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MSCI Inclusion Offers China’s A-Share Stocks Global Credibility

21 February, 2019
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“In perhaps 5-10 years, Chinese A-shares can evolve from partial to full inclusion, much like the Taiwanese and South Korean markets did beginning in the 1990s.”

The globalization of the world’s economy is taking a giant step forward. MSCI is opening the door to the world’s second-largest stock market – China. This development will create unprecedented opportunities and challenges as China and the international investment community nurture this new, remarkable relationship. The domestic Chinese stock exchange (Shanghai and Shenzhen) offers global institutional investors and hedge funds previously unexplored pathways to build value and generate earnings.

The Path Towards Global Credibility  
 

China’s increasing prominence in the global market underscores the evolution of longstanding policies and cautious perceptions regarding the role of outside investors. The Mercer report The Inclusion of China A-Shares In MSCI Indices: Implications for Asset Managers and Investors, chronicles the journey that China and the international investing community have made together to reach this historic agreement, and what to expect from a new era of growth and collaboration. Before the MSCI breakthrough, the primary mechanisms that granted foreign investors entrance to China’s domestic market were the Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor (QFII) and Renminbi Qualified Institutional Investor (RQFII) schemes—both of which were heavily regulated by rules and regulations limiting the types and sizes of organizations allowed to apply for a quota and their ability to repatriate capital.

Chinese authorities, however, have made opening the mainland equity market a key priority. Executing this innovative strategy, however, required a disciplined and calculated approach to implementing change. China began by creating mechanisms to accommodate foreign investors. In December 2016, the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Stock Connect program was launched, providing foreign investors access to companies listed on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange. This forward-thinking initiative opened up the path to global influence and participation, with both China and the international investment community working together.

The Power of Patience & Compromise
 

Inclusion in the MSCI Index started with building trust and goodwill through shared interests and compromises made by both sides. The Shanghai/Shenzhen-Hong Kong Stock Connect programs—together referred to as “Stock Connect”—provided an additional quota to foreign investors and loosened burdensome restrictions. The relaxation of daily trading limits, continued progress on trading suspensions and further easing of regulations—in addition to the creation of new index-linked investment vehicles—led to acceptance by MSCI. China has illustrated its willingness to work collaboratively with the MSCI and the global investing community.

In return, the MSCI made several concessions to facilitate the inclusion of the China A-share market. Rather than slowing the process, MSCI offered a more aggressive and streamlined approach to inclusion. The MSCI’s lean but efficient strategy limits stock and country ratings and only allows international investors predetermined exposure in a particular market. These developments are just the first steps to a long journey. The agreement also serves as a powerful symbol for a promising future of growth and mutual prosperity. The weight of China A-shares in the broad market indices will have to increase over time. In perhaps 5-10 years, Chinese A-shares can evolve from partial to full inclusion, much like the Taiwanese and South Korean markets did beginning in the 1990s.

The Way Forward for Investors
 

The MSCI acknowledges the volatility endemic to entering such a massive and complex economy. Managing expectations is critical to advancing the initiative. The first phase weighted only 226 stocks at 2.5 percent of their market cap, and the next phase increased the number of stocks by 10 and adds 2.5 percent—at a total of 5 percent of market capitalization.1 The MSCI is clearly taking a restrained approach to promoting growth and inclusion. Though the China A-share market has a number of appealing features, for investors with relatively small or straightforward equity portfolios, it would be quite reasonable to adopt a wait-and-see approach to the emergence of China. Other investors may choose to be more proactive.

Investors with a material portion of their wealth invested in emerging market equities, and who seek to evolve their portfolio over time, should consider how they can incorporate the expanding Chinese opportunity within their broader equity allocation. A standalone allocation allows a higher weighting (than allocations dictated by the benchmark) with broader and deeper exposure to the market-enhancing both the return and diversification potential. However, investors must simultaneously address important risks and governance questions, especially considering the unprecedented nature of this developing scenario.

To learn more about how the inclusion of China’s A-shares in MSCI Indices will impact the global marketplace and create new investment opportunities for your organization, visit Mercer Wealth and Investments (or Mercer Wealth and Investments – China).

 

1Pisani, Bob. “Here's Why You Will Own More China Stocks in the near Future.” CNBC, CNBC, 31 Aug. 2018, www.cnbc.com/2018/08/31/msci-adds-more-mainland-china-stocks-a-shares-to-its-indexes.html.

