The President's Roadshow
Blake Meets Members in their Community
At OMERS, we value your pension experience.
To be by our members’ and employers’ sides every step of the way, in 2019 we launched
Get answers to your questions about starting a new job, change in career, or the day you retire and start something new right in your community.
In 2019, they toured Ontario from Thunder Bay, then Tiverton (at Bruce Power), London to Ottawa and finished in Toronto.
If you were unable to join in person, please
scroll below to see the video of the March 25th 2019 President's roadshow in
Good evening, everybody. Thank you very much. We're so excited to have you here. This is the last leg of our Roadshow. We started off in Thunder Bay, and then Tiverton, and Bruce Power, London, and Ottawa, and finally in Toronto. So my name is Jordan Ostapchuk. I'm a director with the pension services group. I really want to thank you for coming out on your evening to join us today. I'll make a few quick introductions. So at the very back, we have George Cooke, our board chair of the AC. George. We have Blake Hutcheson in the front, our president and chief pension officer at OMERS. And we have Annesley Wallace, SVP of pension services. I won't introduce them. They have a lot to say about themselves and the fun things we're working on. So I'll save that for a little bit.
Now, just a few quick housekeeping notes. At the end of the presentation, we'll have some Q&A. We'll have runners with mics. So if you just stick up your hand, we'll get you a mic as soon as we can. So the Q&As will go as long as we need. A long time ago, Blake once told me you don't work for companies, you work for people. And I had the privilege of working for the last five years, and for Annesley for the last about half a year. You know, I'm lucky to work for both of two of the most inspiring and exciting leaders. And I think that'll come across in their presentations today, the pride that we have at OMERS serving all of you. So without further adieu, I'll hand it over to Blake to take the stage.
I think he deserves one of those cookies for that. Nice compliment. That was very kind, my friend, and great to have you with us. So, listen, since 1962, to the best of our knowledge, a couple of the senior executives of OMERS have never gone out to meet with our members, or out to meet in the various communities across our great province. We decided it was about time we do that. And so this is really the first time. And Annesley's been my running mate, and a whole team of supporters. So we've had an opportunity to go out. And so today is as much about us telling you a little bit about OMERS as it is giving you an opportunity to give us any feedback. We like gentle questions, but we'll take any question that you want to throw at us. We also have a team of our technical support staff here who can answer virtually any technical question you have about your plan, because we know they're complicated. They'll be at the back of the room. And so if you have specific questions, feel free to either ... likely just ask them after. And they'll be here as long as you need them to be here to answer anything that's on your mind.
My job is to give you a little bit of my background, to talk about OMERS, the world today, our road ahead. And then my partner here, Annesley, will talk about the pension services interface with all of you, and the things she's trying to do to communicate better to all of you in your own particular way. And then we'll have our Q&A. I'm a guy from Huntsville, Ontario. My grandfather always used to say the only thing great that ever came out of Toronto was the highway to Huntsville. We were seven generations, I think, in that community. We were given land grants at a roundabout confederation. What we didn't know is, we were given land grants to go and farm. And so we starved for about 30 years before you figured out you couldn't farm anything up in those parts. And so eventually, my grandfather and my father figured out you can farm timber, and you can farm rocks, so gravel. So most of their life has been in the timber and gravel business. Most of my family are still up there.
My grandfather, who you'll see, F.W. Hutcheson, went to a one-room schoolhouse. He went off and joined the Great War. He came back from England, and he said, "You know, I think there's 40 countries in the world today. I think there's a real opportunity for a Canadian to set up a little wood mill." And he started a little planning mill that I think ended up, certainly being one of the largest planning mills in Canada, all hardwood flooring. And he was exporting to 41 countries. His message to me was always, "Get close to your customers. Get to know your customers." He would stay with his customers all over the world, make it personal, and then they'll never let you down, and you'll never let them down.
He always believed in cycles, which is what we do here at OMERS. We try to invest through cycles. His lesson to us with this mill ... He had between 500 and 700 employees at any given time, in a very small town. He would never want to let people go, because he cared deeply about the community. So he never went to two shifts on his plants. He never let anyone go. And in the good times, his salespeople could go around the world and get orders for massive quantities of lumber that he couldn't meet, because he would sell all his product here in Canada and elsewhere. But in the rough times, he would stockpile lumber to the skies. He'd be the only one in the world with hardwood when the markets turned. And so he said to all his grandkids, "Just remember, you invest through cycles. When it looks too good to be true, it usually is. In a great country like ours, when it looks like there will be no opportunity, that's when you load up as much as you can." And that same sort of philosophy reflects on many of the things we do here at OMERS.
My father was also an entrepreneur. He's 93. He still snow skis and water skis. He's trying to snow ski his age this year, which is crazy. And he's been an inspiration, too. He's just someone who woke up every day, sort of, if you don't believe in tomorrow, you can't be in business. You have to be opportunistic, and you have to be enthusiastic, and you have to figure out some way you're going to find a way to make a buck. His favorite word is finishiative. He says everybody you meet has initiative. But the trick to life is finishiative, which is, if you start something, you get it done. And so we've raised the whole family ... Dad never let us quit. And he's been an inspiration my life over.
