Career + Invest

7 Site Selection Mistakes That Can Bankrupt Financial Services Firms

15 November, 2018
  • Mario Ferraro

    Global Mobility Practice Leader - Asia, Middle East, Africa and Turkey Singapore

  • Dhruv Mehra

    Multinational Client Group Leader, South & East Asia Singapore

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“Successful site selections are the ones where people take precedence over the place.”

Globalization continues to shape the financial services industry, requiring firms to internationalize their operations and expand their footprints across the world.

In the post-Global Financial Crisis era, most financial services companies took a hard look at their corporate structures and global footprint. More recently, Brexit, and a looming trade war, have financial services firms considering non-traditional site selection locations that could shake up an industry built on the power and prestige of long-standing traditions. Venerated financial hubs such as London, New York City, and Tokyo have storied reputations and street credibility, but they are also incredibly expensive and congested in a world that is becoming increasingly cost-conscious, nimble and decentralized.

Another important element that has accelerated this trend is the development of the fintech industry, which promises to disrupt traditional business models and ways these companies have interacted with their customers thus far. FinTech is poised to revolutionize mainstream banking and consumer engagement through advanced platforms and apps that will streamline mobile payments, peer-to-peer loan transactions, and modernize how people invest in stocks, cryptocurrencies, and conduct other Internet-based financial transactions through their smartphones. This decentralization of the industry presents unprecedented opportunities especially for growth or emerging economies. Determining exactly where, and how, to establish a new presence in different states, countries, or cultures requires a complicated mix of critical factors that could—without notice—devastate not only the expansion venture, but the entire brand and enterprise.

The key to understanding any complex situation is to break it down into its core elements and examine it, from every angle, how those elements are connected and create either success or failure. For financial services firms, effective site selection requires a cohesive team that offers a diverse array of expertise and competencies in everything from real estate and international tax laws to environmental engineering and supply chain logistics. Navigating this level of sophistication requires extraordinary diligence. Below is a list of seven site selection challenges financial services firms must resolve to avoid costly expenses, if not permanent damage to their brands.

  1. 1. Cultural Differences: Cross-cultural communications pose a variety of unseen and unexpected challenges as different people can experience the same interaction and yet walk away with entirely different impressions and conclusions. Site selections require in-depth discussions about elaborate topics such as local licensing rules and regulations, construction and utility issues, and other culturally sensitive matters regarding labor laws, political matters, and financial protocols. Every site selection team must have members who are fluent in the language and cultures of the selected geographies.

  2. 2. Poorly Defined Requirements: Every site selection is unique and presents its own particular sets of challenges and obstacles. Too often financial services firms overlook important details in their fervor to expand their footprints and impress stakeholders. Smart site selection teams rely on built-in checks and balances to ensure requirements are clearly defined and prioritized throughout the process, from discovery to final negotiations. Simultaneously considering multiple sites helps teams abide by a definitive scope of requirements that must be confirmed with each site assessment. If the initial requirements are not clearly defined and delineated, the entire project is put in jeopardy.

  3. 3. Lack of Transparency: Site selections involve a dizzying number of people, opinions, and professional insights that do not always align or connect in productive ways. Communication breakdowns can impact every level of the process, and result in costly mistakes that may require unbudgeted time and money to correct. Site selection teams must ensure that protocols are in place to guarantee all criteria are measured through objective facts and data. All human beings are fallible, so site selection teams must follow strict guidelines that protect the integrity and transparency of data sources, research procedures, and the dissemination and analysis of information.

  4. 4. Incomplete Research: Site selections impact an extensive spectrum of stakeholders, and each of them must be carefully consulted. Most instances of incomplete research are the result of failing to solicit the full involvement of all of the stakeholders—and not just the readily obvious ones. In addition to the decision-makers and inhabitants of host nations and municipalities and their respective regulatory bodies, site selection teams must consider neighboring municipalities, labor and economic development organizations, and other relevant community, political, or industry groups. Addressing the priorities of these stakeholders early on is key to a successful site selection.

  5. 5. Underestimating Full Operational Impact: Site selection is a resource-intensive endeavor, and it is easy for companies to underestimate the full impact the process can have on existing priorities and operations. Even the smallest reallocation of human capital, technology, or other assets can reverberate throughout a company and its external partners in ways that disrupt important routines and relationships. Before initiating the site selection process, companies should perform a stress test that identifies the people and processes most likely to be impacted by site selection procedures.

  6. 6. Inadequate Oversight: Effective leadership is key to running a successful site selection project. The numerous groups and individuals that contribute to site selection decisions make the operation highly susceptible to workflow silos, data fragmentation, and neglected performance benchmarks. Site selection teams must have an entity responsible for accountability on every level—from defining requirements and evaluating communities to tax/real estate analysis and the final site acquisition. Oversight mechanisms must be implemented from the very beginning to prevent corrupted data or processes from contaminating ensuing discussions and decisions.

