A Millennial’s Take on Defined Benefit pensions

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Sean Cooper

By Sean Cooper,

Special to the Financial Independence Hub

Many consider defined benefit pension plans the gold standard of retirement plans. Through the ups and downs of the markets, defined benefit (DB) pension plans remain the one thing that employees can count on in their golden years. DB plans offer employees some much-needed stability in retirement. For those without the luxury of an employer-provided pension plan, the alternative is RRSPs. With RRSPs, you contribute throughout your career and hope that your investments perform well enough so you can enjoy a comfortable lifestyle in retirement.

Defined Benefit Plans Disappearing

While workplace DB plans used to be widespread in the private sector, they’ve been disappearing at an alarming rate over the last couple of decades. Now only a third of employees have any kind of pension plan at work, let alone a DB pension plan. The dot com bubble in 2001 and the financial crisis in 2007 only sped up the pace at which employers are looking to “de-risk.” De-risking comes in many forms, but the most prevalent is switching from a DB plan to a defined contribution (DC) plan or group RRSP.

Defined Benefits vs. Defined Contribution

With a DB plan the employer bears most of the investment risk. If investments underperform, it’s up to the employer to make up any shortfall. However, with a DC plan or group RRSP, employees bear the brunt of the risk. If their investments don’t pan out, they’ll have to make tough decisions like scaling back their lifestyle in retirement or working longer (if they’re physically able to).

Having worked as a pension analyst at a global pension and benefits consulting firm for nearly five years, I have a unique perspective on what’s been unfolding in the realm of pensions. I’ve watched as pension plans on which I work have closed DB pension plans to new entrants, forcing new hires to enroll in DC plans. Although I still have a DB plan at work, even my own plan has been scaled back in recent years.

How do DB Plans Fit into My Findependence?

That brings me to the main point of this article: are DB plans part of my own Findependent plans, or I am so much into self-employment and Internet businesses that I feel they’re okay for really conservative members of my generation, but perhaps not for myself? Despite working as a financial journalist to supplement my income, I still see DB plans as an integral part of my Findependent plans.

Even though I don’t plan to retire until at least age 55, it’s still nice to know I have a guaranteed DB plan waiting for me when I do decide to call it a career. A DB plan will provide a large chunk of my money in retirement. Because of that, I’ve been able to invest more heavily in equities in my RRSPs.

I’m a big fan of the Canadian Couch Potato investment philosophy. I chose the TD e-Series funds because of their great track record and low fees. I’m invested heavily in equities – I have 30%  invested evenly in Canadian, U.S. and International equities, with only 10% in bonds. I wouldn’t have been able to take this position without a rock-solid DB plan waiting for me.

What About Everyone Else?

If you’re a younger worker in an industry where you plan to change jobs every few years, a DB plan probably doesn’t make much sense. But if you’re someone like me who’s willing to spend their entire career at a company once they find a job they love, a DB plan can be a great way to build up your retirement income as a reward for your years of service.

Some people refer to DB pension plans as pyramid schemes without getting the facts straight. For the most part your company pension plan is safe. Workers in Ontario have added protection – up to $1,000 of your monthly protection is guaranteed by the government.

Would I ever consider trading in my DB plan? Not a chance. I see my DB plan as an important part of my journey towards Findependence. I know I can count on it when it matters most.

Sean Cooper is a Personal Finance Expert and Financial Journalist. He is a first-time homebuyer and landlord who aspires to reach findependence by age 31. Follow him on Twitter @SeanCooperWrite and read his blogs and request his writing services on his website: http://www.seancooperwriter.com/

 

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