Here's my family. My wife, Susan's, been with me for 25 years. Best thing that ever happened to me. We have two kids. Camille's in the middle. I always put her picture in black and white, because I never know what color her hair's going to be. She's famous for Thanksgiving dinner a few years ago, when she said, "Hey, mom and dad, how come everybody seems to like you guys but me?" So that's my daughter. She's off at school. She's taught me more than I've ever taught her. She's an artist, taking a fine arts degree out in Nova Scotia. Our son is a football player and a ski racer, and he's now at Queens. He's in second-year Queens. I often say he's my best friend. I think I'm his 20th-best friend, but I'll take it. And so we're now empty nesters.
I put up these lacrosse photos because they tell a little bit of a story. In 1982, that was our provincial championship team. Stilt with Huntsville. And then I played the last 22 years of Masters Lacrosse. And that was a 2016 Ontario championship team. Most of my teammates are on this plan. They're either fire folks, or police, or whatever. A few teachers. A few teachers are in the mix. And so whenever we're on the floor, they have my back. And then they expect me to have their back the rest of the year. I also put it up because sometimes you have to drop your gloves in what we do every day. That just demonstrates I'm prepared to do that if we need to.
My career has been, again, native Huntsville. Went to Western. Ended up going to London School of Economics to study political economy. Came back, went to Columbia Business School to study real estate finance and development, primarily. Came back to Canada. A group of people had left Cadillac Fairview, set up a small company that was backed by CIBC. So I was a developer for early years in my career. And then I bought into a company called CB Richard Ellis, CBRE. You've seen the signs around the community. And for 10 years, I had the privilege of running that business. We took it from about 300 people to 2,300 people in that period of time. It really got me to understand the service business and the importance of the service business. And the lessons I learned during that period, I bring to work every day in trying to help OMERS and trying to connect with all of you.
I retired from there when the market started to melt down in 2008. My best friend from business school and I went out and raised a fund. We raised about $3 billion to go buy things cheap all around the world. We set up offices in Hong Kong, in Mumbai, in London, and New York. I was commuting for a bunch of years outside of Canada. It worked really well, because everything was cheap in those days. But I missed Canada. I got a call from Michael Latimer, who's the CEO of OMERS. He said, "Would you consider coming back to run Oxford Properties?" So this was in January of 2010. Oxford Properties, to me, had been a household name. It had been a company that I'd admired since I was a young person. And so I had the privilege of running Oxford Properties for the last nine years, really since 2010.
When I started, it was about a $17 billion business. Nine years later, it was a $50 billion business. When I started, it was at about 95% invested in Canada. And today, it's about 45% Canada, 55% elsewhere. We've invested in the 20 most liquid, best fundamental markets in the world over. We grew at 22% a year. We averaged 12.5% over nine years of your money. It's been quite a run. It's now 100 million square feet. As I say, roughly $50 billion business in seven time zones, with six different currencies, diversified globally. And you own it. I would say Oxford's one of the five strongest real estate companies in the world today, and it's something you should all be proud of.
And then a little over a year ago, I was asked by our board, by George Cooke and by Michael Latimer to come into OMERS itself full-time ... Oxford's 100% owned by OMERS ... but to come and do my best to help run OMERS. My role here has really been to run our strategy, our asset allocation, our communications, our government relations, our pension services, which is our interface with you, IT operations, all the things that are not necessarily related to just running the capital. So that's been my role here. I'm telling you, it's a privilege to be here. We know who we work for. I would way sooner work for all of you than some public company, and go make some billionaire rich, or go start another company and try to make that work. The sense of pride that all of us feel in this building is enormous, and the sense of responsibility. Because we know how important it is to look after 500,000 of you with the decisions we take every day.
Anyway, lots of volatility. Lots going on in that last year. Here's a little bit of your history. In 1962, the OMERS Act came about with a little bit of money and a few signatories. And for the first 27 years of the OMERS story, the custodians of the money were just investing in marketable securities. And then in about 1989, it made sense to start looking at investing directly in hard assets. So we started in real estate in 1989 when OMERS was one of the few balance sheets in Canada with lots of capital. And the real estate markets were weak. They started to invest into the market. Made some really good decisions, including buying Yorkdale in those early years. And then when it started to work in real estate, we started to invest in infrastructure. So that took place in '97. And by 1999, we'd set up Borealis, which not unlike Oxford has become one of the greatest infrastructure platforms in the world today. It's reverted back, and it's now called OMERS Infrastructure. But Borealis built that terrific name over many years. Gentleman at the back there ran it for many years. An extraordinary success story coming out of Canada.