  7. 7. Brand Integrity: Expanding operations to increase a financial services firm’s global footprint is a very public, costly, and high-profile pursuit. News of a site selection failure quickly spreads throughout the industry, and across the world. Financial services firms that “get it wrong” suffer catastrophic damage to their brand identity, and become associated with perceptions of incompetence, poor management, and bad decision making. Site selection teams should work with media companies to lead the narrative regarding the efficacy and benefits of the site selection. Firms that “get it right” elevate their brand above the competition and can build future business and profits based on a well-orchestrated site selection operation.

In conclusion, financial services firms must remember that each site selection project is a singular endeavor that will require flexibility, foresight, and a willingness to learn. Using the same strategies and asking the same general questions is a recipe for failure. However, implementing an unbiased, dynamic, and comprehensive strategy will identify challenges early on, enable realistic solutions, and optimize the entire process. Situational awareness must be observed at all times, from every member of the team. After all, successful site selections are the ones where people take precedence over the place.

MORE IN CAREER

Didintle Kwape | 14 Nov 2019

Africa's youth employees are a valuable, ample talent source that multinational companies can tap as they expand their operations throughout the continent. Record numbers of teenagers and young adults in Africa are either unemployed or underemployed but are willing to work if given the chance. In South Africa alone, where the unemployment rate is expected to grow beyond 30% this year, two-thirds of the jobless are between 15 and 24 years of age.1 Realizing the Untapped Talent Pool   "We are very much alive to the fact that youth unemployment is indeed a national crisis," stated South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in June 2019.2 Governments across the continent are now rewriting labor laws and breaking down bureaucratic hurdles to make hiring youth less cumbersome for both multinational corporations and local small businesses. They are also teaming up with nonprofit organizations to nurture young talent and teach necessary workforce skills. Alliances are being forged to aid these efforts, such as the International Labour Organization's (ILO) partnership with the African Development Bank, the African Union Commission and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). Together, they hope to address youth employment at regional and national levels. To better prepare youth for work, the ILO provides employment services, skills development and labor market training — with a focus on technical and vocational education, apprenticeship and job placement services for disadvantaged youth.3 In June, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the Young Africa Works program, a public-private partnership for youth employees between the Mastercard Foundation, the Kenyan government and the private sector. Within the next five years, the program aims to groom and place five million young Kenyans in "dignified and fulfilling work." 4 The MasterCard Foundation, along with two Kenyan banks — Equity Bank and Kenya Commercial Bank, as well as their respective foundations — will provide about $1 billion in capital, business development services and market linkages for the program. The aim is to create these jobs for youth employees, which will also help over 200,000 micro-, small- and medium-scale enterprises strengthen their productivity, sustainability and creation growth.4 The international hotel industry is one sector that's nurturing the development of the continent's youth, as hoteliers expand into Africa's emerging markets, according to Jan Van Der Putten, Hilton's VP of Operations for Africa and Indian Ocean.5 Hilton now has 46 hotels open across Africa, including sites in Morocco, Kenya, Zambia and Botswana, with plans to more than double that amount in the next five years. Expansions in tourism and hospitality will not only boost socioeconomic growth, but it will also provide meaningful employment opportunities. As such, it's paramount to foster an environment to help African youth workers succeed. Training the Youth of Today   In addition to basic workforce skills, the emerging digital economy also requires youth employees to learn the skills of digital fluency, creative thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, empathy