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Varun Khosla | 03 Oct 2019

For decades, any conversation involving startups and executive compensation conjured images of Silicon Valley and shiny office buildings full of technology virtuosos working for innovative companies striving to be the next billion-dollar unicorn. Now, a new era of global startups is taking root in previously unexpected regions around the world. In fact, recent research reveals that $893 million was invested in 366 startups throughout the Middle East and North Africa. That number represents a $214 million increase from 2017, which saw $679 million in startup investments.1 Similarly, startups are increasing in Southeast Asia, largely driven by "SEA turtles" — locally born residents who studied and worked overseas (mostly in the West, in places like Silicon Valley) and are returning home to launch their own startup companies. The region has experienced a major inflection point, with VC investors in Southeast Asia investing over $7.8 billion across 327 deals.2 There's one key component all these startups need, however: leadership. But attracting and retaining executive-level talent and management teams can be a major challenge for these burgeoning startup hotbeds, especially when it comes to compensation. Corporate Investors Are Changing Executive Compensation   Many of the world's most recognizable startups were launched by charismatic, individual founding partners, such as Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma and Mark Zuckerberg. However, the rise of these luminaries and their compelling stories do not mirror the new era of startups blossoming around the world. In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), for example, investment companies are providing the initial financial backing needed to launch startups. These investment companies are there from day one to ensure the startups have the capital needed to secure subsequent rounds of funding. Additionally, the executives of these startups are not the original founders and, therefore, desire different compensation models to secure their continued loyalty, creativity and commitment. Acquiring top C-level talent for startups can be a daunting task, as the risk level is high for businesses that do not have a proven track record — or any record at all. Traditionally, western-based startups have fashioned executive compensation packages around medium- to long-term benchmarks predicated on the company's expected growth, but triangulating growth models, investment strategies and executive payment packages can be a complicated and tenuous proposition. Since most global startups today are built around investment companies instead of inspirational individual founders, these companies must be diligent when determining how or how much to pay the executives — who can ultimately mean the difference between success and failure. How Much Should Executive Compensation Be?   Investment companies naturally want to maximize their profits, which means they want to retain as much equity in the startup and as many shares of the startup as possible. Every dollar, share of stock or option paid to startup executives is money the investment companies surrender to operational costs. However, low-balling startup executives or opting to hire those who aren't as skilled or experienced also comes with the risk of undermining the startup's ability to compete, grow and drive revenue. Financial arrangements that provide management with a potential share of equity (or shadow equity) require careful thought and consideration. An executive compensation plan must act as an incentive and retention device for startup executives while delivering a fair return to investors and shareholders who have funded the company. Investors and shareholders must decide how much dilution of equity they are willing to accept to provide an appropriate equity pool for the management team. This is why many companies decide to execute a scaled approach that decreases the size of the equity pool with each round of funding to accommodate the increasing value of the company. This type of program impacts the dilution of equity and can allow for more creative compensation strategies — particularly when dealing with more sophisticated startups, such as in the pharma and fintech industries, which require the talent and knowledge of more accomplished professionals and leaders. Investment companies can offer either share options, which give employees the right to buy or sell stock at a designated time and price, or full-value shares, which offer employees actual ownership in the company. Both contribute to the dilution of equity, but options typically contribute more to the equity dilution than full shares. For example, an equity pool comprised of options may amount to 15% to 20% of a company's capital, while a pool comprised of shares may amount to as little as 3% to 5%. This indicates the same amount of long-term incentive awards paid in options will lead to higher equity dilution than awarding full shares. Investment companies must determine which strategy best suits their objectives. When to Pay Executives and Management   Should investors pay their executives and management teams only after they have received a return on their investments? Or should executive compensation be based on employees performing their jobs to the best of their abilities, regardless of the outcomes — which are often determined by external economic forces beyond their control. Many startups now implement the former strategy, believing that benchmarks for returns on investments motivate executives and provide them with the extra incentive to do everything possible to create shareholder value. In fact, in a majority of cases, long-term incentive plans only pay out when investors receive a return. Alternately, some startups choose to compensate executives and management based on specific, mutually agreed upon corporate goals and objectives. Compensation can then be provided as cash or shares, though there may be restrictions on when those shares can be sold or vested or whether they come in the form of options or full-value shares. Startups are popping up all over the world, ushering in a new frontier of ideas and innovation, as well as investors and executives who will create the next generation of future unicorns. As new trends continue to emerge for how executives in these startups are compensated, global startups will need to review their options with scrutiny to attract the best executive talent while maximizing returns for investors. Sources: 1. "2018 MENA Venture Investment Summary." MAGNiTT, January 2019,https://magnitt.com/research/2018-mena-venture-investment-summary. 2. Maulia, Erwida. "Southeast Asian 'turtles' return home to hatch tech startups." Nikkei Asian Review, 22 May 2019,https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Cover-Story/Southeast-Asian-turtles-return-home-to-hatch-tech-startups.