And then in 2001, OMERS bought Oxford Properties, which was a public company out of Edmonton, and really a household name in real estate. So it combined the expertise of this real estate company with this balance sheet called OMERS, which gave us the foundation to build one of these greatest companies in the world today. Between 2003 and 2006, the board had concluded that we're doing better by investing directly than just stocks and bonds, and that we should try to get as much as 50% of our portfolio into direct investments, as opposed to relying on the volatility of the markets. And so that is highly unique the world over. Most plans you look at in the world today have about 20% of the portfolio invested directly, and 80% in stocks and bonds. So it was a bold move, and it has served you incredibly well in recent years. People sometimes lose sight of that reality.
So what that meant, is between 2008 and 2014, we had to scale the global company to invest directly. We opened offices in London, in New York, in Sydney, in Luxembourg. We set up a ventures platform to invest in high-tech opportunities, including today in The Globe and Mail a big announcement we are putting some money in ventures in Europe. And so big growth from the company, being a domestic company operating out of Toronto to one of global scale. In 2017, we took all of our various offices from around Toronto, consolidated them into this building. And just for fun, this is a 900,000 square foot building. It's designed by Kohn Pederson Fox, which is one of the great architects in the world. The paintings you'll see in the lobby were original J.E.H. MacDonald group ...
The paintings you'll see in the lobby were original JH MacDonald, Group of Seven painting, that were taken from the ceiling and then, we sent them to Ottawa, had them refined and then re-cased them for the lobby. And we built this building for roughly $500 million dollars. Tenanted it, with three big tenants, including Omers and then sold a half interest at a $900 million dollar valuation to CPP.
So, this is a good news story. So, for $50,000,000 of our money, today, we own half of a building that's worth $900 million dollars. So, it's a great story of an execution on a real estate trade, but also the reason we can afford to be here is we've created ... We, Omers have created great value and now we get to all be under one roof, which is the first time ever where we can work and interact and try to get synergies by reducing our overheads by being in one space.
And then in 2018, we opened an office in Singapore which is pretty exciting because we've never had a window on the Asian economy. So, that will increasingly be an opportunity for us with that group, high growth region, now in our backyard from that office.
So, today, who do we serve? There are roughly 500,000 members split roughly 60/40, 60 still working away. My friend over here has a calculator and he's got it to the thousandths of a second ... How many days?
Okay, this is it. So ...
And how many minutes and seconds?
There we go. So there's a happy man. Right? He's got it all planned for retirement. But today it's a 60/40 split between those of you who are still working and those who retired. We have 90 members of the years, over 100 years of age. Last time we checked, that might have changed today. We have 1,000 roughly employers across the province and 400 unions and associations.
So, a complex stakeholder group to say the least. Today, your portfolio is invested. It's roughly as I say, 50 to 55% depending on the day in stocks and bonds, split roughly I'm going to say 22 to 25% in fixed, bond-like instruments and the remaining portion of that in equities. Then you've got 20% of your equity in infrastructure around the world. Roughly 18% in real estate around the world and roughly 12% in private equity.
So that's the way the portfolio is today, so massive diversity by asset class and then massive diversity by geography, 36% of the plan is invested in Canada, 39% in the US, 16% in Europe and to date, 9% in rest of world meaning the high growth areas.
Okay, so public equity is buying stocks and bonds and private equity is a private company that we own, and invest and I'll explain. I'll give you some examples in a ... That buys and sells companies along the way. So we invest directly as opposed to buying a ... Okay?
And so, and here's our return history and here's our return from last year which many of you have seen. And it needs an explanation because not everybody's thrilled when at first glance you look at a 2.3% return here. I'll explain it, you're not happy. It's okay. It's actually on a relative basis a good story.
Here's how it works. I think all of you know, anybody who has securities know the last two months of last year were the worst two years since the Great Depression and literally they fell off, the equity markets fell off 20% during those two months, and on an annual basis, when I look at the S&P TSX index, it was down 8.9% and the World Global Equity Index, the equivalent of that was down 7.4%. So anybody who has invested in equities felt great pain. We were not alone.
Our equity component of this portfolio was down 8.3% and fortunately because we invest in privates and publics, our privates were at about 11%. Our equities were down in the mid-eights and the combination delivered a 2.3%. So, on a relative basis, we were actually quite pleased with the outcome, given how we were hit so historically hard late last year. So, that's the story and when we look at our competitors or comparators today, we are infinitely better than some. A few did beat us, those who don't hedge and have different makeup than we do in terms of our assets and liabilities. But we're actually quite pleased with that year, relative to what it could have been.
And if you look at our three year, five year and 10 year history, at greater than 8%, that's an unbelievable story. I hope you sense that and appreciate that because not many portfolio or fund manager can consistently return that number and that is really what we tend to try to do on a go forward basis every time we make up.
We also increased our ... There's something called a funding gap, which is today we're about 96% funded. Our liabilities are 100, we're 96% of the way there to be fully funded. Every, I think the last six consecutive years we have incrementally improved, and it's all moving in the right direction. I'm here to tell you today that with reasonably good luck, we think we will be fully funded by somewhere between 2022 and 2025. That looks like it's a reasonable estimate for us today.
