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CEO of Manulife Financial Corp., Roy Gori.Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

Canada’s three biggest life insurers boosted executive compensation in 2021, telling shareholders they successfully navigated the COVID-19 pandemic while increasing profits.

Roy Gori, chief executive officer of Canada’s largest insurer, Manulife Financial Corp. MFC-N, saw his total compensation increase by nearly 15 per cent last year, to $16.86-million.

Mr. Gori’s pay was up from $14.69-million the year prior, and $14.67-million in 2019, according to Manulife’s annual proxy circular. The figure includes an $8.62-million share award, up from $8.41-million in stock and option awards in 2020, and a cash bonus of $5.84-million, up from $3.58-million the prior year.

Mr. Gori earned the biggest paycheque among Canada’s three largest insurers.

At Sun Life Financial Inc. SLF-T, a changing of the guard saw chief financial officer Kevin Strain ascend to the CEO job after Dean Connor retired from the company on Aug. 6. Sun Life paid Mr. Strain $11.33-million in total compensation for all of 2021. It includes $4.2-million in share and option awards, which Sun Life says reflected his promotion, and $2.19-million in cash bonus.

The pay also included $3.94-million in pension compensation, which reflects an estimated increase in his retirement payments because Mr. Strain’s pay went up when he got the CEO job.

For his final eight months of leadership, Mr. Connor earned $8.54-million in total compensation, which included a $6.5-million share award bonus that was equal to the year prior.

Paul Mahon, CEO of Great-West Lifeco Inc. GWO-T, made $9.09-million in total compensation for 2021, up from $7.87-million a year earlier. That included a bonus of $3.1-million, which was up from his prior-year bonus of $2.46-million. Stock and option awards of $5.63-million were up from $4.87-million in the prior year.

Edmund Murphy, CEO of Empower Retirement, a Great-West U.S. subsidiary that manages defined benefit plans, made $10.88-million, up from $9.4-million, thanks largely to $3.87-million in stock awards and $5.39-million in cash bonuses, including a special payment tied to the acquisition of MassMutual’s retirement business.

In calculating bonus pay for 2021, all three insurers said they exceeded their financial goals for the year as they operated in the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Manulife said its “company performance score,” used in its bonus formula, was 142 last year versus 84 in 2020. Manulife said it exceeded all of its targets for profitability and other objectives.

Manulife said it set the business targets in its 2021 bonus plan that reflected the uncertainties introduced by COVID-19. Despite the “challenging operating environment,” it posted record net income attributed to shareholders, core earnings, and a 31-per-cent increase in new business value over 2020. Manulife acknowledged, however, that its total shareholder return of 11.6 per cent in 2021 was below the average of what it considers its peers.

Bonuses for the four top-paid Manulife executives other than Mr. Gori were up roughly 50 per cent or more in 2021 from 2020.

Sun Life said its “company performance factor,” key to its bonus calculations and used primarily for the CEO and chief financial officer, was 143 per cent, up from its 2020 factor of 93 per cent. The boost in performance reflected “strong reported and underlying net income and value-of-new-business performance, and solid client results.”

Some other top-paid Sun Life executives saw their bonuses, based on multiple criteria, increase roughly 10 per cent. Jacques Goulet, president of Sun Life Canada, saw his bonus rise to $1.36-million, from $851,640 in 2020, as part of an overall compensation package of $4.8-million.

Great-West said $1.89-million of Mr. Mahon’s bonus came because the company posted operating earnings that were double its target.

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