2021 - The Year of Opportunities with i⁠-⁠Watch⁠®

The last year has been a turbulent one, to say the least. With the aftershocks of the pandemic still being felt, and the technological paradigm shift in full swing, the opportunity was ripe for innovation -- which is exactly what we did with our i-Watch platform.

In 2021, we made extensive adjustments to the i-Watch platform to further reinforce our strategic investment priorities, designed to meet the needs of plan sponsors and plan members today, and well into the future. This included adding funds with a special focus on diversity, as well as environmental stewardship, to better reflect the diverse needs of our clients.

But it was more than that – we brought in proven Global, International, and Global Direct Real Estate fund offerings and fund managers that offer leading and unique opportunities beyond our borders. This included adding highly experienced investment management firms from around the globe – like Boston Partners Asset Management, Aristotle Capital Management, and Nordea Asset Management – to bring different disciplines and management styles and help ensure a robust investment platform.

With a focus on the future, and a thorough review from our team, the i-Watch platform has been updated (and will continue to evolve) to best align with plan sponsor and plan member needs.

Here’s where we took the i-Watch platform in 2021:

Bringing market-leading opportunities to our clients

Reinvigorating the i-Watch platform meant some exciting changes, in everything from our funds to the firms who manage them. We did an extensive review of the i-Watch platform to determine opportunities for enhancement, and continue to build on the solid foundation of the platform.

Beyond our review, we also made a point to engage our advisors, consultants and sponsors, who all brought unique and important insights into how the i-Watch platform could provide advantages to our clients. 

The result was the addition of 21 new funds -- a lot for one year. We also closed nine funds which no longer met the rigorous requirements for our platform. Twelve of the new funds added are managed by Manulife Investment Management (MIM). This is a testament to the strength of MIM’s investment capabilities, and demonstrates they’ll continue to play a key role on the i-Watch platform moving forward.

By expanding our horizons across borders, and deepening our manager talent pool, we can continue to meet the evolving needs of our clients.

With our approach to platform management, the i-Watch platform will be able to react to long-term trends in the investment management industry, meet the diverse needs of our market sources, plan sponsors, and plan members, and allow us to be innovative and strategic. A combination of third-party and our own Manulife Investment Management managers really allowed us to build the dream team, and offer our clients a top-tier platform.

Part of building a future-ready platform means including funds that focus on sustainable investing. It’s a long-term mindset we’d like to have as a pillar of the i-Watch platform -- what makes good investment sense now, but also offers a path for growth?

In this context, sustainable has a double meaning. In a platform growth sense, we wanted to add funds with long-term potential that can be a part of the i-Watch platform. But in a platform value sense, we wanted to include investment opportunities in areas that demonstrate environmental stewardship, as well as social and governance leadership. While Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) funds are currently a small part of our platform, 2021 was a great year to evaluate them as a potential opportunity for the i-Watch platform.

Global Climate Fund

One such fund on the i-Watch platform is the Manulife MIM Global Climate Fund. This fund invests in a wide range of companies who believe in reducing carbon emissions and combatting the effects of climate change. Companies in the fund abide by the environmental principles laid out in the Paris Climate Accord.

Shariah-compliant investment opportunities

Over a million Canadians are Muslim1, and unfortunately, they are vastly underserved as investors.  We’ve taken steps to change this by adding two Shariah aligned solutions to i-Watch in 2021, the Manulife SP Funds S&P 500 Shariah Industry Exclusions ETF and the Manulife SP Funds Dow Jones Sukuk ETF Fund. These funds comprise investments that align with Shariah principles and are meant to provide an alternative investment option for plan members.

2021 was a good start towards a great future for i-Watch

We’re proud of the enhancements we were able to make on the i-Watch platform this past year. We added 21 funds, 12 of which were our own MIM funds.  And with a few key subtractions we’ve been able to hone our platform for the long term. It also allowed us to carefully consider and continue the process of including investments that respond to the needs of our clients.

This is a good first step. But part of 2021's innovation was identifying where we can grow the i-Watch platform in the future. With new opportunities, market insights and cross-border additions, we’re excited to watch how the i-Watch platform will continue to evolve in the future.

1Statistics Canada: “Canada Day... by the numbers (June 26, 2017)”