So, incrementally, year over year, we're making progress including last year which was not a strong year.
The math works this way. You forward project your liabilities, your obligations and then discount them back to today and then you compare your asset valuations to that discounted liability stream and you want to be at or about 100%. Today we're slightly less than 100%, based on pretty scientific math and it could be out four or five percent at any given time.
It basically compares the present value of your liabilities to the present value of your assets. And so, as I say, this year we improved our position by two percentage points not withstanding 2.3% year and that is directionally what we're trying to do for each of the following years, in the next three to five years.
That would be wishful thinking. The problem is the math continues to change, and I'll get into some of those dynamics. If you still have the same question when I'm finished, I'll come back to you. Okay? Because I'll talk to you about some of the stresses.
But that's your current picture this year. I'll talk a little bit about some of the assets you own, because unless you come to a meeting like this, you may not appreciate it. These are some of our infrastructure assets. So we own a substantial piece of what's called Tams Water, which is the biggest water and sewer operation in the UK today, with roughly 15 million customers. That's something you own. We own 50% of Bruce Power, with Trans Canada and so, 50% of one of the largest assets here in the province of Ontario. It provides 31% of the power to Ontarians. It's roughly 230 acres, employs some 31 ... 4,200 people in the province. Annesley happens to be on the board of Bruce Power.
So one of the things you own is 50% of Bruce Power, which you may not know, which has been a great returning asset for us. The current legislature and premier quite love it by the way. And we think it's going to be a great investment for us for generations to come.
We own the largest capital port in Australia, the Port of Melbourne. Roughly 1,300 acres, which makes money leasing real estate, canal fees, shipping and docking fees and so, spectacular asset that we've been able to unlock on the other side of the planet.
We own both ... Is it 25? We bought with a group of other co-investors. So, it roughly 25%. And then you were asking the question on private equity. So what does private equity do? We have our own team of people that invest in buying and selling companies. So, things like Caliber Collision is the largest collision repair, car collision repair company in the United States, 630 operations across United States, growing at a breakneck pace. Those are the kinds of things we'll buy, we'll grow and then we'll sell.
So, kind of a neat story. Inmar is a tech enabled processing enterprise. Arguably the best retail processing scheme in the world today. So, they have 11,000 consumers goods, product, customers, who send all of their rewards programs through their computers. So you can get either a digital reward or something that you get at the grocery store. They process this through their intellectual power and it's been a great run for us as well.
We have many other ... We own a piece of Porter Airline. You may not know that, so if you have option to go Air Canada or Porter, you know what to do. It helps you. By the way, we own Vance Springs Hotel, Saddle Lake Louise, Jasper Park Lodge. That's where you should be taking your holidays. We own an oil and gas business in Alberta. So, these are some of the types of things that you own.
From a real estate perspective, I'll just start. The Leadenall Building, which is on your right. When we went to London originally, nobody knew who Oxford or Omer were, and so our first transaction was a handshake deal to build this office tower. It's about 620,000 square feet. It was designed by Sir Richard Rogers who's one of the greatest architects in the world today. Did the Pompadu Museum and Lloyd's of London.
So, we bought in on a 50/50 basis. We finished this building plus roughly 500 million dollars, or pounds, pardon me to build. We completed in November of 2015 and then we were fully leased at the time. We turned around and sold it to a buyer out of China and our profits on that building, Canadian dollar profits on that building alone were one billion and 60 million dollars. So we think that may have been one of the most profitable real estates in history and that was with your money, with a little vision. It was a little gutsy at the time, but it's actually put us in London as a household name and everybody knows who we are.
We have been trying to invest in Berlin for several years. We actually think it's probably in the best city to invest into in the world today. It's got roughly 250,000 net migrants on an annual basis and we were able to secure about a year and a half ago, what we believe is the best asset in Berlin. It's called the Sony ... It was about 1.11 billion Euros and if you think of it as sort of, I can't say Eaton Center because that's a Cadillac Fairview building. It has to be an Oxford asset. It's a bit like Yorkdale only it's got office. It's got multi-res, It's got the rest. So, it's a great story.
Then, Hudson Yards is also yours. And Hudson Yards is the largest development in American history. It was in 2010 that we shook hands with a fellow Canadian to go and develop this. We put up 50 cents, they put up 50 cents. They were 26 acres of rail yards and so it required building over the rails. The only reason why 26 was available on island of Manhattan, was that it could never have been developed until someone had the courage to build over the yards.
So, we did that with them. It's been an unbelievable story. There's been roughly 22 billion dollars of construction on just the East Yard so far. We've kept out investment quite conservative. We've brought in partners for each successive phase because it's just been too much money for any single investor. But it's been an incredible story and last Friday we had the ribbon cutting to open it. Anderson Cooper was the lead and Governor Schumer's in there. Stephen Ross who owns the Miami Dolphins, he's been our partner. So that was the ribbon cutting down there last Friday. There's me high fiving Big Bird. He was our guest.
