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Key Takeaways From Mercer's Growth Markets Asset Allocation Trends: Evolving Landscape 2019

5 September, 2019
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"More investors are including alternatives in their portfolios, and Mercer expects that trend to continue on an upward trajectory."

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

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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.

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.

Editorial Staff | 19 Aug 2019

Learn about the latest employee financial wellness trends emerging in 2019. Employees and employers alike can agree on at least one value: financial security. Finances can affect every function of a company and, for the individual, their personal life. When employees face a difficult financial situation, it can impede on job satisfaction, attitude and performance. Financially stressed workers miss more work and incur higher healthcare costs than their peers. These factors inevitably take a toll on a company’s employee engagement levelsand eventually the bottom line—especially if financial hardship impacts multiple employees. At the same time, HR professionals know that people don’t just work for the paycheck and that increasing salary alone won’t necessarily boost job satisfaction. Workers also strive for positive company culture, flexible scheduling, recognition, L&D opportunities, retirement plans, and other benefits. Naturally, apart from the salary figure, employees want to work for a company that values them and offers a bright future. As global unemployment reaches its lowest point in 40 years and we enter an employment economy, employers are facing an increasingly competitive hiring landscape where the benefits package is an increasingly important tool for attracting and retaining top talent. One benefit that continues to gain traction is a structured financial wellness program. With financial wellness solutions, employees receive financial education through courses on goal planning, basic financial literacy, budgeting, debt management and alleviating financial stress. The aim of a financial wellness program is to guide employees towards actions that help them reach goals for every stage of their financial lives, such as saving for a house, a car, college, or retirement. Mercer’s Healthy Wealthy and Work-wise report found employees (as well as employers) report higher satisfaction with their benefit plans when financial wellness is offered. Furthermore, companies report up to a 3-to-1 return on their financial wellness investment. Employees are worried about their finances   For many employees, money is the number one source of stress. Mercer’s Inside Employees Minds report asked 3,000 workers questions about the extent to which financial stress affected their work, finding that 62% of those who are financially challenged identify being able to pay monthly expenses as their biggest financial concern—even among people with an annual household income of $100,000 or more. Financial stress varies among demographics. Young adults are burdened with high levels of debt, especially with educated-related expenses for university. Families can struggle to meet financial goals due to cash flow issues or unexpected expenses. Even older adults often carry financial stress from caring for aging parents or children who have moved back home. Single parents have their own set of financial stressors. Therefore, when designing a financial wellness program, it is important to consider the entire scope of your workforce and the various financial lives they may lead. Financial wellness trends to have on your radar   For all the struggles brought on by financial hardship, there is hope that financial wellness programs can remedy the situation to the benefit of both employees and employers. A Gallup poll found financial wellness is closely linked with positive behavioral changes and stronger relationships, regardless of income levels. By implementing financial wellness programs, employers also enjoy the benefit of having a happier, healthier and more productive workforce. A joint study from Morgan Stanley and the Financial Health Network found that 75% of employees said a financial wellness program is an important benefit and 60% said they would be more inclined to stay at a company that offered financial wellness solutions. While employers are recognizing the importance of combating financial stress among employees, it appears they may need to improve these efforts to help employees. Cigna’s global well-being survey of employees in Asia Pacific, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and North America found that 87% of employees are stressed at work—with personal finances being the top stressor—and 38% claim no stress management support is provided at all. While 46% of employees report they receive support from their employer, only 28% feel this support is adequate. It’s time to raise the bar on financial wellness benefits. Here are some emerging trends and strategies companies are considering so they can maximize employee financial wellness solutions and stand out in the marketplace. 1.  Users are demanding technology-driven solutions for personalization. For financial planning solutions, users want a modern, simple interface that offers a comprehensive view of their financial situation and outlines a guided, personalized path to reaching their financial goals and staying accountable. According to a recent Forrester study, customers of wealth management firms are demanding more functionality and digitalization with financial planning solutions. This demand is making features like account aggregation, personalized content delivery and accountability triggers standard elements for a successful financial wellness program. “Help me help myself” tools are being personalized for the user with finance snapshots, budget planners and loan repayment calculators. Notably, a study from Morgan Stanley and the Financial Health Network found that 42% of employees said they feel inadequately informed about the benefits and programs their employer offers. Of the employees who do not use all of the benefits, many said they would be more apt to use them if they were explained more clearly and made easier to access. According to Thompsons Online Benefits Watch, 70% of employees want mobile access to their benefits packages but only 51% of employers are offering it. These gaps mean there is an opportunity for companies to elevate their financial wellness programs and make them more usable and appealing to employees. Employers should consider informing employees about benefits through live webinars, social media or SMS alerts. The program should also be fully accessible by mobile and offer online tools that personalize the user experience. 2.  