Are your pension plan governance processes as good as they can be? Are you following the governance practices that you’ve established? Do you even know how to define “pension plan governance”?
Pension Plan Governance
Pension plan governance refers to the structure and processes in place for the effective administration of the pension plan to ensure the fiduciary and other responsibilities of the plan administrator are met. Good pension plan governance can go a long way to ensure that plan members and beneficiaries receive the benefits that they are promised and understand their rights and responsibilities under the pension plan.
CAPSA Guideline No. 4
In December 2016, the Canadian Association of Pension Supervisory Authorities (CAPSA) published the final, updated version of their Guideline No. 4 related to Pension Plan Governance. This also included updated and expanded versions of the Frequently Asked Questions and the Self-Assessment Questionnaire.
The original Guideline No. 4 was published in 2004 in order to assist plan administrators across Canada implement and maintain effective pension plan governance processes. According to CAPSA, this guideline has become the most requested and utilized CAPSA publication by plan administrators.
The updated Guideline No. 4 is intended to further assist plan sponsors and administrators by:
The Guideline outlines the following 11 governance principals for pension plans, which are unchanged from the original Guideline:
It is important to note that the guidelines outline the appropriate roles and responsibilities of the plan sponsor only when the plan sponsor is acting as plan administrator. They do not cover the roles and responsibilities of the plan sponsor under general corporate governance principles. Many individuals who have pension plan governance responsibilities also have responsibilities to the plan sponsor. Consequently, those with governance responsibilities must clearly understand the different roles and responsibilities for each. Further, when taking actions that affect the pension plan, they must carefully document the actions for both sets of responsibilities.
I will now elaborate on two of the key governance principals that received the most attention in the revised Guidelines.
The pension governance process should help the plan administrator carry out its fiduciary and other responsibilities. Although plan administrators may delegate certain tasks to third parties, the plan administrator retains fiduciary responsibility.
Fiduciary obligations are owed when legislation imposes such duties or when:
The plan administrator and delegates must act honestly, in good faith and in the best interests of plan members and beneficiaries of the pension plan as part of their fiduciary responsibilities.
The plan administrator should establish and document a framework and ongoing processes, appropriate to the pension plan, to identify and manage the plan’s risks.
A plan’s risk management framework should provide reasonable assurance for the achievement of the Plan’s objectives through:
Best Practices and Next Steps?
The first step for plan administrators should be complete the Governance Self-Assessment Questionnaire to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their current pension plan governance framework. Then it is on to focusing on the areas which need improvement, utilizing the guidance provided by CAPSA, but also likely working with existing advisors (i.e. actuaries, third-party administrators, investment professionals, legal counsel, record keepers and custodians, etc.).
It is important to keep in mind that each plan’s governance framework needs to be customized to the realities of how the pension plan operates, including the various internal and external resources which work together to keep the plan running.
At the end of the day, the governance framework will be of no use if it’s not followed and respected by all parties!