Insights From a Newbie—Annual Benefits Conference

With the announcement of the keynote speakers for the 50th Annual Canadian Employee Benefits Conference in Montréal, Québec August 20-23, 2017, excitement for the future got me thinking about the past . . . .

Less than a week into my new position as editor at the International Foundation late last year, San Diego, California beckoned for our 49th Annual Canadian Employee Benefits Conference. My first lesson in conference life was that the iconic palm trees and sunshine would mostly be viewed through conference room windows. What was happening inside, however, was a warmth and energy that rivaled the beauty occurring just outside.

Below are some of the many, many highlights of my first Annual Conference experience—some expected, others a surprise bonus of attending.

Insights From a Newbie—Annual Benefits Conference
Any conference review has to start with the educational sessions: Apprenticeship, health care, retirement, investments, gamification, financial literacy, funding regulations and pension strategies all got their moment in the sun from expert speakers who shared insights into current and future trends—and I could only catch a fraction of the 100-plus sessions at the conference!

Keynote speakers often stick around after sessions to meet attendees. Here I am with Captain Mike Abrashoff.

The opening and closing sessions are known as events to look forward to, but I’ll also add that the messages are something to reflect back on—These sessions made a lasting impact.

With the announced lineup of keynote speakers for 2017, we can look forward to the lessons these speakers will share in Montréal:

  • The Honourable Jean Charest will no doubt be trending when he starts the conference on Sunday with his opening presentation, “Change and World Trends.”
  • Economist Megan E. Greene will wake us up on Monday morning with eyeopening insights in her session, “What’s Next for the Global Economy?”
  • Joe Schwarcz will satisfy our craving for answers in “Nutritional Advice—Is There a Solution to the Confusion?”
  • Author David Chilton will wrap up the conference with his “Common-Sense Guide to Successful Financial Planning.”

My look back also dug up a few more nuggets to look forward to in August:

No such thing as too much learning: Continuing education is like gold. Not in the sense of dressing as a pirate and burying it in hidden chests, but more in its ongoing value and a shine that doesn’t diminish with time. I got a jump-start on the learning with a preconference option. It wasn’t X but rather FTMS that marked the spot for me, as I was fortunate enough to learn alongside motivated trustees and earn a Foundations of Trust Management Standards (FTMS​​​™) Certificate of Achievement. It was inspiring to see so many people working to better their knowledge and, thus, their funds. Other attendees took part in Advanced Trust Management Standards (A​TMS​​​™), the next step for advanced trustees. Preconference education also included workshops on financial/retirement planning and improving workplace culture, including “Dealing With Difficult People”—or, as my co-workers put it, “A session tailor-made to help us.” Speaking of colleagues . . . 

Bonding time: Bond. Co-worker bond. One of the overlooked gems of attending a conference is time spent with peers—not just in the trenches during the day but also at night for dinner. Thirty minutes of dinner conversation can provide more insight than years of boardroom pleasantries. 

[Now available—Video Sessions from the 49th Annual Canadian Employee Benefits Conference]

“Hey, buddy, where’s your conference badge?”

Individuality: The mix of attendees brought style and flair. This is more than a fun observation: Individuality and diversity are strengths. We’re better—as employers, boards, plans—when everyone is represented. The Annual Conference delivered.Hey, buddy, where’s your conference badge?

Networking: Mixing and mingling are how we strengthen connections and make new ones—At the conference, this goes way beyond the cliché exchange of business cards. During session breaks, lunches, receptions—The gift of gab was on full display. Inside, the conversation was so inviting that even a bird dropped in to network with us.

Nobody can predict the future. But if the past is any indication, I’ll hazard a guess that Montréal is going to be great. Hope to see you there!

50th Annual Canadian Employee Benefits Conference
Robbie Hartman
Editor, Publications for the International Foundation