Data analytics & digital technology are personalizing financial wellness programs. Data analytics is shaping financial wellness programs to provide the level of personalization employees have come to expect in the digital age. These data analytics can help differentiate between types and categories of employees, allowing programs to be personalized for live events and stages. Just as online stores use aggregated consumer preference and demographic data to make recommendations and suggestions, financial wellness platforms are beginning to employ data analytics and algorithms to determine whether an employee is making progress or might need some extra assistance to stay on track. Some programs employ data analytics to frame an employees’ savings and spending habits and compare them to their peers. These programs can also analyze behaviors and provide scores to help employees see if they are improving on their savings or debt managements. Some programs can also offer employers the ability to create targeted marketing campaigns that focus on personal milestones for employees, such as buying a new car or getting married. These milestones can be used to inspire specific savings behaviors and spending habits, which might mean recommending homeowners insurance or opening an education savings account. Data analytics can also be used to build each employee a profile, which can then be supported by customized self-service tools to help employees get answers to specific questions and better plan for possible life changes. For example, with their profile input and all their financial information accounted for, employees can determine just how much additional life insurance they might need to purchase if they have a child. Without data analytics, the manual process of calculating this figure would be tedious, time consuming and require a potentially costly meeting with a financial advisor. On the employer side, data can be collected to determine how well the financial wellness program is performing. This data can help drive the program to offer new components and functions in ways that better meet the needs of employees. 3.  Employees want actual help not hype. As financial wellness programs continue to shape the benefits ecosystem, more employees are expecting that their employers will care about their financial security beyond just signing their paycheck. According to Thompsons Online Benefits Watch, 79% of employees trust their employers to deliver sound advice on planning, saving and investing. Employers are expected to deliver real, actionable ways to help employees improve upon their financial situation. A study from Merrill Lynch found a sharp disconnect in what employees want to have and what employers are offering in financial wellness programs. For example, employees generally want to work on meeting end goals, and they’d prefer to focus on one goal at a time. But employers are taking a heavy approach, emphasizing a comprehensive approach to controlling overall finances. While the comprehensive strategy of employers is certainly well-intentioned, it has a tendency to overwhelm users. Financial planning can be intimidating, especially for those in stressful situations. To counter this, companies in the wellness space are designing programs from the employee perspective to offer a holistic approach. Holistic programs, which integrate financial health with mental and physical health, can help employees open their financial “junk drawer” and make connections between the various elements of financial health and life—from saving for a wedding, buying a home, managing loan debt, etc. Well-designed programs will demystify the topic of financial wellness rather than scare employees away with an onslaught of complex information and suggestions for services and financial products they don’t understand. 4.  Building the business case for financial wellness programs: engagement, productivity & success. Whether management wants to admit it or not, employees are bringing financial stress to work and it’s impacting the company’s bottom line. In a survey from the Society for Human Resource Management, 83% of respondents reported that personal financial challenges had at least some effect on their overall performance at work in the past year. This disengagement means big losses for businesses. Workforce stress is potentially costing companies more than $5 million a year.  Because of the business losses incurred, supporting employees’ financial wellness is becoming a major priority for organizations and the trend is catching on. Research from GuideSpark found that financial wellness is the third most important type of wellness program to employees, at 82%, behind stress management (86%) and physical fitness (85%). The results of employee wellness programs are promising. According to Employee Benefit News, participants in financial wellness programs demonstrate progress in their finances. The percentage of participants feeling “highly stressed” about personal finances fell from 52.4% to 19.2% after the completion of a financial wellness program. Similarly, 56% of participants said they believe they’re in a better position to manage their monthly cash flow after the completion of a financial wellness program. 5.  An increased focus on student loan repayment & affordable education. In the HR industry, employee development has become an impetus for employee engagement. But the truth is that for many employees, their past continues to weigh them down. Higher education costs are contributing to unprecedented student loan debt challenges in both developed and developing countries. As university tuition costs continue to rise, student loan debts have reached concerning record levels for graduates. The World Bank reports that developing countries face greater higher-education challenges than developed countries. Enormous debt and high tuition costs are setting back many employees before they have the chance to get ahead, which is widening the talent gap and thinning talent pools for companies. Amid rising tuition and mounting debt, HR professionals owe it to companies and employees to offer solutions to the challenges they both face. This can be done through loan repayment education that helps employees strategize to pay off loans as quickly as possible. Taking it a step further, some HR departments may be able to convince companies to offer loan repayment and tuition reimbursement programs. When employees are worried about finances, they may have to switch jobs and find an employer willing to give them the tools and monetary compensation they need. Offering loan repayment advice or support offers employees a solution to a personal problem they face. They will likely become more invested in the company, which can translate to boosted morale and productivity across the company’s workforce. Tuition reimbursement and the encouragement of further education can also go a long way in helping companies thrive in the digital transformation and foster a culture of lifelong learning. Amid digitalization, the workforce is shifting from fixed job titles and detailed job descriptions to ever-revolving roles. At the current pace of technology growth, chances are that many of today’s prized technical skills will be obsolete within a few short years. As the skill gap grows, companies won’t have the luxury of easily recruiting new hires. They will instead need to focus on upskilling and recruiting lifelong learners who have a passion for integrating new technology into business operations. Offering tuition reimbursement or education planning advice will help attract and develop a talented workforce for the digital age. People around the world are experiencing record amounts of stress, according to Gallup’s Annual Global Emotions Report, and finances are certainly among the greatest stressors. As the stress escalates, more companies will find their employees’ personal bottom lines eroding the company’s bottom line. Without intervention, employees’ financial stress will rise, and companies will suffer drops in productivity, increased absenteeism, and low engagement levels. When implemented properly, financial wellness solutions can be a rising tide that lifts all boats—benefiting both employees and the company. The HR department is in a unique position to make this connection, sending the message that employees and companies are in this together.