and adaptability.6 Simbarashe Moyo, a Mandela Rhodes Scholar at the University of the Witwatersrand, notes, "Although countries like Rwanda and Kenya are already making considerable progress in preparing their youth for the digital economy and the future of work, more African countries are yet to take meaningful action to address the yawning skills-gap and digital infrastructure inadequacies bedeviling the continent."7 Moyo advises that African nations need to equip youth for the future of work. First, they must create responsive education systems that will equip the youth with the proper skills and a sense of responsibility. They also need to develop a nationwide digital infrastructure to improve interconnectivity between nations. In addition, to keep stakeholders in check within the expanding digital economy, they need to formulate proper regulatory policies. Lastly, they need to optimize public-private cooperation to support digital training initiatives on a larger scale. "Collaboration between governments, multinational development banks and the private sector will create room for innovative financial models which promote upskilling among Africa's youth," Moyo writes. "This will also reduce inequalities caused by duplication of efforts, especially when establishing digital infrastructure in African nations. Public-private cooperation will therefore enable more young Africans to access training programs and digital infrastructure." Empowering the New Workforce   Employers can also take advantage of the rising use of mobile phones among Africa's youth by providing training and development programs via mobile apps. Workers in South Africa echo the sentiments of those in other countries who rate opportunities to learn new skills and technologies as the number one way they can thrive at work, according to Mercer's Global Talent Trends 2019 report. The survey also shows that workers like to learn independently, and they want their employers to provide platforms enabled with access to curated knowledge and expert sources. A combination of both employer- and employee-driven training can give people more control over what and how they learn while tying their development directly to organizational goals. Mercer's research also reports that 99% of companies are taking action to prepare for the future of work, and they're doing so by identifying gaps between current and required skills supply, developing future-focused people strategies and adapting skill requirements to new technologies and business objectives. For multinational organizations interested in expanding in Africa, these steps will prove critical to upskilling, enabling and empowering the youth workforce. By taking the time to understand what Africa's youth employees need and developing integrated people-centric strategies for them, multinationals can be at the forefront of developing the continent's workforce. This will allow them to meet stakeholders' needs today, while also building a bigger, better and smarter workforce for tomorrow. The long-term benefits will result in a completely reinvented Africa — with engaged workers as far as the eye can see. Sources: 1. "Africa's Youth Unemployment Rate to Exceed 30% in 2019: ILO," 7Dnews, 4 Apr. 2019, https://7dnews.com/news/africa-s-youth-unemployment-rate-to-exceed-30-in-2019-ilo. 2. D, Sourav. "Youth unemployment a 'national crisis' in South Africa, says Ramaphosa," Financial World, 18 Jun. 2019, https://www.financial-world.org/news/news/economy/2276/youth-unemployment-a-national-crisis-in-south-africa-says-ramaphosa/. 3. "Youth Employment in Africa." International Labour Organization, https://www.ilo.org/africa/areas-of-work/youth-employment/lang--en/index.htm. 4. Mbewa, David O. "President Kenyatta launches program to tackle Kenya's youth unemployment," CGTN, 20 Jun. 2019, https://africa.cgtn.com/2019/06/20/president-kenyatta-launches-program-to-tackle-kenyas-youth-unemployment/. 5. "Exclusive: An interview with Hilton's Jan van der Putten on expansion in Africa," Africa Outlook Magazine,7 Apr. 2019, https://www.africaoutlookmag.com/news/exclusive-an-interview-with-hiltons-jan-van-der-putten-on-expansion-in-africa. 6. "World Development Report 2019: The Changing Nature of Work," The World Bank Group, 2019, https://www.worldbank.org/en/publication/wdr2019. 7. Moyo, Simbarashe. "4 ways Africa can prepare its youth for the digital economy," World Economic Forum, 29 May 2019, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/05/4-ways-africa-can-prepare-its-young-people-for-the-digital-economy/.