Then, I think we have a short video that you might like. Anderson Cooper: Welcome everybody, to Hudson Yards. This is really an incredible moment in New York's history. I'm a life long New Yorker. I've never seen the creation of a whole new neighborhood. Chuck Schumer: This is a momentous day. Steve and his collaborators have built something new, exciting and dynamic. Stephen Ross: Today we show that New York will always be the greatest city in the world. I'd like everybody in the audience today who has participated in Hudson Yards to stand up, so I can applaud you. Everybody here in their own way has touched this project. Great people of talent, of tenacity and a huge belief in tomorrow that some people would call guts. Gary L.: This vessel is not just a structure. This is a piece of art. The actual buildings that you see, the vessel behind us, was built by human hands. Thomas H.: The whole point was to be lifting up 700 people, share extraordinary experience. So, it's not finished until you're on it. Big Bird: Wow, look at that. How big is the bird that lives in that nest? Can we get all of our friends to come on up here? Anderson Cooper: Yes. Let's get some of our friends to come up. Big Bird: There you go, just take a hold of that rope. On the count of three, you're going to pull it. Ready? One, two, three. Welcome to the neighborhood. Anderson Cooper: Welcome to Hudson Yards.
Clap again, it's okay. So, it's a pretty fun story. So, if you're in New York and get an opportunity to walk the High Line and go and look at this site, I think it'll take your breath away. That vessel, we think is the Eiffel Tower of the City of New York, and again, 50% of that whole undertaking was your money.
The road ahead. I'm here to say to you, we would put our investment teams against any in the world today. Like, I am so proud, and we are all so proud of the investment teams that we have, whether it's private equity, infrastructure, real estate or in the stock and bonds game for us. They're investing at the very highest level, competing with the best of the best in the world, and we feel really good about tomorrow.
Having said that, we also face lots of realities. So, the short term valuations are high and you can sense it out there. Interest rates have come up a bit, so some of the interest rate sensitive assets have an impact. Government changes always gives us cause to pause. We've seen that here of late. Rapid disruption across certain industries. We could invest in something and it could become functionally obsolete in a matter of days if you don't really think about it and you aren't careful.
Geopolitical instability, we're a heavy investor in London, England and who would have anticipated Brexit and we can talk later about that if you want. But, those are things that can rock your decisions from time to time and the CPP expansion, that's come forward from the feds has sort of changed the landscape.
So those are the sorts of things we grapple with as we invest on a day to day basis. And longer term, lots going on too. The plan maturity is such that in the 70s there were eight payers into and against one recipient. So eight people paying into the plan versus one retiree. Today, it's closer to two to one ratio. By 2030, it's one to one ratio.
So, that's part of the thing we face when we look forward is just trying to get that ratio right and making sure that we get enough of a cushion that we can draw down funds over time. The changing nature of work effects the municipalities in which we all work and play. So, with automation and other things, what does that mean to certain of the jobs that could be automated. Sustaining long term returns is never easy. That's our challenge every day and longer life expectancy is a way of life, which is very good for all of you, but it's a little taxing on the plan. So, we'd sooner that it be good for you, but these are some of the challenges we face day to day.
As we look forward, we're about 100 billion dollars of equity today. By 2030, we'll be roughly 200 billion dollars of equity. So, we will double in size in the next 12 years in terms of the portfolio we're investing. To put it in perspective, the Royal Bank has 83,000 employees. Last year, it made 11.3 billion dollars and we have 3,200 employees and not this year, but last year, we made about 10.3 billion dollars. So and if you project forward, when we have 200 billion dollars and we have an 8, 9, 10% return, we will be with a small group of people, and infinitely larger commercial asset than any of the Canadian banks.
So that puts in perspective your plan a little bit, and so what we hope and expect is we're going to take the business today from about 3,200 people and maybe 4,000 people in the next 12 years. So we'll add very few people relative to the denominator. As the business doubles, we'll be able to drive our costs down because we won't need the same number of people to deploy twice as much capital.
So, that's really the vision. And what we hear from you is you want a sustainable, affordable, meaningful plan so that anchor the pillar for our go forward vision. You want disciplined, prudent, risk conscious stewards of your capital. That's how we see our role. You need a world class investment platform to unlock the best numbers for you. You need a member first, efficient delivery model to communicate with you. You need effective collaboration at the governance level to model the kinds of behavior you expect from our two boards. And you need to be a top industry employer to be able to attract and retain the best people to work on your behalf.
So those are all part of the long term vision that we thought we would share with you. I would say that we also are huge advocates of defined benefit plans in that model and I've learned that in the 10 years I've been here. And we actually hired Deloitte’s last year, two years ago to do a study that compared our citizens who have defined benefits plans to those who don't. It was very telling because it showed that those of you who do, have in every measure, a higher quality of life, work, liberty when you have financial shocks, all these categories, feel healthier overall and stay more active. More active participants in your community, more financially resilient, more self-reliant. And there was a 10 or 20% difference between those of you with a plan and those who don't have a plan.