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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.

Alice Harkness | 31 Oct 2019

Benefits have traditionally been provided on a "one-size-fits-all" model, meaning some employees gain greater value than others. Today, employees increasingly expect more personalized benefits that allow them to flex and utilize benefits depending on their particular needs and life stage. This allows employees to feel they are being treated equally, independent of circumstances (i.e., single or married). It's time to break the mold with a "non-traditional" approach that may include well-being incentives, opt-in/out insurance coverage and a design that allows individuals to claim parents' expenses or pet care expenses. Forward-thinking companies are on this journey already, but many aren't, as HR departments overestimate employee's satisfaction with the status quo. Why? They're afraid to ask. The risk of not asking can result in investing valuable budget on unused or underutilized benefits. Get to Know Your Employees Better   Don't be afraid to ask the tough questions. Gather feedback through engagement "spot" surveys or focus groups on what employees like and dislike in current offerings or what else would be beneficial. While it may be impossible to implement everything, it's a great opportunity to engage. Employees may not know what they need. Use data analytics to better understand what types of benefits (especially health) are being used the most and what's essential. Are people reporting that they want more well-being incentives, yet no one is taking advantage of your discounted gym membership offering? By combining qualitative and quantitative data, you can identify gaps. Sometimes, that gap is not on the offer itself but rather the communication around it. Communication Is Key   We often hear from HR, "Our employees have good knowledge of their benefits; we communicate them every year." This is not enough. Effective communication is key. Employees are time-poor with little patience for reviewing the fine print of policies. Why not get feedback on their preferred channels of communication? Find simple ways to communicate regularly, focusing on different benefit offerings. This can include infographics, interactive landing pages, videos or simply shorter, bite-sized information. Don't forget to tell employees why certain benefits are important — they don't always know! Flexible Doesn't Always Equate to $$$   Providing personalized benefits can be costly, but it doesn't have to be. It's about taking your current budget and creatively investing in employees in a way that resonates. Another benefit is confidence in knowing your investment is being used. Companies who invest the time in designing benefits that resonate with employees — throwing out the traditional approach by embracing new ways of more personalized thinking — will see a greater return on investment and a happier, more engaged workforce.

