Written by Jordan Fremont and Jaspreet Kaur
The unusual circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic are pushing businesses, individuals and governmental authorities, including pension regulators, to quickly adapt to changing restrictions and capabilities. Pension regulators in Ontario, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Québec and Saskatchewan have provided updates on their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the case of Ontario, a certain level of guidance on how to navigate these unchartered waters. Additional updates from these and other pension regulators are expected in the coming weeks and months.
The updates provided by the pension regulators in Ontario, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Québec and Saskatchewan as of the date of writing are summarized below.
On March 18, the Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario (FSRA) provided news of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic together with guidance to pension plan administrators respecting certain regulatory filing and other administrative requirements that may have particular relevance at this time, published a frequently asked questions (FAQs) format. Of particular note, the FAQs advise as follows:
Deadline Extensions for Upcoming Regulatory Filings:
For regulatory filings such as audited financial statements and valuation reports, a filing extension of up to 60 days beyond the prescribed timeline can be requested. Pension plan administrators and their authorized agents who are registered on FSRA's Pension Services Portal may submit this filing extension request. If the filing extension request is for a period beyond 60 days, FSRA has asked that such requests be submitted by email (preferably) or regular mail to the assigned Pension Officer.
Potential Relief from Administrative Monetary Penalties:
FSRA has advised that it does not have discretionary powers to extend prescribed timelines as they relate to member disclosures. However, where a plan administrator who is facing challenges in complying with the prescribed timelines has communicated said challenges and a proposed plan of action with the assigned Pension Officer via email as soon as possible, summary administrative monetary penalties will not be levied in respect to non-compliance in this area until further notice.
Decline in Transfer Ratio:
In the current circumstances, security of pension benefits remain FSRA's priority. If the administrator of a defined benefit pension plan registered in Ontario knows or ought to know that the transfer ratio has fallen by 10 percent or more since the most recently determined transfer ratio (or if the most recently determined transfer ratio was above 1 and it has fallen to 0.9 or less), the administrator shall not transfer any part of the commuted value of a pension, deferred pension or ancillary benefit to which a member or former member is entitled without obtaining FSRA’s prior approval. Form 10, which is to be completed for purposes of seeking FSRA's approval to pay out commuted values, should be submitted electronically to the assigned Pension Officer where possible.
Delay in Pending Transactions Filed:
Pending transactions filed with FSRA, such as pension asset transfers or wind-up applications, will continue to be reviewed by FSRA, although FSRA expects there will be some delay due to the current disruptions. All inquiries regarding pension plans or pension benefits should be emailed at PensionInquiries@fsrao.ca. Any new applications or additional documents should be submitted electronically, or contact the assigned Pension Officer to make alternate arrangements.
In the face of the COVID-19 outbreak, the British Columbia Financial Services Authority (BCFSA) has announced that it has taken steps to help protect the health and safety of its employees, resulting in most employees working remotely until at least April 3, 2020. General inquires can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org during this time.
The Financial and Consumer Services Commission has published a COVID-19 update indicating that most staff will be working from home but continue to be available by email, phone, conference calls and, in some cases, videoconferences. All essential and core operations will continue, although most will be delivered remotely.
Pursuant to section 81 of the Pension Benefits Act (New Brunswick), the Superintendent has extended by 30 days the time limit for filing any Annual Information Returns (AIRs) and Actuarial Valuation Reports (AVRs) due to be filed prior to April 30, 2020.
On March 18, Retraite Québec also updated its FAQs as a response to the COVID-19 situation. For regulatory assistance or services, Retraite Québec has suggested using online tools or making contact by telephone or email. Plan administrators of supplemental pension plans are advised to take necessary steps to maintain pension payments, and to apply plan provisions and the provisions of the Supplemental Pension Plans Act in all respects, including payment of contributions, sending statements of benefits and, holding the annual assembly.
The Financial and Consumer Affairs Authority (FCAA) of Saskatchewan issued a COVID-19 update to advise that the FCAA office is closed as a preventative COVID-19 measure. Staff are working remotely and can be contacted via phone and email. Regular mail is to be avoided if possible as FCAA's capacity to process mail will be temporarily reduced. Pension plan administrators are advised that they should pay fees by credit card when possible as the processing of payments by cheque will be impacted due to the office closure.
We will continue to keep you informed as and when updates in this regard are announced.