RRSP, etc), provides information about fees, sources of government income, and reviews the supports available to help you with your plan.

To view: Go to the Western RIF/LIF login page on the Sun Life site. No login needed to access links to useful resources on this page, including all three parts of Becoming Retirement Ready.

Other Learning Opportunities

Responsible Investing and the Western Pension Plans early_car.jpg mid_car.jpg late_car.jpg

The Western pension plans have considered Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors in the investment portfolio since 2007 and have offered a Socially Responsible Global Equity fund option since 2008. The Academic and Administrative Pension Boards are reviewing the approach to ESG considerations and are engaged with plan members in May and June 2022.

Here are the latest updates:

2021 Annual Investment Commentary early_car.jpg mid_car.jpg late_car.jpg

The Annual Investment Commentary is a useful tool to review the previous year's market activity and returns.  

Read the 2021 Annual Investment Commentary now

Free Online Webinars

Throughout the year Sun Life Financial hosts live online webinars on a variety of interesting and informative topics to help you manage your money, invest with confidence and plan your retirement. Registration opens eight to ten weeks before each scheduled webinar.

Visit the Sun Life webinar webpage to browse the full list of topics and dates for upcoming live webinars, and to register.

If you are new to mysunlife.ca look on the mysunlife.ca/western login page for a link to a helpful, short video that will help you get to know mysunlife.ca. 

Annual Member Updates and Spring Learning Opportunities - Complete!

Each spring, Western offers special opportunities including our annual Pension Plan member updates, presentations/webinars and the opportunity to get answers to your questions. In addition to the Plan Member updates (see Answers to Important Questions You Asked During the Annual Member Updates 2022), and the opportunity to meet 1:1 with a Sun Life representative, events included:

Learn and Share Presentations

Learn - Diversification: A Closer Look For those in Early Career For those in mid-career For those in late career 
Led by Sun Life, this Zoom session focused on the ways that diversification is used to help manage risk in the Western Pension Plans, with a focus on the Diversified Equity Fund and Diversified Bond Fund.  

Share - A Virtual Panel Discussion - Responsible Investing and the Western Pension Plans For those in Early Career For those in mid-career For those in late career -  The Western Pension Plans have considered environmental, social, and governance factors since 2007. What began as a trend is now a broad mainstream movement. An interactive panel discussed what’s happening today inside and beyond the Western Pension Plans, and provided feedback for the Joint Pension Board to consider for the Plans’ next steps.

Answers to Important Questions You Asked During the Annual Member Updates 2022

We asked members to provide questions about the Western Pension Plan so other members could benefit from your inquiries. Answers below are provided by your Western Pension team.

Q1: I am wondering how I might best advocate for more nuanced and higher risk investing options? Returns on my Western Pension are significantly less than my personal investing strategy and I would greatly appreciate if members could have more control over their portfolios. Or, at least more investing strategy options.
A: We understand your frustration with the fact that there is a disconnect between the options offered on the Western Pension Plans and those you’d like to have in your own investment strategy. The Joint Pension Board needs to provide a menu of options that balances the needs of more than 7000 plan members. As such, offering very specialized investment options is just not feasible.

The Joint Pension Board is guided by seven principles when making decisions. Two of them, the principles of Choice and Prudence apply here. On one hand, the Board is committed to offer choice to members, given their various levels of risk tolerance, the size and nature of their investment portfolio outside of the Western Pension Plan, their age and family circumstances, their interest in adopting an active asset allocation strategy, and their varying need for payments from their portfolio. However, it has been proven by studies that offering too much choice makes it tougher for members to make an investment selection. In addition, offering investment options with a narrow focus, while they offer a much higher expected return, also come with much more downside risk, would not be consistent with the principle of prudence.

The Plans’ investment options have a high level of diversification and therefore cannot be expected to have as much upside potential as what you may experience with an individual stock, small basket of stocks or a fund with a narrow focus (for example an energy fund). On the other hand, they are also extremely unlikely to achieve very poor returns.

For example, the six equity options offered to members of the Western Pension Plans returned between 2.64% and 19.49% during the 12-month period ending March 31, 2022, after all fees and management expenses taken into account. By comparison, the 81 equity funds available on the Sun Life platform had returns ranging from -15.65% to 28.65% over the same period. This is the balance that Western is trying to achieve with its portfolios, we forfeit some of the upside potential in order to limit the downside risk. The 10-yr return, after-fees of the Diversified Equity Fund as of December 31, 2021 was 12.51%. At that rate, an investment more than triples over 10 years, which is why Western favours this type of long-term and lower risk approach.