So, this is a benefit to the province and we consistently are out advocating for the protection and preservation of this plan. And Omers is also a significant influencer in the province whether it's creating jobs in things like Bruce Power, influencing governments to do the right thing when we have the opportunity, or just making sure that you have a safe and secure retirement. All those things remind us why Omers is here and why we have the purpose we have.
I will end with this slide. This is my next to last slide, because a lot of you have heard in the last year or so about a conference and plan review. So I just wanted to address this question squarely and I'll start by saying this. There are two boards at Omers. There's the Ontario Administration Corporation Board which George chairs and we all work for and actually, 3,200 of us work for the Admin Corp Board, five work for the Sponsors Corp Board. And the Administrative Corporation Board is responsible for investing your money, managing your money, the plan administration and payment and all those actuarial calculations that we talked about. It's a 14 person board that's very commercial with deep skills.
The Sponsors Corporation Board is charged with looking at your benefit levels and looking at your contribution rates and really trying to determine from time to time whether that mix is sustainable for the future of the plan. So, last year they embarked upon a program to look at what changes if any they should make to set the plan up for success in the future, and I know a lot of you got lots of interesting information, a little bit in support, a lot against it. At the end of the day, they decided against doing anything too dramatic. They actually just made two small changes. They said that they wanted to eliminate the 35 year cap for credited service. So if you work 40 years, and you're making more money in your last five years or whatever, then you can actually continue to accrue credit service. So that was a benefit.
And they said they will allow paramedics to negotiate the same retirement age as the other emergency service workers. So fire and police. So, those were the only two changes after whatever you heard about last year. So, I just thought I'd make it very clear so that we clear the air if there were any other questions on that front, and those will be effective January first, 2021. We're happy to answer your questions after.
And I'll leave you with this slide. The Kennedy family used to say, "If not us, then who?" And, "The time to repair the roof is when the sun in shining." I would just say, and I hope you'll get this impression from my words and also Annesley's that, a great economist said to me recently, "These aren't the best of time. They ain't the worst of times. But they're our time." We really do feel this is our time to make a difference for you and we're doing everything we can to make sure that you have the promise that you've been committed to and paid into for so many years. I hope you'll get that impression when you leave today.
And I'll also say something about the Sponsor's Corporation Board. I'm glad I don't have their job because it's really difficult. Because they are the ones that have to assess things annually. They're the ones that have to sort of look at the pay mix and say, "If I make changes today, does that set us up in the future for more success?" And they're the ones that have to say, "Are we putting too much of a burden on the younger genera-"
They're the ones that have to say, "Are we putting too much of a burden on the younger generation such that they won't be able to afford the plan that's been promised to all of you?" And that's what last year was all about. At the end of the day, they concluded now is not act. But I would say that now that I've had a chance to look at their role, I sympathize with it because it's not easy. And with that I'll turn it over to Annesley, and thanks everybody. Good luck. God bless.
Hi everyone. So thanks again for joining us tonight. My role up here is really to talk more about our pension services organization, which is the team that's responsible for administering the plan and interfacing with all of our members and employers on a regular basis.
So maybe before I dive in, could I just get by a show of hands, how many people in the room are actually retirees taking a pension right now? And then how many people are then active members contributing into the plan? So that's actually ... That's great. That's a lot more active members than what we've had at some of our other sessions. We did get some feedback that it would be a helpful to have more sessions in the evening and so we're trying to do that in Toronto, but we'll definitely do that in some of our other locations for next year. One of our retirees at our road show session in London actually also provided us with some feedback. He stood up and he said, "I've been a retiree for 25 years. I'm a very happy camper, but as a result of the excellent pension I get from OMERS, I'm one of the many retirees who spend the majority of their winter in Florida, and perhaps we should actually delay this until March ... Or sorry, April or May when it actually gets a bit warmer out." So it's also something that we will think about for next year.
I will talk for just a couple minutes, a little bit about my background. So I grew up in Toronto. I actually today live in the same house that my father grew up in, and when I was growing up, my grandmother lived there. Eventually my parents moved in. Thankfully they have now moved out and I have moved in with my family. My dad was an outdoor education teacher and I was fortunate enough growing up to spend a lot of time camping across Ontario in a tent in provincial parks. And this is a picture, and actually a recent picture of my dad and I in a canoe at our cottage. A canoe that we actually built together when I was in high school.