Michael Braun | 14 Nov 2019

We outlined six challenges in connection with international project assignments in part 1 of this article. To extend the overview of issues to be considered when administering international project assignments, let's dive deeper into another obligation for companies and their global mobility managers: the duty of care. Challenge 7: Duty of Care   Companies are obliged to ensure the employees' safety, health and well-being abroad. Appropriate location information, safety briefings, security trainings and health insurance need to be provided when transferring project assignees internationally, especially if they are transferred to hardship locations. Mobility managers should consider synergies when setting up such health and safety programs. Travel insurance, for example, can be offered to both business travelers and international assignees staying abroad for less than a certain amount of days (usually 90 days). Furthermore, a group insurance for the remaining assignees ensures a cost-efficient funding. You also profit from security and assistance programs offered by many health insurers, in addition to their core insurance service. And did you know that security providers usually extend their service beyond the medical service? They often provide information about the security situation in a given location and make tracking solutions, as well as security updates, available. Some providers even offer practical assistance in case of an evacuation. Employee Protection   The mobility of employees in global business life has become "borderless" in many respects. In order to take this development into account, the forms of insurance are constantly changing and expanding. The increasing number of projects, for example, which occur with a different frequency depending on the industry, represents a special challenge insurance-wise. The assignment period, the home country and the desired scope of coverage play a major role in the choice of an insurance solution. In the following, we will examine health, disability and death cover options available for international project assignments and other types of international assignments. Medical Cover   To minimize complexity, we focus on business travel assistance and international private medical insurance/expat health insurance for long-term assignees. Business Travel Assistance   International insurers offering business travel assistance use their existing global networks to master the challenges of global coverage. Compared to traditional travel health insurance, business travel assistance offers a number of advantages. Employers can, for example, extend the number of covered travel days to up to 1 year and significantly increase the number of potential benefits to include, such as the following: ·  Flat amounts are paid in the case of an accident and for surviving dependents. They are regarded as immediate aid for direct costs incurring and are intended to pre-empt the company accident insurance which offers higher benefits but also requires longer examination processes. ·  Liability insurance is necessary in certain countries as an obligatory requirement for obtaining a visa. ·  Compensation for loss of luggage and/or travel delays is an additional goodie for travelers. If these aspects are covered by insurance, any claims will be addressed directly to the insurance company — reducing the administration effort in your company. These additional benefits are tailored to the specific needs of business travelers and international project assignees. However, the main part of business travel assistance and its risk premium remains the medical emergency including some assistance services. Existing assistance agreements have to be harmonized with business travel assistance and transparently communicated. Processes, reimbursement practices, cost management and the collection of recourse claims have to be clearly defined to effectively reduce administration. The payment of benefits within business travel assistance is linked to so-called "unforeseeable" events. This excludes any pre-existing condition or the reimbursement of regular medication. Individual registration is not required for such a group plan. Though unusual in international project assignments, accompanying family members can also be covered by business travel assistance. Medical Solution for Long-term Project Assignments   If an international project assignments is planned for a longer period of time or improved coverage is required for individual reasons, we recommend using an existing expat health plan or obtaining an individual solution. Precautions for safety, health and integrity are the hallmarks of a company, especially when working on projects in hardship countries. A number of globally active and specialized international providers are available. The benefits of a robust expat health plan are comparable to those of a comprehensive global private health insurance plan. Use the criteria described in this article to choose the most appropriate insurance solution and a provider offering the period of coverage as needed. Ideally, the level of coverage provided for an international assignment or an international project assignment is outlined in the company's policy guidelines. Disability and Death Cover   Though medical insurance is of major importance for international assignees in most companies, disability and death cover should also be considered. For employees who are no longer covered by their home-country's social security system, there is a risk of gaps in the benefits coverage regarding disability or death — that is, securing an adequate long-term income for assignees in case of permanent disability and for their families in case of death. The potential gap is even bigger if supplemental home country plans are simultaneously discontinued. Even if employees join the host country's social security system, you should note that these systems often include waiting periods for death and disability coverage. If such waiting periods do not exist, for example, due to European agreements, be aware that the benefit levels can still significantly differ to what has already been accrued in the home country. Employers need to identify and close gaps, either through local coverage or supplemental global risk coverage plans. Gaps also exist for so-called "global nomads," those assignees going on numerous consecutive assignments. Global nomads are facing benefits fragmentation at its worst, especially gaps in state and supplemental pension benefits due to not being enrolled in local plans or not reaching local vesting conditions. In addition, those employees typically do not have access to suitable long-term financing vehicles that allow for building up adequate private retirement savings with the flexibility to contribute from multiple locations. Companies with a larger global nomad population can use offshore International Pension Plan arrangements to close this gap. As the market has developed significantly over the last decade, streamlined products are available today also for smaller groups of assignees and with limited required administration. Conclusion   These are demanding and challenging times for mobility experts. The number of international project assignments is increasing and calls for special arrangements. However, these are also great times to demonstrate your expertise. To make things easier, look at what you already have: Some solutions are already available for internationally mobile employees in your company and can be used for international project assignments, as well. In the long run, mobility managers should focus on finding and implementing appropriate international project assignment solutions to ease the initial pain mainly caused by the additional workload. As is often true in global mobility, there is no-one-size-fits-all approach, but many options to tailor your (almost) perfect one. If you'd like to learn more, click here to get in touch with a Mercer consultant.  