Q2: I have completed the asset allocation tool from my Sun Life account, but I’m having trouble creating the suggested asset mix (the result says my risk profile is “Balanced").
A: View video recorded answer from Western's Pension team -or- read a transcript of the answer to this question.

Q3: It has just called my attention that the two US Equity funds have consistently outperformed the other investments in the last 10 years, and I am puzzled about the gains that I missed in the last decade due to my overlook, and I will try to address this situation in the near future. Besides, the management fees for the two US Equity funds are lower too.
A: The Diversified Equity Fund is designed to be more diversified than the other equity options offered on the Western Pension Plans. This has two main consequences: 1) it’s unlikely to be the best performing fund on the Western lineup; 2) it’s also unlikely to be the worst performer. To keep it simple, the Diversified Equity Fund has three building blocks: Canadian equities, U.S. equities and non-North American equities. The Western plan offers options in those three sub-categories. It’s easy to see that if U.S. Equity Unhedged Fund is the top performing fund on the Western Pension Plans, the Diversified Equity Fund will underperform that fund because of its exposure to funds with lower returns, such as the Canadian Equity Fund or the Non-North American Equity Funds.

In addition, it’s risky to look in the rear-view mirror to select investments. The U.S. Equity Unhedged Fund has posted the best 10-yr returns of all equity options as of March 31, 2022 with 17.08% annualized. However, in order to get that return, you would have had to invest in that fund in March 31, 2012. At that time, the 10-yr return of the U.S. Equity Unhedged Fund was -1.11%, the worst of all equity options on the Western Pension Plan and the only option with a negative return. As such, investments that achieved the highest return in the most recent period won’t necessarily outperform in the next one.

Q4. I have noticed that while Sun Life was quick to drop the guaranteed rate of return [on the Guaranteed Daily Interest Account (GDIA)] when interest rates were falling, it has not yet increased the rate of return now that interest rates have started to increase across the entire yield curve (it has been stuck at 0.8% since at least last April). What is the reference point by which Sun Life sets the guaranteed rate? When do you expect this to be revisited?
A: Response provided by Sun Life:

“The benchmark used to set the GDIA crediting rate is the Sun Life Money Market fund net of fees. We set the GDIA crediting rate with the goal of GDIA outperforming the Money Market benchmark by a comfortable margin. The Sun Life Money Market yield is typically a small premium over the Bank of Canada’s 91-day treasury bill rate. So it reflects primarily the Bank of Canada target rate as well as to a limited extent future expectations for rates and short-term credit conditions.

Over the course of the pandemic, the money market net yield dropped by roughly 1.6% whereas the GDIA crediting rate dropped by only 1.0%. This means that over the last two years the GDIA fund has outperformed its benchmark by roughly 0.6% more than originally envisioned. As interest rates increase, we will delay increasing the GDIA crediting rate until the benchmark outperformance decreases to a more sustainable level. For reference, the money market net yield is currently about 0.28% (as of March 23, 2022).

The ultimate decision to increase GDIA rates will be based on future money market yields, which we cannot determine with any certainty. However, if current interest rate trends persist, we expect to increase the rates within a 3-6 month time frame.”

Q5: How much of Western's pension plan is invested in Russia, and is there a way we could make it zero?
A: The most recent exposure to Russia for the Western Pension Plans was 0.09% (as of April 18, 2022). That exposure was limited to three options: Diversified Equity Fund (0.18% exposure), Balanced Growth Fund (0.13%) and Balanced Income Fund (0.06%). Four underlying strategies managed by CC&L (emerging markets equity), William Blair (emerging markets equity), Arrowstreet (global small cap equity) and BlackRock (global equity) had exposure to Russia. All managers were looking at the best possible ways to eliminate their exposure, given the trading restrictions and no manager was planning to increase its exposure.

Q6: Why does the Board not adopt an index attitude for the whole market, rather then a selected portfolio? See Norwegian State fund.
A: As the Western Pension Plans are defined contribution pension plans, they offer a menu of options in order to meet members’ demand with respect to choice. The overall assets of the Western Pension Plans have exposure to the whole market, like the Norwegian State Fund (Norges Bank Investment Management), with holdings in developed markets, emerging markets, large and small capitalization companies.

