05/14/2012 05:54 EDT | Updated 07/14/2012 05:12 EDT

Power Financial announces the adoption of statement on social responsibility

MONTREAL - Power Financial, regularly criticized for some of its investments, notably in French oil company Total, announced Monday the adoption of a "statement of social responsibility."

The declaration, which was formally approved in March, said the company should consider "environmental, social and governance" challenges and "making a contribution to communities."

"We realized that we needed to communicate better," president and CEO Jeffrey Orr told reporters after the annual meeting in Montreal.

The statement also says that Power Financial (TSX:PWF) advocates "a frank and constructive dialogue" with management of companies in which it invests.

Power Financial's holdings include controlling interests in Great-West Lifeco Inc. (TSX:GWO), which makes up its insurance business, and IGM Financial Inc. (TSX:IGM), one of Canada's largest mutual fund companies.

Power Financial also promised Monday to respond for the first time to a questionnaire by the Carbon Disclosure Project, which aims to improve the environmental practices of large companies.

Orr also said that Power intended to benefit from the establishment of a voluntary system of retirement savings.

Starting next January, companies that don't offer pension plans to their employees may establish a voluntary system. They will be forced to do so beginning in 2015, but employees can still opt out.

"We know that when there is a savings plan at work, employees are much better prepared for retirement," Orr said.

Like other financial institutions, Power subsidiaries plan to offer products, which must be registered with the pension board to ensure management fees are "comparable" to institutional pension funds of similar size.

In his speech to shareholders, Orr said Canada's retirement system was one of the strongest in the world, partly due to the fact that its components are managed by both governments and the private sector.

In Canada, pension plans offered by companies had assets worth $1.075 trillion in 2010. These were supplemented by personal savings totalling $2.525 trillion and real estate holdings worth $2.3 trillion.

Finally, government programs such as Old Age Security, the Quebec Pension Plan and Canada Pension Plan have $175 billion worth of assets, with funding coming mainly from contributions of active workers.

Orr also warned against efforts to overly tighten the regulation of financial institutions.

"If (required) capital levels are too high, it could (reduce the number) of products (offered to) consumers, he said. (...) I completely understand that more regulation is a good thing overall, but I'm afraid it will go too far if it continues for years to come. "

Still, he said Power Financial and its various subsidiaries are "well positioned" to meet new capital rules established in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, although some of them remain unclear.

Power Financial reported Monday that its profits increased 23 per cent to $455 million during the first quarter on gains from the disposal of two European assets.

The company's profit attributable to common shareholders amounted to 64 cents per share for the period ended March 31, up from 52 cents per share in the prior year.

The results included an $83-million contribution, mainly from the partial sale of wine and spirit producer Pernod Ricard and the disposal of French chemicals producer Arkema.

Excluding these items and a $2-million charge last year, Power earned $372 million or 52 cents per share, the same as in the 2011 period.

Due to low interest rates and poor stock market performance, the profitability of insurers and asset managers have been under pressure for several months. But Power Financial is optimistic.

"The long-term prospects of our industry are good, but the current environment is difficult: it seems like we are constantly swimming upstream," Orr added.

Shares in Power Financial closed at $26.89, down 20 cents in Monday trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange.