Concordia’s pension plan earns the first-ever Investment Governance Award
Members of the Pension Plan for the Employees of Concordia University learned good news at the annual information meeting on October 29. As reported by Marc Gauthier (BComm 94), Concordia’s treasurer and chief investment officer, the fund achieved a total net return of 11.4 per cent in 2019, surpassing its objective of 5.9 per cent.
That performance — among the top 25 per cent of Canadian pension plans of the same size, on a risk-adjusted basis — is greatly due to the processes and management approach put in place by the plan’s leadership. In recognition of that approach, Canadian Investment Review has presented its first-ever Investment Governance Award to Concordia’s pension plan.
Canadian Investment Review announced its awards at the Defined Benefit Investment Forum, held online December 3.
“This is truly a prestigious honour for Marc, the Office of the Treasurer and all of the university,” says Denis Cossette, Concordia’s chief financial officer. “This is confirmation of what the pension committee and members have known for a while — that the plan is extremely well managed by Marc and his team.”
The Canadian Investment Review’s Pension Leadership Awards were introduced this year and included seven categories. In addition to Investment Governance, they include Chief Investment Officer of the Year; DC Investment Innovation; Fastest Growing Money Managers; Money Manager of the Year; Risk Management; and Sustainable Investing.
As the Canadian Investment Review’s website states, the Investment Governance Award is presented “to a pension plan that has implemented improvements at the board, governance and/or policy level to improve outcomes for pension plan members and create greater efficiency.”
It recognized the Concordia pension plan for the transformation of its investment strategy and membership engagement.
Innovative investment approach
As Concordia’s treasurer and CIO since 2011, Gauthier is responsible for overseeing and managing the university’s financial assets and liabilities. He is also the pension plan’s principal administrator and secretary of the pension committee, which is chaired by Patricia Saputo (BComm 88).
As of December 31, 2019, the pension plan had 3,836 members and $1.13 billion in assets.
Several years ago, the Concordia pension plan’s governance changed its investment philosophy from a relative to an absolute investment focus, which considers the returns of a particular asset rather than comparing it to other measures.
Gauthier explains that the philosophical change incorporated several features: “Our portfolio was ambitious, innovative and transformative, we partnered our management with our members, and we maintained an open dialogue and active listening culture that led to a continuous improvement process.”
He says the plan’s stellar performance and good governance is the result of the efforts of the team from the Office of the Treasurer, which operates within Financial Services, and the pension committee.
“We use integrative and holistic thinking and find solutions that emphasize effective governance through rigorous diligence, education and healthy discussions,” Gauthier notes.
He credits Canadian Investment Review (CIR) for acknowledging the team’s creative approach to investing and management. “Being innovative takes courage, which is not easy in this field and industry. I was impressed that CIR embraced our approach,” he says.
“What makes us stand out is our fearlessness to innovate and continuously evolve. I believe the plan’s overall success is due to the breadth and depth of its governance framework, procedures and processes, and most importantly our passionate, skillful and dedicated team and committee,” he adds.
“I am especially happy for all the members of our team and committee, who took part in our transformation journey. They deserve full recognition for their essential involvement.”