The other picture next to it has been the focus of my personal life for the last 18 months. I have twin boys who certainly know how to challenge me on a daily basis but have been so much fun and just a tremendous learning experience for me. In terms of my professional career, I went into engineering having, through high school, really enjoyed math and science, and really did not enjoy a French or English. And so I went to Queens. I did an undergraduate degree in engineering and then I actually stayed to do a master's degree in a fuel cell technology, thinking that the hydrogen economy was just around the corner. When I finished that thesis, I stayed in the energy sector and spent some time working for an engineering construction firm. I did a lot of project management work and I was also, through that job, introduced to Borealis, which like mentioned, was the infrastructure group part of OMERS. Now it's called a OMERS infrastructure.
So I joined OMERS first in the infrastructure investment group where I spent seven years. I worked on a lot of the investments. Some that Blake talked about. So Bruce Power I continue to spend a fair bit of time with, and some of the other assets that you might know, Life Labs for example, OMERS is a 100% owner of Life Labs. And similarly . OMERS is also a hundred percent owner of Tara Net. So about a year ago I was working with our infrastructure group and Blake asked if I would come and lead our pension services team. And so that takes me to a where we are today. I readily accepted. For me, joining the pension services team was really an opportunity to understand more about the real purpose of OMERS and how it is that we can make the link between the investments that we look after every day and ultimately how it's able to impact 500,000 people in Ontario.
So our pension services team is organized around six different groups. The first is member services, which is really our call center. The call center is our primary form of interaction right now with our members. Our hope, as you'll hear me talk about, is to shift more away from the call center being the only channel of communication and offer other methods of communicating as well. The second is employer and stakeholder relations, so it's also our pension services team that is responsible for working with all of our 1000 different employers to administer the plan. Our pension operations team, which is responsible for processing all of our transactions. So whenever a member has an enrollment or retirement or we process disability benefits, we treat each of those as individual transactions and they get processed by that team. Jordan who spoke earlier today is responsible for a pension services communications. So the interface directly with our members and employers.
We also have a pension policy team, which is responsible for our plan text interpretation and they also lead some of our pension services strategic initiatives. And then lastly, our systems and digital experience team, which is a new group. We've had a pension systems team historically and because we're really driving towards more digital forms of communication, we have expanded the mandate of this group to really look at how we will best go about doing that.
So at a very high level, we're thinking about our 2025 and 2030 strategy and two themes that I'm going to talk about today that you'll see through the slides and then and then in our strategy are really around a move to more personalization and more digitization. So a couple of stories that we take some inspiration from. If you look at Netflix and Blockbuster. So in the year 2000 I'm the founder of Netflix went to the CEO of Blockbuster to try to sell his company for what is relatively speaking, a very small sum of money.
Blockbuster didn't really have the forward thinking ability to look at what the world would eventually become and the CEO turned him down. Today, Blockbuster doesn't exist and Netflix had annual revenues last year of I think 15 billion dollars. One of the things that Netflix does extremely well is make sure that each of its members has a personal experience. So when people log in to Netflix, no two people have the same experience. And if we think about how we could apply that to the service that OMERS provides to its members, it's around making sure that when you log into your My OMERS account, we don't provide the same information to someone who has been part of the plan for two weeks and has a 30 year career ahead of them than we do to the person who is 60 days away from retirement. It's different types of information that people need and so we really need to focus on making sure we can also provide that same degree of personalization.
Sears and Amazon is another fun story. Well, fun for Amazon, probably less fun for Sears. Sears was really the original Amazon in some ways. So Sears used to be able to access 20 million Americans through its catalog that was delivered in the mail. The catalog had 1500 pages. It had 100,000 different products that people could order and the postal service would deliver those products to the door. Again, today, Sears has not faired too well because it didn't really move to a digital platform in the same way as its competitors. And Amazon has 95 million Amazon Prime users who on Prime Day last year purchased 100 million products. So we are focused on how we can move more digital, not to say that that will move us away from any of our less digital communication channels. We just think it's important to offer more options. So where are we on our journey?
The organization OMERS looks entirely different today than it did obviously in 1962, but even then it did 10 years ago. And so what we're focused on is what we want to be in 2025-2030 and beyond. And so we're going to share some of that with you today. So our interactions are changing. Over the last 10 years, the number of members that we have has increased by 100,000. equally, the number of interactions that we're having with our members continues to increase. And so we actually believe that as we move to more personalization, as we move to more digital ways of communicating, that people will call us more. So our objective is not to ultimately reduce the number of calls we're getting. Our objective is to engage with members and employers in the best ways possible and offer options. Our challenge will be to maintain the high level of service that we provide today while we continue to increase communication channels and ultimately continue to see increased interactions in our call center.
We are focused on more digital communications. We are very focused on making sure that we have up to date information for all of our members. So email addresses, mobile phone numbers. Because ultimately, if we want to provide more options for communication, we need that information in order to be able to do it. And then our pension education team that is responsible for traveling around Ontario every year and visiting our members and employers will continue to do that. Last year they traveled 250,000 kilometers, which is the equivalent of six and a half times around the world. And and so they will continue to do that as members and employers want to want to see them.