Although the Norwegian Fund is exposed to the whole market and they keep the strategy close to the benchmark (70% FTSE Russell Group for equities and 30% Bloomberg Barclays for bonds), all of their strategies have active components.

Due to its size, the Western Pension Plans are able to invest in proven active strategies at a competitive fee structure, which is a key factor when exploring the merits of active versus passive. For example, our actively managed Canadian Equity Fund has fees of under 0.25%.

Q7: The Joint Pension Board should align options with literature and diversified (factor) index investing.
A: When selecting investment strategies to build its portfolios, the Joint Pension Board makes sure that the total portfolio is exposed to a diversity of factors. Strategies used by Western have exposure to most commonly researched factors in the literature, including value, growth, quality, momentum, size, volatility, etc.

Q8: The Joint Pension Board should encourage a move to more index based options and increased offerings to include opportunities to capture academic factor investing ideas (Fama and French).
A: The Fama and French research asserts that there is a premium to invest in value stocks and small cap stocks. Western makes sure to be exposed to those factors. Approximately 27.5% of the Diversified Equity Fund is invested in strategies that are considered value (Beutel Goodman, Harris Associates and AllianceBernstein), while 5% is invested in small cap stocks (Arrowstreet).

Q9: I just learned that I could save extra through my Western pension account. Beyond the obvious benefit of saving more for my retirement, why would I want to do it here?
A: View video recorded answer from Western's Pension team -or- read a transcript of the answer to this question.

Q10: I’m not sure I’ll know when I’ve saved enough to be able to afford retirement. Is there a number  I should be trying to reach?
A: View video recorded answer from Western's Pension team -or- read a transcript of the answer to this question.

Financial Literacy Month - November 2022 - Complete!

Financial Literacy Month is held each November to help Canadians learn how to better manage their personal finances. At different stages of our careers and our lives, our planning priorities and the supports we need will change.  In November 2022, members took part in a number Western Pension Plan education sessions and supports to help you them achieve their financial goals including

Personal 1:1 Consultations with Sun Life: Held in-person or virtually, members ask questions and help to plan their financial future.

Your Health and Wealth – What’s the Connection: The link between mental, physical and financial wellbeing is strong. This webinar reviews they are integrated, how financial stress can impact you and how having a plan helps you be prepared to manage financial stress.

Considerations for a Healthy Retirement Plan: At retirement, you need to make decisions about how to convert your Western Pension Plan savings into a retirement income. This webinar looks at the Sun Life Retirement & Savings Plan for Western Retirees, which provides for familiar investments, similar low fees, and dedicated personal support from a Sun Life Retirement Consultant.

Estate & Taxation: The Essentials: This webinar, led by Sun Life, focuses on providing for loved ones, avoiding probate, and reducing your taxes.

Learn to Invest: a webinar introduction to investment concepts and principles. Participants learn terminology, understand forces that drive the market, and review considerations in making investment decisions, including risk tolerance, asset allocation, expected returns fees and more.

Planning Tools

  • sunlife.ca/western - as our primary provider of member services for the Western Pension Plan, Sun Life Financial offers an extensive suite of tools and resources to help you make the most of your Western Pension Plan including calculators, webinars, articles and financial planning tips for all stages of your life.
  • Investment Advice - For investment advice on your Western Pension Plan, you can speak with a licensed Investment Advice Specialist at Sun Life Financial who can provide you with personal, unbiased, one-on-one investment advice on your Western Pension Plan, and discuss what makes sense for you. Call 1-866-733-8612 any business day between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. ET to speak with an Investment Advice Specialist today!
  • Canada.ca – The official site for the federal government with access to information and services on pensions and benefits you may be eligible for upon retirement. Information on pensions and retirement is located in the Money and Finances section and includes a step-by-step Retirement Income Calculator to help you estimate your retirement income including OAS, CPP, employer pensions and other sources of income.
  • Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) – The FCAC is an independent body working to protect and inform consumers of financial products and services. Topics on planning your retirement can be found under Life Events for Consumers and include how much will you need to retire, understanding Canada's retirement income system, when you should start saving for retirement and sources of retirement income.

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