Fiona Dunsire | 05 Sep 2019

The markets across Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia are some of the most exciting in the world, amid a backdrop of economic growth and changes in demographics, investment markets and regulations. Mercer's Growth Markets Asset Allocation Trends: Evolving Landscape report examined retirement plans in 14 of these markets, with a look at current investment positions and changes over the past five years. The study included retirement fund assets of almost $5 trillion across markets in the Southern and Eastern hemispheres. These areas offer exciting potential for asset owners, managers and investors, as almost 70% of global growth now comes from these economies, according to the World Bank. We are also seeing a rapid expansion of the middle class, creating different patterns of consumption and savings. In addition, half of the top 50 global institutional investors are located in these markets.1 The Global Investment Landscape Is Becoming More Robust   Because the economies of Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia are large and growing, with a rising share of wealth being held by individuals, they are of particular interest to investors around the world. These markets are also becoming increasingly open to foreign investors. At the same time, regulatory changes within these regions are allowing domestic investors to invest more broadly and outside their home markets. All these developments translate into a more open and robust investment landscape, with increasing opportunities for investors across the globe. The pension and savings systems in these regions are also undergoing reform, with the same trend toward increasing individual responsibility for retirement savings as seen in Western countries. Overall, we are seeing a shift to defined contribution (DC) plans at the expense of defined benefit (DB) plans across both corporate and government-sponsored schemes. These changes further emphasize the need to deliver effective investment solutions to meet future savings needs and ensure trust in the systems. 3 Ways Investors Are Responding   Investors and plan managers are responding to the changing environment in three key ways: 1.  More investors are putting money in equities. In the past five years, equity allocations rose approximately 8%, from 32% to 40%. For investors in many jurisdictions, the shift was intended to increase expected returns on the portfolio. Investors across the world face challenges amid an increasingly competitive investment landscape and a low return environment. Adding equities to the portfolio mix should offer greater return expectations over time. 2.  Market liberalization is enabling more diversified portfolios, through increased exposure to foreign assets at the expense of domestic assets. On average, foreign exposure in retirement plans increased from 45% of the overall equity portfolio to 49% in the past five years. Investors sought greater geographic diversification, especially in Colombia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Taiwan. In some countries, such as Brazil, Colombia, Peru and South Africa, recent changes in legislation now allow increased foreign asset exposure. In Japan, the Government Pension Investment Fund has seen a move to more foreign equities at the expense of domestic equities in recent years. The shift to foreign assets was also present in fixed income, with the proportion of foreign allocations rising from 16% to 23%, in part due to less attractive local interest rates, as well as a search for increased diversification. Significant home biases remain; however, we expect this trend to continue as regulatory changes support broader global investment. 3.  Investors are showing slightly more interest in alternative investments. More investors are including alternatives in their portfolios, and Mercer expects that trend to continue on an upward trajectory. Among those investors who provided details on their alternatives asset allocations, more than 70% of the average allocations went to property and infrastructure, and approximately 20% went to private equity. Changing regulations have made alternatives more attractive for investors in some areas. For instance, in Chile, a 2017 reform to the investment regime passed, allowing pension managers to invest in alternatives up to 10%, though specific limits vary by portfolio. The main objective of this enhancement is to boost returns and ultimately retirement incomes. As investors seek to diversify their portfolios and seek return enhancement, we expect alternatives exposure to continue to grow over time. We hope investors use our report's findings as an opportunity to review their own portfolio and determine where they can improve their asset allocation to achieve even better investment outcomes. To learn more, download the full report here. Sources: Top 1,000 Global Institutional Investors." Investment & Pensions Europe, 2016. https://www.ipe.com/Uploads/y/d/w/TOP-1000-Global.pdf

