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GRI gets big backers for new pension research hub

The Toronto-based Global Risk Institute is developing a new group to study challenges faced by pension plans, garnering support from the largest funds in the country.

The GRI plans to launch the National Pension Hub on Wednesday. It will use funding from the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, the British Columbia Investment Management Corp., the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec and others to generate new research on pension design, governance and investments. Consulting groups and companies such as McKinsey, Mercer and CN Rail will also lend support.

The purpose is to spur the country's academics to study topics such as longer life expectancy, complex regulatory environments and the challenge of producing strong investment returns in a slower growth economy, topics that the members of the hub believe would be useful to have fact-based research on. These projects will often take two years to complete.

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"Pension and income security seems to be a little bit the province of actuaries. It really should be looked at not as an actuarial science only, but also we're all going to need a pension at some point," said Richard Nesbitt, CEO of the GRI, adding that the hub hopes to have six projects under way by the end of next year. "This will also become a useful repository of information for people like governments as they continue to look at pension income security issues," he said.

The pension hub is the brainchild of Barbara Zvan, who will chair the National Pension Hub and works as chief risk and strategy officer at Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, which is also lending support. She suggested that there should be more research on pension and income security in Canada and wanted to develop a platform to spur academics. She said in a statement that the hub's diverse member base will "help us produce innovative ideas and research that reflects a wide range of interests and perspectives."

The move to step up pension-related research comes as Canada's largest pension funds have gained international recognition for their governance models and investment acumen.

The topics of study have yet to be set, but Mr. Nesbitt anticipates one subject of interest will be the debate over the benefits and drawbacks of defined-benefit and defined-contribution pension plans, as well as other ways of generating income security. The GRI is currently interviewing the 15 contributing members on the topics they believe should be researched and will seek to find some consensus. The group targets having two research contracts established by the end of the year.

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