As announced in the UBC Faculty Pension Plan (FPP)’s Annual Report, 2014 Year in Review, Cheryl Neighbour, Executive Director of Operations for the FPP, retires in 2015. A succession plan for her retirement was approved by the FPP Board of Trustees in 2014, which included an opportunity to restructure the senior leadership team for the UBC Pension Administration Office.
Orla Cousineau, Executive Director, Pensions and Debbie Wilson, Associate Director, Pensions, were hired in 2015 to oversee the operations of the Plan, and along with Mike Leslie, Executive Director of Investments, to form the new senior leadership team. We sat down with Cheryl, Orla and Debbie to look back at some of the major milestones for the UBC FPP as well as to look ahead to what we can expect in the future.
QUESTION: Cheryl, looking back, what do you think are some of the major milestones that have made the FPP what it is today?
CHERYL: There are several milestones that have been achieved which make the FPP one of the best (if not the best) defined contribution pension plans in Canada. But, to step back a bit, the milestones would not have been achieved without the foresight of the original trustees. Their vision was to provide a plan that assisted members leading up to retirement and through retirement and this vision was honoured by the subsequent boards who governed the Plan. In keeping with this philosophy, I think the major milestones have been, in chronological order, meaningful contribution rates, well-run investment options, variable life annuities offered within the Plan, and the RRIF and LIF-type payments that are also offered within the Plan. Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our dedicated and knowledgeable in-house pension team that is an incredible resource for our members.
QUESTION: Orla and Debbie, where were you before you came to UBC? What drew you to pursue your current roles at the UBC Pension Administration Office?
ORLA: After I graduated from the UBC Faculty of Law, I practiced law with a Vancouver law firm for a few years. I then moved to Mercer, a global consulting firm, where I worked for 27 years specializing in pension consulting. I was an advisor to several large jointly trusteed pension plans and provided advice to a number of large corporations on the ongoing management and oversight of their pension funds. I was familiar with the success of both the UBC Staff and Faculty Pension Plans, and saw this as a great opportunity to use my skills and experience. My favourite part of my job at Mercer was working with engaged Boards and being their trusted advisor. The UBC Pension Administration Office represented the opportunity to work more closely with two Boards and to be part of the team, not just an advisor. It’s my ‘dream job.’
DEBBIE: I was a pension consultant with Mercer for over 20 years, and then I moved to Simon Fraser University (SFU) where I was the Director of Pensions and Benefits for the last three years. While I was working at SFU, I was appointed to the UBC Staff Pension Plan Board of Directors. Since 2012, I had the opportunity to work not only with the Board of Directors, but also many of the staff of the UBC Pension Administration Office (PAO). I could see that the PAO was a great team, who take pride in their work and also have fun. That made my decision to join UBC an easy one.
QUESTION: Orla and Debbie, what do you hope to bring to the UBC FPP and Pension Administration Office as you take the helm? What are your priorities for the next year?
ORLA: With my legal background and Debbie’s actuarial background, we hope to bring strong leadership to the UBC Pension Administration Office, and continue to build on the great work already established. The UBC FPP is a well-governed pension plan which includes a strong team at the UBC Pension Administration Office.
DEBBIE: Also, Sun Life Financial has recently become the record keeper and custodian for the Plan. We will be working closely with Sun Life to ensure the co-administration of the Plan is smooth and seamless.
QUESTION: Are there any notable opportunities or challenges for the UBC FPP in the near future?
DEBBIE: Our enhanced relationship with Sun Life Financial is an opportunity for us to leverage their expertise, depth of knowledge, established technology platforms and web tools. We’ll continue working with Sun Life to improve administrative efficiencies and to expand our investment education and member communications.
ORLA: In terms of challenges, with today’s volatile stock markets, we can anticipate periods of lower expected returns on the investment funds. This is where providing timely investment education is important to help our members navigate the current investment environment. Furthermore, members are living longer, making the focus on long-term investing even more important.
QUESTION: Cheryl, what are you most looking forward to in retirement?
CHERYL: I am looking forward to ticking some items off of my bucket list: sailing off the coast of Turkey, going to the Australian Tennis Open, and visiting France, Spain and Portugal. I’m also looking forward to spending time at home in Vancouver, paddle boarding, kayaking, golfing, playing tennis, taking courses at UBC and reintroducing myself to my piano. I hope that there are enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do – to fit it all in I may have to get up earlier when I retire than when I was working.