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​Member profile: Mike and Glenda Gartner

Mike Gartner and his wife Glenda both worked in the co-operative and credit union systems for many decades before retiring.

With extensive experience in the co-operative system and as a recent retiree, Mike was elected to the Co-operative Superannuation Society (CSS) Board in April 2018. As a retiree delegate, he represents the CSS retired member group, which includes over 7,400 members who are drawing either a CSS monthly pension or Variable Benefit (VB) payments.

Now that he and Glenda have experienced a new facet of the Plan as retirees, they agreed to share their own story of what it was like to prepare for retirement, navigate the options and make decisions that worked for them.*

*Choosing a retirement income option is a very personal decision. The decisions Mike and Glenda made may not be right for you.

Mike and Glenda’s backgrounds

Mike worked in the co-op system for over 41 years in roles with Saskatoon Co-op, Yorkton Co-op and Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL). He retired in February 2014.

Glenda worked in the credit union system for over 38 years, retiring from her role as branch manager at Affinity Credit Union’s River Heights branch in Saskatoon in 2015.

After exploring their retirement income options with the CSS Pension Plan and the retail marketplace, both chose to receive Variable Benefit (VB) payments from the Plan. When reflecting back to their retirement planning experience, Mike and Glenda say the decision was made easier for them because of their financial backgrounds – but it still wasn’t without lessons learned.

“When we were in our early 40s, Glenda  said ‘We’re going to a retirement planning seminar at the credit union,’ so that was the start of it.” Mike recalls. “Even starting then, we thought we should have done this in our 20s.”

Along with using the financial planning services offered by the credit union, Glenda’s day-to-day contact with credit union members became a frequent reminder of the milestone that lay ahead.

“Every day I was working with credit union members, looking at their financial situations. Also, because I was mutual-fund licensed, I got it. I understood all the plans, and I understood the fees,” says Glenda. “For us, it was a pretty easy decision to stay with CSS.”

Weighing the options

When CSS members retire, they have the option to set up retirement income payments either with the Plan or their financial institution. The Plan offers a monthly pension (similar to an annuity) and VB payments. VB payments allow you to access your pension funds through regular withdrawals, either monthly or annually. Unlike an annuity that provides a fixed monthly income for life, the amount of a VB payment may change each year and payments aren’t guaranteed for life.

“The Variable Benefit option, to us, gives us lots of flexibility,” Mike says, adding that a key reason he and Glenda decided to go with VB payments was so they could remain invested in the Plan’s investment funds.

The pair says this gives them the flexibility to move portions of their pension funds into lower-risk investment options if they choose, so that if they do have fluctuations, they can sit on it and may not feel the downtrend as badly.

Also, with interest rates being low, Mike and Glenda said the VB option worked better for their particular situation than an annuity, but they still have the option to set up a partial annuity down the road if they choose to. Since they both had long careers in the co-operative and credit union systems, Mike and Glenda accumulated strong account balances, which was also a factor in their decision-making process.

Having decided they wanted to stay invested in the markets in retirement, another factor Mike and Glenda investigated was the management expense ratio (MER) – or the fees – charged for the investment management and operating expenses of different investment funds in the marketplace. Ultimately, the investment fee advantage accessible through CSS helped them settle on a combination of the CSS Balanced Fund and Money Market Fund as the options that would provide them the best value for satisfying their particular retirement objectives.

Even though they have financial backgrounds, Mike and Glenda found that educating themselves helped a great deal when exploring their options.

The credit union provided many financial planning services to members, which contributed to their retirement readiness. Mike said for about four years before he retired, he would also use the Plan’s online pension projector to see what his monthly pension could be.

“The CSS has a lot of good teaching tools. You get TimeWise, there are Retirement Income Options workshops, and so on. We used all of those avenues to help guide us,” Mike recalls. “Plus, the coffee room table talk with the fellow employees who are close to retirement. You get a sense of what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.”

While choosing VB payments was ideal for Mike and Glenda, it may not be the right choice for you. How you choose to use your CSS funds in retirement is a complex decision – members are encouraged to explore all of their options, both in-Plan at CSS and with their credit union or financial institution to ensure they choose the best option for their personal circumstance.

Members are also reminded that our Pension Plan Consultants (PPCs) are here to help (at no fee) should they require assistance understanding and exploring how their CSS funds can be used to create a retirement income option that best suits their retirement objectives. 

Article from the spring 2018 issue of TimeWise