So we get feedback from members and employers in a whole bunch of different ways. Some of it is extremely specific around more from members, more webinars in the evening as opposed to too many during the day. Sometimes it's around E-correspondence, which is a communication tool we use with our employers and we try to implement improvements regularly to address that feedback. We also wanted to take a step back and say, "What are we hearing from feedback that we're getting through our member and employer surveys? What is our education team hearing when they are visiting with members and employers?" And at a high level, understand what it is that our members and employers want from OMERS in the future. And that's really where we summarized it around these four things. It's providing more personalized experiences through multiple communication channels to deepen the relationship with members and employers. And a big part of it is making sure that we're engaging with members from the day that they join the plan. We often hear that members are very excited to be part of OMERS when they're 60 days away from retirement, but less excited the day that they first sign up.
And so part of our challenge is making sure that we are engaging sooner to really make sure everyone understands the value of the plan that we have to offer. In order to accomplish this, one of the things that we're very focused on is simplification and that could be simplification of some of the plan. It's been something that has developed over now a very significant amount of time and has become very complex. And so when we talk about trying to make sure everyone understands the true value of the plan, part of the challenge we run into is just the degree of complexity. And so we have to think about how we could make the plan easier to understand, how we can simplify our communications around the benefits that we have to offer and our processes and how we can simplify the administration of the plan. And as we're making these decisions, we have to continually come back to the people we're making these decisions on behalf of. So as we're trying to drive towards more personalized experiences or more communication channels or simplify things we really have to focus on, is that improving things for our 500,000 members, our thousand employers, the 40 different stakeholder groups? We have to be mindful of are a regulator, Fisco and the government, and also our OMERS internal teams that we interface with on a regular basis. In terms of how we're approaching our strategy, we're really focused on taking a human centric approach. We're really looking at how we can use other industries for inspiration. So I mentioned the Netflix example and the Amazon example. While they're totally different sectors, there are other industries that deliver excellent customer service, and so we will turn to those industries in order to get inspiration and really focus on how we can continue to innovate. And what's also important is that we're providing a holistic experience. So paying attention to the entire member life cycle to make sure that it's as seamless an experience for our members and employers as possible.
So all of this culminates into our strategy. It's really focused around four key areas. The first three, members, employers and operations are all around enhancing our pension services delivery model. And the last around talent is critical because we within our pension services team have to have top talent in order to make sure we're delivering exceptional customer service to all of you.
So with members, one of the key initiatives that we have ongoing this year is to replatform the My OMERS portal. So we think there's a lot more that we can do with that portal, which is for a lot of members, one of their primary interfaces with us. And so in order for us to be able to enhance it and add additional features, we need from a technology perspective for it to be on a new platform. And so that's something we're very focused on this year and it's something that you'll be able to by the end of this year, really see a difference in that interface if you're using it. And if you're not using it, I would desperately encourage you to sign up.
The second is around employers, so we're focused on trying to reach out to more employers on a regular basis to continue to build on a partnership. Our objective is to make it easier for our employers to administer the plan, and in some cases that may actually mean having OMERS take on some of the responsibility for administration that has traditionally been done by employers where there are particular pain points. We also will be, this year, working with employers to look at e access. It's probably the number one piece of feedback that we get from employers is the portal that employers use is not as user friendly as it could or should be. And so this year we'll develop a plan that in 2020 we can actually upgrade the access portal.
From an operations perspective, we're focused on simplifying. We're focused on making sure that we are improving our systems such that we can become more efficient and we're also focused on data to make sure that we can leverage the data we have to provide more personal experience for all of our members. And then talent. I talked about it, a couple of this year's initiatives are really focused around development, planning for our internal team.
And then we've already started. So there's a number of initiatives that we have been successful at implementing over the last several months now. I'll just touch on each one of them quickly. So we have new onboarding and commuted value, personalized videos, so now when someone joins the OMERS plan, they will get a personalized email that introduces them to OMERS and talks about some of the benefits that they will get. Similarly with the commuted value video, if a member is leaving an employer, they will be provided information that just helps better understand what their options are. We have significantly improved the way we're collecting member and employer satisfaction surveys and are starting to get good results. We've implemented something called the My OMERS tracker in the portal. And so if your going through a transaction process with OMERS right now, instead of having to call to understand where you are in that process, you can actually log into the portal and it will provide you an update.
Historically we have not been able to accept online beneficiary designations. Legislation was recently changed that now allows for it. And so we have updated our processes accordingly. Internally we've developed a really strong community across our pension services team using a share point site, and it's something that has been so successful, we'll look at how we could leverage that for our members and our employers.
And then lastly, in terms of digital adoption, we have since last September, doubled the number of members who have elected to go paperless. Which means that we are able to interface and interact more easily with those members. And it also saves in in costs, because we're no longer required to mail paper statements and other important pieces of information.
So those were, those were my key messages. Happy to take any questions after we watch one last video. This is something that we put together within our pension services team. So everyone in this video is part of our pension services teams. They're the ones that are here to serve you on a daily basis, and it's a day in the life of pension services.