Juliane Gruethner | 31 Oct 2019

International project assignments are one of the current hot topics in global mobility management. A quick poll in conjunction with our Expatriate Management Conference in 2018 showed that, in an increasing number of organizations, the mobility function is responsible for the administration of international project assignments. Nearly 90% of the responding mobility managers confirmed that their organizations have international project assignments, and 80% of respondents are responsible for their administration. With this trend, new challenges are emerging. Let's take a look. Challenge 1: Common Understanding of Terminology   There does not seem to be a common definition of an international project assignment. Mercer's poll showed that about 40% of the responding businesses define an international project assignment as simply an international assignment to a project, regardless of its duration, while 60% specified a period of time. Some organizations also differentiate between project assignments for an external client and internal projects. Apart from the lack of clear definitions, most businesses (73%) do not have any formal policy or regulations for their international project assignments. If they exist, they often overlap with those for traditional long- or short-term assignments. No matter how you approach international project assignments, make sure that your company has a precise definition and corresponding guidelines in place that allow for consistent handling and fair treatment of all internationally mobile employees. For this discussion, we define international project assignments as assignments to client projects abroad, whereas assignments to projects abroad within one organization are called international assignments. Challenge 2: Fair and Equal Treatment   Determining an individual compensation package for an international project assignment differs from traditional forms of international assignment compensation. Some employees may have been hired especially or exclusively for project work. Others are assigned to work on international projects based on short- or long-term assignments or commuter packages. Those differences can lead to inconsistencies in compensation between the assignees — depending on where they come from and how their project assignment is defined in the home country. Clear internal regulations differentiating target groups and assignment types increase the transparency of the mobility program and ultimately increase its acceptance among employees. Challenge 3: Determining the Return on Investment   In Mercer's 2017 Worldwide Survey of International Assignment Policies and Practices, the majority of respondents stated that a business case is required for an international assignment (62%) and that they prepare corresponding cost estimates (96%). However, only 43% track the actual costs against budgeted costs, and only 2% have defined how the return on investment (ROI) of an international assignment is quantified. It is often linked to a mid- to long-term perspective and not easily expressed in pure economic figures. That said, it is possible to track success by means of faster promotions or higher retention rates of expatriates. The ROI of international project assignments, in contrast, is easier to measure. Actual costs can be compared to the original estimate and the price paid by the client. This transparency leads to higher cost pressure, which calls for a greater flexibility with respect to the applicability of existing internal rules and regulations to be able to offer projects at a competitive price. In conclusion, the short-term business value (winning and conducting the project in a profitable manner) and the mid- to long-term value of international assignments (for example, filling a skills gap in the host location or employee development) have to be balanced diligently, which can be achieved by a thoroughly segmented international assignment policy. Challenge 4: Management of Large Numbers of International Project Assignments   Depending on the industry sector, the number of international project assignments in an organization can be extremely high. One of the respondents in the conference poll indicated that they handle about 23,000 international project assignments per year. Therefore, the resources needed in the mobility function will have to be increased or resources reallocated once mobility takes over the responsibility for international project assignments. You should also review the service delivery model, as well as individual procedures, and if necessary, adapt them to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the international project assignment administration. Using the right technology can also help streamline processes and make a large number of international project assignments manageable. Challenge 5: Deployment to Unknown Places   International project assignments take place not only in the company's regular assignment destinations but also in new locations at client sites. The company, therefore, may not have any resources in or knowledge about the location. Client resources or external vendors can be used to obtain necessary information or perform necessary services, such as immigration or payroll. In addition, if employees perform services in hardship locations, their safety and security need to be considered. Challenge 6: A Matter of Compliance   When it comes to international project assignments, mobility is regularly asked to deliver results even faster than for traditional international assignments, because requirements tend to come up or change at short notice. However, compliance is as complex as for any other international assignments and needs to be evaluated individually. This is true for external as well as internal compliance issues. Although compliance is regarded as one of the most important aspects by many mobility managers, we have seen that compliance is just the tip of the iceberg, and the list of challenges presented in this first part of the article is not exhaustive. We continue our considerations with the companies' duty of care and possible solutions in part 2  of this article. If you'd like to learn more, click here to get in touch with a Mercer consultant.

