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Benefits board begins drafting options for plan sustainability

Focus groups planned for April and May

Friday, March 12, 2010

Board of Managers chairman Lois Griffin (left) listens to a report from consultant Nancy Swerhun.

EDMONTON - Armed with a newly-developed strategic plan and survey results from members and employers, Lutheran Church–Canada’s Worker Benefit Plans Board of Managers (BOM) began tackling the twin challenge of providing pension and retirement benefit plans which meet the needs of members and are financially sustainable.

The five-member board met March 8-10 to review the current pension and retirement plans, and discuss various options which it will present to constituent focus groups scheduled for April and May.

“We take very seriously our role in providing for the long-term needs of our members,” stated BOM chairman Lois Griffin. “That’s why we are seeking more input from everyone involved before deciding on final solutions.”

The chairman noted that “the most pressing issues are the pension plan and the retiree benefits plan,” although the board is also reviewing eligibility criteria and benefits for permanent part-time workers.

Consultants to the board reported that WBP is not the only pension organization facing sustainability and under-funding issues. The board learned that while the rise in the stock market over the past year has slightly benefited the funded position of the pension plan, other factors such as low interest rates mean that the plan remains in an under-funded position.

To assist in their discussions, board members referenced the results of online surveys completed by members and employers (churches, schools etc). They also were grateful for the input supplied by participants in the strategic planning workshop held in January.

“It is so important for the board to have grassroots input,” said Mrs. Griffin. “And our listening is ongoing as staff handles day-to-day phone calls and e-mails and brings any recurring concerns to the director’s attention.”

Interested members and employers will be asked to apply to attend focus groups at which WBP will present various options and ask for reaction and input. The groups will meet in Edmonton; Kitchener/Waterloo; Regina; St. Catharines; Surrey, B.C; and Winnipeg. The board will also arrange for some online participation for those unable to travel to the larger centres. Dates are still being finalized.

The board welcomed its newest member, Richard Currie, vice-president of Finance and Operations for Concordia University College of Alberta, who was recently appointed to the Board of Managers by LCC’s Board of Directors. He joins other members of the board Steve Raine (Regina), Rev. Jef Koenig (Surrey, B.C.), chairman Lois Griffin and LCC treasurer Dwayne Cleave.

Mr. Cleave continues serving as interim director but the board is recommending to LCC’s Board of Directors that this be a permanent appointment.

In addition, the BOM contracted the services of a pension and benefit consultant, Nancy Swerhun, to assist with the redesign of pensions and post-retirement benefits. Ms. Swerhun has more than 20 years experience in the pensions and benefits field.

The Board of Managers will meet in June to assess the results from the focus groups and make final recommendations on changes to the pension and post-retirement benefits. LCC’s Board of Directors must ratify any changes to the plans.

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