Katie Kuehner-Hebert | 22 Aug 2019

As companies continue to migrate to all things digital, this wave of transformation will inevitably wash over every area of work, digitizing everything from finance functions and tax compliance to data analytics and beyond. Approximately 73% of executives predict significant disruption within their industries in the next three years, according to Mercer's Global Talent Trends 2019 report. This number, up from 26% in 2018, is greatly due to digital transformation. More than half of executives also expect AI and automation to replace one in five of their organization's current jobs. While this might worry some organizations, these two earthquake changes stand to create 58 million net-new jobs by 2022. Business leaders responding to Mercer's annual survey have mixed opinions on the economic growth these technological advances will have across the globe. Digitization may promise increased opportunity, but it also bodes increased competition from a host of new — and possibly more nimble — players. Assessing the Economic Outlook Across the Globe   The turbulence within the global economic landscape is compounded by uncertainty over how trade tensions between the U.S. and China are resolved, according to the Mercer report Economic and Market Outlook 2019 and Beyond. The U.S. economy may slow somewhat due to higher interest rates, while the Chinese economy will remain dependent on how the trade tensions are resolved. Other emerging market economies should continue to grow at roughly the same pace, with the possibility of stronger growth when trade tensions ease. Mercer's Themes and Opportunities 2019 research report notes "mounting evidence of over extension of credit" is creating further white-water turbulence, with the uncertainty over how the central banks' retreat from market involvement after massive liquidity infusions will impact economies. The report also notes that there is a distinct possibility "the pace of globalization could slow, pause or even go into reverse" due to political influence, particularly on trade. In addition, there are increasing expectations from governments, regulators and beneficiaries to have asset owners and investment managers incorporate sustainability as a standard action. Digitally Transforming Tax Compliance   Companies navigating all these shifting sands will increasingly look to digitization to help manage and respond to both opportunities and obligations — including tax compliance across geographies. This is also a moving target, particularly in Asia, as some countries are now implementing digital technologies to improve their tax collection efforts. In 2015, the average tax-to-GDP ratio for 28 economies in the region was only 17.5%, which is just over half the average tax ratio of 34% among OECD economies. There has been a great deal of progress with the use of electronic filing of tax returns for major taxes in India, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Singapore and China. Moreover, mandatory electronic payments are now required by revenue bodies in the People's Republic of China, Indonesia, Mongolia and Vietnam.1 Digitization and increased tax regulation are also intended to vastly improve collection efforts, though much more push is needed. Governments are making great strides within their tax administration efforts with the aid of digitization — including sending eAssessments to businesses for taxes owed, based on electronic auditing systems.2 If the systems find discrepancies within sellers' monthly tax reports, it automatically issues an eAssessment that includes interest and penalties. Andy Hovancik, President and CEO at Sovos, puts it plainly: "Bottom line — tax enforcement is now embedded in the most important business processes, changing the world of tax and disrupting decades old business processes. As a result, tax is driving digital transformation in finance and accounting departments. Now more than ever, businesses need a new approach to tax automation to ensure compliance."2 Finance executives agree, including Michael Bernard, chief tax officer for transaction tax at Vertex Inc. He states, "Governments worldwide are turning to new forms of compliance, like e-invoicing regulations, which require IT departments to embed workflows in core processes, and real-time VAT compliance checks. In 2019, finance organizations will begin to factor tax considerations into their digital transformation strategies. An effective road map will include actions for using data to link business processes and tax compliance obligations."3 Guiding Business Strategy With Compliance   Digitization alone won't enable companies to better comply with new tax regulations — making compliance a central business strategy will. This includes implementing training sessions across the enterprise to help employees develop a state of mindfulness when it comes to compliance. But in this era of increased accountability, Leila Szwarc, global head of compliance and strategic regulatory services at TMFGroup, states that companies should re-imagine the notion of compliance as a "business enabler" that can distinguish it from competitors.4 According to Szwarc, "Compliance should be seen as a business enabler rather than as a drain on development, but this can only happen if businesses work in an integrated way to bring creative solutions to the related organizational challenges." She continues, "As APAC firms face up to a new regulatory era, compliance teams have a key role to play in both protecting their firms' interests and helping to drive long-term competitive advantage." With an uncertain market ahead and vast changes on the horizon, it's more important than ever to get ahead of the curve and think about how your business can not only survive the wave of digital transformation coming but also thrive with it. Start planning your business strategy, placing compliance and digitization at the heart, with these considerations in mind today, and you'll be better off tomorrow. Sources: 1.Suzuki, Yasushi; Highfield, Richard. "How digital technology can raise tax revenue in Asia-Pacific." Asian Development Blog, 13 Sept. 2018, https://blogs.adb.org/blog/how-digital-technology-can-raise-tax-revenue-asia-pacific./ 2.Hovancik, Andy. "How Modern Taxation is Driving Digital Transformation in Finance." Payments Journal, 16, Jul. 2018, https://www.paymentsjournal.com/how-modern-taxation-is-driving-digital-transformation-in-finance/. 3. Schliebs, Henner. "2019 CFO Priorities: Experts Predict Top Trends." Digitalist Magazine, 18 Dec. 2018, https://www.digitalistmag.com/finance/2018/12/18/2019-cfo-priorities-experts-predict-top-trends-06195293. 4.Szwarc, Leila. "Regulatory compliance – The new business enabler." Risk.net, 18 Mar. 2019, https://www.risk.net/regulation/6485861/regulatory-compliance-the-new-business-enabler.

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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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