The concept of ‘expat’ employees is well understood – but, driven by globalization and businesses fixed firmly on expanding into new markets, today’s employment market also includes a significant number of International Mobile Employees (IME).
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic slowing growth, estimates suggest a 50%+ growth in IMEs over the past decade – from those on short-term project contracts, to long-term transfers, to fly-in fly-out employees.
Although this model has helped corporates deliver on their international expansion objectives, it has brought with it new challenges, namely, staff turnover. In some industry sectors, the turnover of IMEs can be nearly double that of local headcount, making talent retention an increasingly important strategic focus.
In addition to IMEs, the pandemic has accelerated changes to workforce composition through increased hybrid and remote working arrangements; either where employees request to work in different locations for personal reasons, rather than company sponsored assignment or where the employer has recruited internationally, taking advantage of the global talent pool.
Managing retirement and savings provision for groups of geographically disparate employees can be challenging for companies as they end up having to navigate complex social and labor laws, unfamiliar regulation and limited local service provider provision.
IMEs may be ineligible to participate in their host country’s pension plan and do not have a home country of work in the traditional sense. It is common that an IME will not want to join the pension plans of their country of assignment – doing so can be complex to set up and prove to be inadequate when it comes to currency risk and investment returns, not to mention the difficulties faced in accessing that provision at retirement.
Planning can also be problematic, as the career trajectory of an IME may be unclear, with work being undertaken on an assignment-by-assignment basis. IMEs will regularly retire in a country that is not one of their countries of service, adding further complexity to the picture.
Similar challenges arise for remote workers, especially when they are based in locations that do not have a robust or mature retirement framework. In such circumstances, providing a meaningful retirement or savings benefits can be costly and time consuming, especially if the employer needs to create various small arrangements for a small numbers of employees.
A single solution
Providing coherent retirement and savings benefits for IMEs and remote workers in a way that is comparable to those enjoyed more broadly across the business is important. The most cost-effective way to deliver such benefits is via a centralized International Pension Plan (IPP) or International Savings Plan (ISP).
IPPs and ISPs are highly flexible trust-based, defined contribution pension or savings plans that can be easily tailored to an organization’s requirements.
For employees, they are portable, allowing them to avoid the pitfalls of fragmented retirement provision. While for organizations, they help streamline retirement and savings benefits across a large number of countries, freeing up precious internal resources needed to manage a large number of counterparties.
A well-structured IPP or ISP should offer multi-currency contribution, investment and distribution facilities and be built around a diverse, multi-currency, multi-provider investment range.
As with domestic arrangements, it is crucial that the investment range is compact. On the one hand offering plan members sufficient choice while on the other not overwhelming them.
The plan should also offer a well-chosen default option, such as a target date investment. This will ensure appropriate investment performance for members who do not wish to make active fund selection.
Plans can incorporate a wide range of design features, including eligibility and vesting. Companies can also match contributions, allowing them to share the burden of the employees’ retirement planning.
IPPs and ISPs offer benefits to employers as they help them deliver on their corporate objectives support their global reward strategy and drive employee commitment through consistent reward delivery at a lower cost than multiple local plans. In turn, they play a real role in driving up employee commitment and help to address the challenge of talent retention amongst IMEs and remote workers.