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A world of experience

A profile of the Plan's new Executive Director, Martin McInnis

Martin McInnis, the CSS Pension Plan’s new – and first – Executive Director, is thrilled to have been selected to lead the organization, and there is no doubt he will do our members proud in his new role.

“I see this transition in leadership at CSS as an evolutionary step – a new chapter, rather than a new story,” Martin says. “I have inherited some very large shoes indeed, but I’m up to the challenge.”

Martin assumed the role on January 3, 2017 following the retirement of Bill Turnbull, who served members for 18 years as the Plan’s General Manager.

Most recently the Chief Operating Officer for McDougall Gauley LLP – a Saskatchewan-based law firm – Martin’s experience is vast and varied, encompassing elements of finance, accounting, technology, risk management and not-for-profit work. 

Over his 30-year career, he’s developed an enthusiasm for co-operative enterprise, making him the ideal candidate to lead the Plan in the years to come. Prior to working at McDougall Gauley LLP, Martin spent 10 years working in the Saskatchewan credit union system in finance, technology and risk management starting at Saskatoon Credit Union, which eventually became Affinity Credit Union through various mergers and amalgamations.

“I do have a passion for co-operative enterprise and credit unions. I don’t think I really realized that until I started working for Saskatoon Credit Union,” he recalls. “It was an instant fit with my personal values.”

Martin McInnis (second from left) with the board and management of Coseda SACCO (Co-operative Savings and Credit Society) in Nebbi, Uganda, along with Lorri Lochrie (right), formerly of Central 1. Martin travelled to Uganda in 2014 to assist the developing co-operative as part of a coaching assignment with the Canadian Co-operative Association.

Early co-operative influence

Martin was born in Sault Ste. Marie, ON. He still visits the city every summer; today, with wife Lisa, and their kids Evan and Kyle, who both currently attend the University of Saskatchewan.

“My great grandfather homesteaded just north of the Sault on property situated on the shores of Lake Superior. We are very fortunate to still have the property in the family and try to go back every summer,” says Martin. “We really enjoy taking our kids back there each summer to reconnect with relatives in Ontario.”

In thinking about where his interest in co-operatives and his appreciation for what they can do for people and their communities comes from, Martin attributes it primarily to being a descendant of Cape Breton coal miners.  

“My dad grew up in Glace Bay in Cape Breton, and his mom is from Reserve Mines, both coal-mining towns. I guess the passion with which my dad tells the stories about how family and community came together back then to support one another really resonates with me. I learned from dad about the Antigonish Movement, Father Jimmy Tompkins and Father Moses Coady and the work they did to promote education, housing and the first Nova Scotia credit union in Reserve Mines. I’m sure that’s where those connections to co-op values came from,” says Martin. 

Martin also remembers that his mom used to take him and his brothers to the local credit union, even though she worked for one of the chartered banks in Sault Ste. Marie. 

“I guess that oddity stuck with me and would eventually contribute to my view of the importance of credit unions,” Martin recalls.

A second significant influence of the Antigonish Movement that has found its way to Martin through his parents was the importance of education. While his mom worked full time, Martin’s dad worked and studied, becoming the first in the family to obtain a university degree. 

“Dad chose a career as a registered nurse and later focused on psychiatric nursing. I believe it was the opportunity to serve others that needed help (first in the hospital setting and later in the Correctional Service of Canada) that drew him to his vocation.

“I’m sure it wasn’t easy,” Martin recalls.  “My dad spent a lot of time travelling from the Sault to go to Sudbury and other places for the courses he was taking, and working out of town; and mom was working full time. Having kids of my own now, I’m not sure how they managed to find the time and energy to raise me and my two brothers so well!”   

Martin says his parents’ decision to have dad go to university entrenched strong views of the importance of education.  It also taught him the importance of working together to achieve something bigger than yourself, and that real happiness comes from serving others.  

“At the time, I didn’t understand how all of these influences had affected me, but when I started working at the credit union, it all just fit together,” he said.

Moving to the prairies

Martin and his family moved to Saskatoon when he was 13, after his dad got a job in the prairie city. After graduating high school a few years later, Martin wasn’t sure what he wanted to do.

“I was confident that I wanted to go to university, but I was still trying to figure out career-wise what the path should look like, so I wound up starting my career at a chartered bank. After about six years there, I had a better sense of what I wanted to do longer term and made the decision to go to university and focus my studies on accounting and computer science. Unfortunately for my wife, this was right after we got married; but, she supported the decision and has stuck with me so I think that’s a good sign,” he laughs.

Martin graduated from the University of Saskatchewan in 1996 with a Bachelor of Commerce (Honours in Computer Science).

Out of university, he obtained his Certified Management Accountant designation – now Chartered Professional Accountant -  while working with Deloitte. Martin would later be awarded the fellow distinction (FCPA, FCMA) for his volunteer work with the provincial accounting bodies. Martin chaired the committee responsible for the implementation of the merger of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Saskatchewan, the Society of Certified Management Accountants of Saskatchewan and the Certified General Accounts of Saskatchewan into the Institute of Chartered Professional Accountants of Saskatchewan. 

With travel a regular facet of Martin’s role at Deloitte, he reached a turning point that would eventually lead him to discover his passion for co-operatives.

“I came home one Friday night and Evan, my oldest son who was about three years old then, was playing with some toy cars in the living room,” Martin remembers. “I walked in the front door and he turned around and saw me, and he said ‘hello Martin.’ That really hit me – maybe I’m not home enough.”

To make the change Martin sought, he accepted a position working as Risk Manager at what is now Affinity Credit Union in Saskatoon. At Affinity, Martin continued his educational pursuits and earned his Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation, along with volunteer experience through the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA) to assist developing financial co-operatives.

Volunteer experience abroad

Though Canada has mature co-operative and credit union systems today, that wasn’t always the case. Many co-operative organizations – including the CSS Pension Plan – trace back to the grassroots movements of the 1930s.

“We have a mature environment here in Canada, and so while you can read the stories about how our systems got started, without actually being involved in them, it’s hard to fathom what is required to get it off the ground,” Martin says. 

The notion of “co-operation among co-operatives” is something Martin feels strongly about and is what inspired him to volunteer for a coaching assignment with the CCA that led him on two international excursions.

In 2010, he travelled to Mongolia for two weeks to assist local credit unions in the developing stages. With the help of interpreters, he worked with an urban credit union in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar before heading to a small rural community in northwestern Mongolia.

“They had four staff members at the credit union. It was quite the experience – I’m sure I learned more from them than they did from me, but one of the really big things for me was to see a grassroots financial co-operative getting off the ground, and the engagement and pride the members had in their credit union and what they were accomplishing through it,” he says.

In 2014, he did his second CCA coaching assignment; this time in Uganda. One aspect of this trip that stood out was the entrepreneurial spirit of the members, as well as their intent focus on education – a value shared by Martin.

Many of the members used the credit union to borrow money so they could send their kids to private schools, which were seen to offer better educational opportunities but were more costly than the alternative. The members would borrow money from the financial co-operative, paying it back over a period of time, and then borrow money again for the next phase of school. The members recognized the value of education in providing their children with opportunities to escape poverty, and the credit union was providing them the opportunity to pursue that goal.

Martin (right) and Lorri Lochrie (second from right) pictured with the staff of the Coseda SACCO (Co-operative Savings and Credit Society) in Erussi, Uganda.

A new adventure with CSS

With Martin’s avid appreciation for the value and strength of co-operatives for communities, it’s no surprise he took an interest in the Executive Director position available with the CSS Pension Plan after hearing about it from a friend.

“To be honest, I wasn’t looking for a new opportunity when this one came open,” Martin says. “But the more I got to know about the position, I thought ‘this is where I’m supposed to be.’ I was quite motivated to get involved in the recruitment process and was fortunate to be selected.”

As Martin settles into the role, he sees opportunities to create more services and products for CSS members that suit their needs, and to make CSS more accessible to other co-ops and credit unions in Canada.

“We’re primarily focused in the three prairie provinces, but we know we’ve got a value proposition that would be of interest to a lot more co-ops and credit unions that we currently do not serve. That’s something I want to pursue: making sure that co-operative employers know who we are and what we offer so they can make the choice for their employees, if it makes sense from their perspective, to get involved with CSS. Our size is a significant factor in our ability to deliver value to members, and increasing in size would provide further value to existing members and new ones.”

Martin also views the challenge of engaging young CSS members as a priority. Traditionally, our members tend to take an interest in their pension only when they are close to retirement; but, by engaging members sooner in their careers, they can positively affect their retirement incomes with the benefit of time on their side.

Work will also continue on several other initiatives already underway, such as advocating for further retirement income options for members. 

The fact that the CSS Pension Plan offers members in-house retirement income options is a feature Martin admires. In most defined contribution (DC) pension plans, the only option available to members is to leave the plan at retirement and to purchase a retirement income product elsewhere.

Currently, he is working through a longer-term vision for CSS that will set out the direction for the next five to 10 years. 

“We’re not going to do an about-face and change direction here. We’re still all about our members’ best interests, but we do know the world around us is changing, the legislative landscape is changing,” he said, adding that more companies are switching from defined benefit plans to DC plans like the CSS Pension Plan, which is driving regulators and legislators to have a closer look at DC plans to ensure the current regulatory and legislative standards continue to remain relevant and effective.

“With the CSS Pension Plan’s longevity of over 77 years, a rare feature in the DC sector, we’re looking forward to sharing our knowledge and experience at the regulatory and legislative levels with respect to any changes that might be considered.”

Though he may have big shoes to fill, Martin’s expertise and passion for the work of co-operatives and credit unions sets the stage for many more successes for the CSS Pension Plan in the years to come. It is clear that the interests of CSS members are in good hands.

Article from the spring 2017 issue of TimeWise