More from Voice on Growth

Didintle Kwape | 14 Nov 2019

Africa's youth employees are a valuable, ample talent source that multinational companies can tap as they expand their operations throughout the continent. Record numbers of teenagers and young adults in Africa are either unemployed or underemployed but are willing to work if given the chance. In South Africa alone, where the unemployment rate is expected to grow beyond 30% this year, two-thirds of the jobless are between 15 and 24 years of age.1 Realizing the Untapped Talent Pool   "We are very much alive to the fact that youth unemployment is indeed a national crisis," stated South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in June 2019.2 Governments across the continent are now rewriting labor laws and breaking down bureaucratic hurdles to make hiring youth less cumbersome for both multinational corporations and local small businesses. They are also teaming up with nonprofit organizations to nurture young talent and teach necessary workforce skills. Alliances are being forged to aid these efforts, such as the International Labour Organization's (ILO) partnership with the African Development Bank, the African Union Commission and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). Together, they hope to address youth employment at regional and national levels. To better prepare youth for work, the ILO provides employment services, skills development and labor market training — with a focus on technical and vocational education, apprenticeship and job placement services for disadvantaged youth.3 In June, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the Young Africa Works program, a public-private partnership for youth employees between the Mastercard Foundation, the Kenyan government and the private sector. Within the next five years, the program aims to groom and place five million young Kenyans in "dignified and fulfilling work." 4 The MasterCard Foundation, along with two Kenyan banks — Equity Bank and Kenya Commercial Bank, as well as their respective foundations — will provide about $1 billion in capital, business development services and market linkages for the program. The aim is to create these jobs for youth employees, which will also help over 200,000 micro-, small- and medium-scale enterprises strengthen their productivity, sustainability and creation growth.4 The international hotel industry is one sector that's nurturing the development of the continent's youth, as hoteliers expand into Africa's emerging markets, according to Jan Van Der Putten, Hilton's VP of Operations for Africa and Indian Ocean.5 Hilton now has 46 hotels open across Africa, including sites in Morocco, Kenya, Zambia and Botswana, with plans to more than double that amount in the next five years. Expansions in tourism and hospitality will not only boost socioeconomic growth, but it will also provide meaningful employment opportunities. As such, it's paramount to foster an environment to help African youth workers succeed. Training the Youth of Today   In addition to basic workforce skills, the emerging digital economy also requires youth employees to learn the skills of digital fluency, creative thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, empathy and adaptability.6 Simbarashe Moyo, a Mandela Rhodes Scholar at the University of the Witwatersrand, notes, "Although countries like Rwanda and Kenya are already making considerable progress in preparing their youth for the digital economy and the future of work, more African countries are yet to take meaningful action to address the yawning skills-gap and digital infrastructure inadequacies bedeviling the continent."7 Moyo advises that African nations need to equip youth for the future of work. First, they must create responsive education systems that will equip the youth with the proper skills and a sense of responsibility. They also need to develop a nationwide digital infrastructure to improve interconnectivity between nations. In addition, to keep stakeholders in check within the expanding digital economy, they need to formulate proper regulatory policies. Lastly, they need to optimize public-private cooperation to support digital training initiatives on a larger scale. "Collaboration between governments, multinational development banks and the private sector will create room for innovative financial models which promote upskilling among Africa's youth," Moyo writes. "This will also reduce inequalities caused by duplication of efforts, especially when establishing digital infrastructure in African nations. Public-private cooperation will therefore enable more young Africans to access training programs and digital infrastructure." Empowering the New Workforce   Employers can also take advantage of the rising use of mobile phones among Africa's youth by providing training and development programs via mobile apps. Workers in South Africa echo the sentiments of those in other countries who rate opportunities to learn new skills and technologies as the number one way they can thrive at work, according to Mercer's Global Talent Trends 2019 report. The survey also shows that workers like to learn independently, and they want their employers to provide platforms enabled with access to curated knowledge and expert sources. A combination of both employer- and employee-driven training can give people more control over what and how they learn while tying their development directly to organizational goals. Mercer's research also reports that 99% of companies are taking action to prepare for the future of work, and they're doing so by identifying gaps between current and required skills supply, developing future-focused people strategies and adapting skill requirements to new technologies and business objectives. For multinational organizations interested in expanding in Africa, these steps will prove critical to upskilling, enabling and empowering the youth workforce. By taking the time to understand what Africa's youth employees need and developing integrated people-centric strategies for them, multinationals can be at the forefront of developing the continent's workforce. This will allow them to meet stakeholders' needs today, while also building a bigger, better and smarter workforce for tomorrow. The long-term benefits will result in a completely reinvented Africa — with engaged workers as far as the eye can see. Sources: 1. "Africa's Youth Unemployment Rate to Exceed 30% in 2019: ILO," 7Dnews, 4 Apr. 2019, https://7dnews.com/news/africa-s-youth-unemployment-rate-to-exceed-30-in-2019-ilo. 2. D, Sourav. "Youth unemployment a 'national crisis' in South Africa, says Ramaphosa," Financial World, 18 Jun. 2019, https://www.financial-world.org/news/news/economy/2276/youth-unemployment-a-national-crisis-in-south-africa-says-ramaphosa/. 3. "Youth Employment in Africa." International Labour Organization, https://www.ilo.org/africa/areas-of-work/youth-employment/lang--en/index.htm. 4. Mbewa, David O. "President Kenyatta launches program to tackle Kenya's youth unemployment," CGTN, 20 Jun. 2019, https://africa.cgtn.com/2019/06/20/president-kenyatta-launches-program-to-tackle-kenyas-youth-unemployment/. 5. "Exclusive: An interview with Hilton's Jan van der Putten on expansion in Africa," Africa Outlook Magazine,7 Apr. 2019, https://www.africaoutlookmag.com/news/exclusive-an-interview-with-hiltons-jan-van-der-putten-on-expansion-in-africa. 6. "World Development Report 2019: The Changing Nature of Work," The World Bank Group, 2019, https://www.worldbank.org/en/publication/wdr2019. 7. Moyo, Simbarashe. "4 ways Africa can prepare its youth for the digital economy," World Economic Forum, 29 May 2019, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/05/4-ways-africa-can-prepare-its-young-people-for-the-digital-economy/.

