Genesis of CAAT’s DBplus: Nobis Cura Futuri – Can we do more?

By Derek W. Dobson (ACIA), CEO CAAT Pension Plan

Until Latin is part of our CPD requirements, let me translate the motto of the CIA: Nobis Cura Futuri means “we care about the future.”

As a profession, actuaries have a proud tradition of advancing actuarial science and its application for the well-being of society. The CIA’s community value states, in part, “We put the public interest ahead of our own.”

These are big statements and I challenge our profession to consider them more often.

At issue

Most Canadians are unprepared to finance their retirement; many will face poverty which will lead to increased and unsustainable utilization of health care and other social programs.

Researcher Richard Shillington found the vast majority of Canadians without a workplace pension have “totally inadequate retirement savings” with median retirement assets of just over $3,000. This has had an insidious effect on Canadians’ retirement preparedness and stress levels, which has only increased since the start of the pandemic.

The lack of workplace pension coverage, the decline of DB pensions, and the changing nature of work have contributed to this problem. These trends have also widened gender and generational inequities in Canadians’ retirement security.

During a presentation I delivered to a room of about 100* actuaries at the SOA conference in Toronto in October 2019, I asked, “How many of you have been involved in converting a DB plan to a DC or other retirement arrangement?” Sadly, most hands went up. Then I asked, “How many of you thought it was a good idea for members or society?” Not a single hand was raised. SOA meetings are not known for reaching unanimity on anything – so it was profound that a room of actuaries knew that the trend of converting DB to DC is not good for society or members. This is something we can build upon.

Design innovation

Although workplaces are changing, the need for valuable, secure pensions is not. After a quarter-century of troubling trends, the not-for-profit CAAT pension plan decided to take a leadership role to deliver a better future for Canadians, employers, and society. To do so it needed to remove the barriers to joint success.

Retirement solutions often must contend with opposing needs. On one side there is the desire by employees for predictable and adequate lifetime retirement income, and on the other is the need of employers for cost certainty and simplicity.

CAAT’s DBplus originated after listening to the most important needs of employers and members.

In developing DBplus, we worked closely with actuaries and other industry leaders to navigate various pieces of pension legislation while remaining focused on value creation, risk management, equity, and long-term sustainability.

Working with a small and knowledgeable group of internal and external actuarial and legal experts and plan governors, DBplus took shape bringing a fixed-cost no-risk solution for employers and a predictable lifetime pension with spousal survivor pension, conditional inflation enhancements, and early retirement options that employees want and need. DBplus has been described by many industry experts as “an elegant solution” and been recognized with pension plan design innovation awards.

DBplus has solved pension problems for employers of all sizes from all sectors, reducing costs, risks, and allowed them to focus on their organization. Importantly, DBplus has allowed many small organizations to provide valuable DB pensions for the first time and expanded much needed pension coverage.

For me, welcoming so many working Canadians who wouldn’t otherwise have had any workplace retirement savings program is something I’m particularly proud of. We’re making a profound difference to the lives of people and their families by providing retirement security where none existed.

The demand for DB is real

Canada’s largest private and public sector unions have also endorsed DBplus. In total, members participating in 15 different labour groups have joined. The average endorsement rate across all groups who also choose to merge their prior DB pensions into CAAT is an overwhelming 97%, demonstrating the value proposition that CAAT offers in securing their future. The support from senior executives and boards is also very strong.

There is wide appeal for pension solutions that fit finance, workplace, culture, and risk goals. DBplus has attracted employers such as Sanofi Canada, Brinks’ Canada, Saint John’s Airport, Torstar, United Way of Greater Toronto, University of Saskatchewan, Lawyers Financial, Ontario Teachers’ Insurance Plan, Vancouver Foundation, The Conference Board of Canada, and the staff at the CIA. Although the diversity of these employers is apparent, they all share a common goal of making the future better. Since DBplus was made available to Canadian workplaces in 2019, more than 11,000 members have joined from more than 80 employers from nine different industries. This rapid growth was recognized by Benefits Canada magazine in 2020 when CAAT was named the fastest growing pension plan in Canada.

Momentum for a better future

At CAAT, we have a team of 25 actuarial staff (yes, we are hiring). When I ask why they joined CAAT, invariably it is about our purpose of expanding DB coverage across Canada. Many did not join the actuarial profession to have a career closing DB plans.

The good news is, we’re not alone. Just in Ontario, OPTrust is offering OPTrust Select that makes lifetime pensions available to those in the Ontario nonprofit sector, while HOOPP is adding employers from the health care sector, and Ontario Pension Board has facilitated consolidation from various employer pension plans. These plans and others are bringing a fresh approach to providing sustainable DB pensions to more workplaces.

I thank actuaries who live the values of the profession and “put the public interest ahead of our own.” My challenge to pension actuaries is to make retirement savings better by providing professional advice that considers public interest and societal good. Let us seek solutions that work for all stakeholders. The needs are real. Let’s not delay.

Actuaries know that the pooling of risks via the DB pension model is an efficient and effective way to save for retirement; and now with access to Modern DB, employers have no financial risk. As actuaries we need to share all the options available to employers and, at a minimum, explain the many benefits of a good pension plan. These include enhanced attraction and retention, less stressed and more engaged employees, lower benefit costs, lower severance costs, and better workforce management outcomes that are aligned with the needs of employers during economic cycles. 

My dream is that at a future CIA or SOA meeting when I ask the question, “Did our profession advance solutions that benefited employees and society?” All the hands in the room will be raised in an emphatic, yes. Although we’re not there yet, through continued innovation we can demonstrate Nobis Cura Futuri and be prouder of our contribution to society.

*Estimated within a 90% confidence interval, not to be relied upon for accuracy 😊.


CAAT recognition for innovative change

National and international industry peers have recognized CAAT for innovation and leadership. In 2018, CAAT won a World Pension Summit Innovation Award in the Plan Design and Reform category in recognition of the innovative design of DBplus. In 2019, CEO & Plan Manager Derek Dobson, as the chief architect of DBplus, was honoured with the Association of Canadian Pension Management Industry Award for inspiring fundamental change in the Canadian retirement industry.

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