Health + Retire

Three Factors Influencing the Evolving State of Retirement in Japan

12 June, 2018
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“Globally, and in Japan, being healthy, wealthy and work-wise will mean working longer and investing in our health, savings and job skills.”

Retirement is changing globally. This is particularly true in Japan, where for decades, lifetime employment at the same employer and a state pension were practically guaranteed. But the 21st century has brought about many changes to the country and lifestyle practices of the people in it. The modern workforce is also evolving as a result.

Companies are abandoning lifetime employment due to the heavy burden that such conventions bring. Young people are thinking more strategically about their careers, not just in terms of stability and salary, but also regarding what will help them grow professionally and retire soundly.

A recent Mercer study Healthy, Wealthy and Workwise: The New Imperatives for Financial Security, recently looked at attitudes towards financial security and beliefs about retirement. The 12-country study surveyed 7,000 adults across six age groups, as well as 600 senior executives in business and government.

In Japan, the study found that financial security is low, and people are more likely to feel stressed about their financial situation than in other countries.

It was not just finances that concerned the Japanese. Across all measures – health, wealth and career – confidence in Japan was much lower than in any other country surveyed. This is in large part because the old ways of approaching retirement – which included relying heavily on the concept of lifetime employment and the safety net of state pensions – are in transition.

A savings gap triggered by state dependencies
 

Compared to other Asian countries, most notably China, Japan is facing a significant savings gap, especially among people over age 50. But this may be largely due to how retirement was structured. Japanese workers used to have lifetime employment with seniority-based pay, and state pensions were based on these salaries. Now, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare says that the target income replacement ratio of the state pension for a model worker in the private sector is at 50 percent.

It is also notable that Japan’s universal health care is quite good. Health is a big spend in post-retirement, and knowing that the state will cover much of your health costs may be one contributing factor as to why the savings rate in Japan is below that of other countries.

Both globally and in Japan, people rank health – now and in later years – as the most important factor for a financially secure retirement and a good post-retirement quality of life. However, in Japan, only 12 percent of respondents said they had excellent or very good health as it relates to performance on the job. This was much lower than the global average of 39 percent.

Financial pessimism signals opportunity for financial education
 

In Japan, there are moderate, even pessimistic expectations when it comes to financial security and retirement planning.

Up until the economic bubble burst in the early 1990s, the traditional trajectory was that someone would join a company right out of college and stay there until the retirement age of 60. The state would then pay pension and health benefits. This was especially true if you worked for a large, multinational company. The average working person did not have to worry too much about retirement.

After the bubble burst, many companies struggled financially in the two decades of recession that followed. As a consequence, pension plans were reduced and lifetime employment commitments were cut down. For young people coming out of college, they realized the retirement options of their parents’ generation were no longer an option for them. Even when Japan raised its retirement age to 65, which is lower than most developed countries, they knew relying on the old ways for financial planning was unsustainable. Suddenly, the onus of planning for retirement fell onto the individual.

Even though many Japanese people now realize it is their responsibility to save, since this is a new concept, how to do so remains somewhat ambiguous. The financial education and guidance on the matter is minimal.

Half (49 percent) of Japanese participants in the study said they need financial security to retire well, and only a quarter (28 percent) felt financially secure now. And less than a quarter (21 percent) expected to maintain a desired quality of life after fully retiring. Most startlingly, only eight percent were confident they had saved enough to provide income for retirement.

The research also found that, in Japan, 84 percent of people are willing to make trade-offs – that is, save more or spend less – to afford a longer and better future. Sixteen percent of people, however, would not change anything about their current lifestyle, even if it meant they were unable to maintain their desired quality of life in retirement. This may be because Japanese workers expect to work for a long time, retire later than 65, and are more likely than other nations to feel that they may never retire.

Longer lives mean shorter and more modest retirements
 

Today, people in Japan expect to spend 12-17 years in retirement — less than the global average of 15-20 years. These realities require flexibility in benefits as retirement needs and savings vary and affect decisions to continue working or adjust lifestyles.

The Healthy, Wealthy and Workwise study found that over half of Japanese adults (53 percent) expect to live past age 80. Seventy-three percent, however, do not ever expect to retire or expect to keep working in some capacity after retirement — among the highest of the 12 countries in the global study. And 26 percent specifically cite continuing in paid work as the key source of their retirement income, albeit the fact that senior workers are increasingly facing challenges to keep their skill-set employable beyond the traditional notion of retirement age.

Most expect to live modestly in retirement, relying on a combination of government-provided pension, personal savings and paid work. In Japan, there is a strong focus on family and self as being responsible for ensuring sufficient income in retirement.

Although the Japanese do place trust in their employer to provide advice, they are less likely to trust any other people or organization on planning, saving and investing for retirement. Further, individuals are much more likely to be paying into a government-provided pension than into an employer pension plan. In Japan, employer pension plans are much less likely to be seen as a potential income source.

Opportunities for change
 

Japan currently has an overlapping approach to retirement: the older generation that is still reasonably expecting lifetime employment and pension systems, and the younger generation that understands they have to save for themselves and approach career planning accordingly.

With that in mind, there are opportunities for change at a state level. Perhaps social security should be seen only as a safety net, and not a luxury, and only available to those much older, perhaps in their 80s. When combined with work and a company pension, people would have a better assessment of their financial needs if the structure of retirement planning were updated. As it stands, the younger generation feels they are facing new territory when it comes to savings, often without a lot of resources or education.

Globally and in Japan, being healthy, wealthy and work-wise will mean working longer and investing in our health, savings and job skills. To do so, workers need to feel personally empowered through their employers as well as the government, both of whom should explore opportunities for change to match the evolving needs of the modern workforce.

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"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/.

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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. 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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. 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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. 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