Michael Braun | 14 Nov 2019

We outlined six challenges in connection with international project assignments in part 1 of this article. To extend the overview of issues to be considered when administering international project assignments, let's dive deeper into another obligation for companies and their global mobility managers: the duty of care. Challenge 7: Duty of Care   Companies are obliged to ensure the employees' safety, health and well-being abroad. Appropriate location information, safety briefings, security trainings and health insurance need to be provided when transferring project assignees internationally, especially if they are transferred to hardship locations. Mobility managers should consider synergies when setting up such health and safety programs. Travel insurance, for example, can be offered to both business travelers and international assignees staying abroad for less than a certain amount of days (usually 90 days). Furthermore, a group insurance for the remaining assignees ensures a cost-efficient funding. You also profit from security and assistance programs offered by many health insurers, in addition to their core insurance service. And did you know that security providers usually extend their service beyond the medical service? They often provide information about the security situation in a given location and make tracking solutions, as well as security updates, available. Some providers even offer practical assistance in case of an evacuation. Employee Protection   The mobility of employees in global business life has become "borderless" in many respects. In order to take this development into account, the forms of insurance are constantly changing and expanding. The increasing number of projects, for example, which occur with a different frequency depending on the industry, represents a special challenge insurance-wise. The assignment period, the home country and the desired scope of coverage play a major role in the choice of an insurance solution. In the following, we will examine health, disability and death cover options available for international project assignments and other types of international assignments. Medical Cover   To minimize complexity, we focus on business travel assistance and international private medical insurance/expat health insurance for long-term assignees. Business Travel Assistance   International insurers offering business travel assistance use their existing global networks to master the challenges of global coverage. Compared to traditional travel health insurance, business travel assistance offers a number of advantages. Employers can, for example, extend the number of covered travel days to up to 1 year and significantly increase the number of potential benefits to include, such as the following: ·  Flat amounts are paid in the case of an accident and for surviving dependents. They are regarded as immediate aid for direct costs incurring and are intended to pre-empt the company accident insurance which offers higher benefits but also requires longer examination processes. ·  Liability insurance is necessary in certain countries as an obligatory requirement for obtaining a visa. ·  Compensation for loss of luggage and/or travel delays is an additional goodie for travelers. If these aspects are covered by insurance, any claims will be addressed directly to the insurance company — reducing the administration effort in your company. These additional benefits are tailored to the specific needs of business travelers and international project assignees. However, the main part of business travel assistance and its risk premium remains the medical emergency including some assistance services. Existing assistance agreements have to be harmonized with business travel assistance and transparently communicated. Processes, reimbursement practices, cost management and the collection of recourse claims have to be clearly defined to effectively reduce administration. The payment of benefits within business travel assistance is linked to so-called "unforeseeable" events. This excludes any pre-existing condition or the reimbursement of regular medication. Individual registration is not required for such a group plan. Though unusual in international project assignments, accompanying family members can also be covered by business travel assistance. Medical Solution for Long-term Project Assignments   If an international project assignments is planned for a longer period of time or improved coverage is required for individual reasons, we recommend using an existing expat health plan or obtaining an individual solution. Precautions for safety, health and integrity are the hallmarks of a company, especially when working on projects in hardship countries. A number of globally active and specialized international providers are available. The benefits of a robust expat health plan are comparable to those of a comprehensive global private health insurance plan. Use the criteria described in this article to choose the most appropriate insurance solution and a provider offering the period of coverage as needed. Ideally, the level of coverage provided for an international assignment or an international project assignment is outlined in the company's policy guidelines. Disability and Death Cover   Though medical insurance is of major importance for international assignees in most companies, disability and death cover should also be considered. For employees who are no longer covered by their home-country's social security system, there is a risk of gaps in the benefits coverage regarding disability or death — that is, securing an adequate long-term income for assignees in case of permanent disability and for their families in case of death. The potential gap is even bigger if supplemental home country plans are simultaneously discontinued. Even if employees join the host country's social security system, you should note that these systems often include waiting periods for death and disability coverage. If such waiting periods do not exist, for example, due to European agreements, be aware that the benefit levels can still significantly differ to what has already been accrued in the home country. Employers need to identify and close gaps, either through local coverage or supplemental global risk coverage plans. Gaps also exist for so-called "global nomads," those assignees going on numerous consecutive assignments. Global nomads are facing benefits fragmentation at its worst, especially gaps in state and supplemental pension benefits due to not being enrolled in local plans or not reaching local vesting conditions. In addition, those employees typically do not have access to suitable long-term financing vehicles that allow for building up adequate private retirement savings with the flexibility to contribute from multiple locations. Companies with a larger global nomad population can use offshore International Pension Plan arrangements to close this gap. As the market has developed significantly over the last decade, streamlined products are available today also for smaller groups of assignees and with limited required administration. Conclusion   These are demanding and challenging times for mobility experts. The number of international project assignments is increasing and calls for special arrangements. However, these are also great times to demonstrate your expertise. To make things easier, look at what you already have: Some solutions are already available for internationally mobile employees in your company and can be used for international project assignments, as well. In the long run, mobility managers should focus on finding and implementing appropriate international project assignment solutions to ease the initial pain mainly caused by the additional workload. As is often true in global mobility, there is no-one-size-fits-all approach, but many options to tailor your (almost) perfect one. If you'd like to learn more, click here to get in touch with a Mercer consultant.  

