OPTrust Surpasses the 100,000-Member Milestone
OPTrust, one of Canada’s largest defined benefit pension plans, has welcomed the 100,000th member to the Plan. Since inception, OPTrust’s membership has increased by more than 40 per cent from just under 70,000 in 1995. Today, OPTrust delivers retirement security to retirees in over 300 communities across Ontario and remits more than $1 billion in annual pension payments.
OPTrust has a strong belief in the value of the defined benefit pension model and delivering a secure retirement to our more than 100,000 members is both a privilege and a great responsibility,” said Peter Lindley, President and CEO of OPTrust. “Our members know they can count on exceptional service and secure, predictable retirement income, and as our membership continues to grow, we remain relentlessly focused on that mission."
Recent growth in membership can in part be attributed to the growth of OPTrust Select, OPTrust’s defined benefit offering for organizations in Ontario’s nonprofit, charitable and broader public sectors. OPTrust Select began welcoming members in 2019 and has now enrolled 50 organizations, with roughly 1,700 members currently in the Plan.
For the vast majority of OPTrust Select members, this is the first time they have had access to the stability and security of a defined benefit pension,” said Audrey Forbes, OPTrust’s Senior Vice President, Member Experience. “The fact that OPTrust Select has continued to grow so significantly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic speaks to the desire for that security, and we look forward to our overall membership continuing to grow in the years and decades to come."
To learn more about how OPTrust Select is expanding access to retirement security in Ontario, visit optrustselect.com.
With net assets of over $23 billion, OPTrust invests and manages one of Canada’s largest pension funds and administers the OPSEU Pension Plan (including OPTrust Select), a defined benefit plan with over 100,000 members. OPTrust was established to give plan members and the Government of Ontario an equal voice in the administration of the Plan and the investment of its assets through joint trusteeship. OPTrust is governed by a 10-member Board of Trustees, five of whom are appointed by OPSEU and five by the Government of Ontario.
This afternoon, I had a chance to talk with Audrey Forbes, OPTrust’s Senior Vice President, Member Experience.
I want to begin by thanking her for taking the time to speak to me and also thank Jason White for setting this call up and sending me material.
Audrey is a very intelligent and articulate lady, I really enjoyed getting her perspective on OPTrust's members and how they service and value them.
First, Jason White made it clear to me the 100,000-member milestone is the "entirety of the plan," not OPTrust Select which now counts 1,700 members but is growing fast.
There are over 1 million workers in Ontario's non-profit sector so there's a huge market to tap into there.
As you will read below, there's also huge demand for safe, predictable retirement income which is why despite the pandemic, OPTrust Select didn't skip a beat and is still growing fast.
Anyway, I began by asking Audrey about her background and the services her team provides members.
Audrey joined OPTrust 20 years ago and has held increasingly senior leadership roles and is an active participant on many committees, including the OPTrust Diversity and Inclusion Council:
In 2020, she was named among Diversity Journal's Black Leaders Worth Watching recognizing those who are advancing diversity and inclusion in the workplace and community.
We didn't broach this topic but she knows very well I'm a huge stickler on diversity & inclusion and had an interesting chat earlier this week with an expert who told me "Canada is about 10 years behind the US on this front." I believe her.
Anyway, Audrey told me when she first arrived at OPTrust, there were about 70,000 members and membership has grown nicely since then.
I told her, most of my comments are about pension investments.
I had great discussions with Kevin Zhu on innovation, culture and risk mitigation, with James Davis after he was named CIO of the year and more recently with Dani Goraichy after OPTrust Select achieved an important milestone.
These were all great discussions, I love talking investments and pension policy but it's rare I get to talk to someone in charge of member services.
And let me be blunt, working at OPTrust, CPP Investments, OMERS, PSP Investments, AIMCo, BCI, OTPP, CDPQ, HOOPP, CAAT, IMCO, UPP, you name it, isn't about beating some benchmark to make a big bonus, it's all about members!
At the core of every pension is someone working hard, contributing a share of their income every paycheck so they can retire in dignity and security.
That's really what pensions are all about and at OPTrust, they explain in great detail their member-driven investment strategy.
That's great as it pertains to investments but what about servicing those members?
This is where Audey Forbes and her team play a critical role.
I asked her specifically how they service these members and Audrey told me through different ways:
- Phone calls: They make roughly 50,000 calls a year to members to answer questions and to reassure them their pensions offer safe, predictable retirement income.
- Traditional paper route: They answer letters from members with concerns or questions.
- Via the web: They promote their website where members can go 24/7 to get answers to their questions or write in an get quick responses.
- Via group presentations: They do group presentations to inform members and answer questions.
Again, this might not sound sexy or interesting to many of you who are structuring swap trades, investing in hedge funds and private equity funds, but this is the bread and butter of a well-managed defined benefit plan, ie. servicing its members.
If your members are not happy, you're failing miserably as a pension plan, period.
Audrey told me interactions with members are very important and they survey all members shortly after each communication to see if they are satisfied with the service.
OPTrust's members are very satisfied and Audrey pointed out that their member service also scored very high at CEM Benchmarking, an independent firm that rates all pensions on many fronts.
"We scored 85, well above the peer average of 76, and I'm very proud of this."
What else? She told me the pandemic hasn't stopped OPTrust Select from gaining new members with 19 of the 50 new employers joining since March 2020.
She rightly pointed out that many new members working in Ontario's non-profit sector are women "who have traditionally not had a DB plan and made significantly less than their male counterparts."
She added: "we are there to guide them and reassure them every step of the way as we do with all our members."
I asked Audrey if OPTrust plans on opening up it services to other sectors in Ontario.
She told me: "That decision lies with our sponsors but I can tell you that along with HOOPP, we are increasingly advocating for defined benefit pensions."
She mentioned a recent collaboration among Canadian defined benefit (DB) pension plans on a retirement security video to mark financial literacy month. I covered it here.
She also mentioned how Canada's DB plans are good for the economy and good for business and she agreed with my observation that even though Canada has the best pensions, we need to increase coverage to bolster our retirement system which doesn't rank number one in the world.
Lastly, on specific policy advocacy, Audrey referred me to Jason White who discussed a new initiative called People for Pensions:
People for Pensions is an information program from OPTrust, the administrator of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) Pension Plan and OPTrust Select. Our mission: Paying pensions today, preserving pensions for tomorrow.
People for Pensions was designed to share information about the value that DB pensions provide to retirees, workers, employers, Ontario's communities and the economy.
The People for Pensions website includes key resources about the value of DB pensions and features perspectives from you: defined benefit pension plan members and retirees.
They even have their own Twitter handle here and Jason told me they will be posting more videos and more resources to properly inform members and non-members.
I want to once again thank Audrey Forbes and Jason White for an interesting discussion and look forward to celebrating more milestones with them in the future.
Below, take the time to watch the What's Important video.
I wish everyone in the US a Happy Thanksgiving weekend!
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