Juliane Gruethner | 31 Oct 2019

International project assignments are one of the current hot topics in global mobility management. A quick poll in conjunction with our Expatriate Management Conference in 2018 showed that, in an increasing number of organizations, the mobility function is responsible for the administration of international project assignments. Nearly 90% of the responding mobility managers confirmed that their organizations have international project assignments, and 80% of respondents are responsible for their administration. With this trend, new challenges are emerging. Let's take a look. Challenge 1: Common Understanding of Terminology   There does not seem to be a common definition of an international project assignment. Mercer's poll showed that about 40% of the responding businesses define an international project assignment as simply an international assignment to a project, regardless of its duration, while 60% specified a period of time. Some organizations also differentiate between project assignments for an external client and internal projects. Apart from the lack of clear definitions, most businesses (73%) do not have any formal policy or regulations for their international project assignments. If they exist, they often overlap with those for traditional long- or short-term assignments. No matter how you approach international project assignments, make sure that your company has a precise definition and corresponding guidelines in place that allow for consistent handling and fair treatment of all internationally mobile employees. For this discussion, we define international project assignments as assignments to client projects abroad, whereas assignments to projects abroad within one organization are called international assignments. Challenge 2: Fair and Equal Treatment   Determining an individual compensation package for an international project assignment differs from traditional forms of international assignment compensation. Some employees may have been hired especially or exclusively for project work. Others are assigned to work on international projects based on short- or long-term assignments or commuter packages. Those differences can lead to inconsistencies in compensation between the assignees — depending on where they come from and how their project assignment is defined in the home country. Clear internal regulations differentiating target groups and assignment types increase the transparency of the mobility program and ultimately increase its acceptance among employees. Challenge 3: Determining the Return on Investment   In Mercer's 2017 Worldwide Survey of International Assignment Policies and Practices, the majority of respondents stated that a business case is required for an international assignment (62%) and that they prepare corresponding cost estimates (96%). However, only 43% track the actual costs against budgeted costs, and only 2% have defined how the return on investment (ROI) of an international assignment is quantified. It is often linked to a mid- to long-term perspective and not easily expressed in pure economic figures. That said, it is possible to track success by means of faster promotions or higher retention rates of expatriates. The ROI of international project assignments, in contrast, is easier to measure. Actual costs can be compared to the original estimate and the price paid by the client. This transparency leads to higher cost pressure, which calls for a greater flexibility with respect to the applicability of existing internal rules and regulations to be able to offer projects at a competitive price. In conclusion, the short-term business value (winning and conducting the project in a profitable manner) and the mid- to long-term value of international assignments (for example, filling a skills gap in the host location or employee development) have to be balanced diligently, which can be achieved by a thoroughly segmented international assignment policy. Challenge 4: Management of Large Numbers of International Project Assignments   Depending on the industry sector, the number of international project assignments in an organization can be extremely high. One of the respondents in the conference poll indicated that they handle about 23,000 international project assignments per year. Therefore, the resources needed in the mobility function will have to be increased or resources reallocated once mobility takes over the responsibility for international project assignments. You should also review the service delivery model, as well as individual procedures, and if necessary, adapt them to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the international project assignment administration. Using the right technology can also help streamline processes and make a large number of international project assignments manageable. Challenge 5: Deployment to Unknown Places   International project assignments take place not only in the company's regular assignment destinations but also in new locations at client sites. The company, therefore, may not have any resources in or knowledge about the location. Client resources or external vendors can be used to obtain necessary information or perform necessary services, such as immigration or payroll. In addition, if employees perform services in hardship locations, their safety and security need to be considered. Challenge 6: A Matter of Compliance   When it comes to international project assignments, mobility is regularly asked to deliver results even faster than for traditional international assignments, because requirements tend to come up or change at short notice. However, compliance is as complex as for any other international assignments and needs to be evaluated individually. This is true for external as well as internal compliance issues. Although compliance is regarded as one of the most important aspects by many mobility managers, we have seen that compliance is just the tip of the iceberg, and the list of challenges presented in this first part of the article is not exhaustive. We continue our considerations with the companies' duty of care and possible solutions in part 2  of this article. If you'd like to learn more, click here to get in touch with a Mercer consultant.

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