Wejdan Alosaimi | 17 Oct 2019

For many decades, Saudi Arabia — as a nation, culture and economic force — has been inextricably tied to oil exports and the energy industry. However, a bold new vision, named Saudi Vision 2030, aims to wean the country off its dependencies on fossil fuels through the creation of sweeping new reforms and policies. This vision looks to modernize Saudi Arabia, both as a domestic society and a global financial powerhouse. The Power of Embracing Change   In 2016, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud led the unveiling of the Saudi Vision 2030 initiative, which detailed the nation's unprecedented and extraordinary commitment to emerge as a leader in a rapidly evolving world. As oil prices continue to react to new economic realities and regional political forces shape the roles and objectives of nations throughout the Middle East, Saudi Arabia's decision to proactively embrace change could have extraordinary foreign and domestic ramifications. With a population of more than 33.4 million people and a median age of 25, Saudi Arabia faces a future filled with significant challenges and opportunities.1 Saudi Vision 2030 is a road map for how the nation will empower its millions of young citizens to work and thrive in a globalized world that increasingly views petroleum as an outdated and harmful source of energy. A shift in long-established revenue resources and economic paradigms requires a fundamental shift in local workforce skill sets and proficiencies with modern technologies. As other nations are slow to adjust to climate change and other geo-economic shifts, Saudi Arabia is poised to exemplify to the rest of the world how governments can leverage policy reform to enhance the lives of people both inside and outside the country's borders.2 Accommodating a Complex Global Economy   Saudi Vision 2030 will have a profound impact on rapidly growing economies, such as India, that seek to leverage digital transformation while implementing innovative domestic and workforce policies. In fact, the fate of Saudi Arabia and India are becoming increasingly intertwined, as India — unlike many western economies — requires more oil to empower its robust economic rise. Industrialized markets, in areas such as Europe and the United States, are seeking greener alternatives and more electric vehicles for transportation demands, but India remains heavily dependent on fossil fuels. By 2040, India will need to process up to 10 million barrels of crude oil every day to support its expanding economy and progressively urbanized populations.3 Saudi Arabia, a nation that already has a few notable government policies elevating the standard of living for its citizens (such as offering free college education to all citizens), is further internationalizing its economy by prioritizing privatization. The 2030 plan encourages financial institutions to promote private sector growth, marking a significant development in how the country is aligning its domestic workforces to compete in a globalized economy. The focus on increasing privatization and other non-oil industries — such as construction, finance, healthcare, retail and religious tourism — will create new opportunities for Saudi businesses and entrepreneurs.4 Creating a Future Through Indigenous Resources   Saudi Vision 2030 addresses many of the local, cultural challenges facing the nation, such as the role of women in the workforce and society, the impact of digital transformation and automation, and the need to modernize the sensibilities of Saudi businesses. Allowing women to drive and granting them greater access to economic prosperity — with the goal of increasing women's participation in the workforce from 22% to 30% — has generated positive responses with global investors. The 2030 plan also prioritizes domestic issues and the overall health of its citizens, with the stated objective of raising the average life expectancy from 74 to 80 years and aggressively promoting daily exercise and healthier lifestyles for all Saudi citizens.5 The Saudi government also seeks to bring its society into the digital age by implementing more e-government services that will connect citizens to resources through smartphones, data-centric operations and other technologies. This push will also drive human capital out of government jobs and into the private sector. According to the Mercer Global Talent Trends 2019 report, companies in countries such as India, Brazil, and Japan will experience a 70% increase in automation, boosting their need — like Saudi Arabia — to find new roles and professional development opportunities for workers. The 2030 plan offers an ambitious vision for the nation's indigenous resources. Empowering women and integrating modern technologies throughout its economy and government are just part of this comprehensive strategy. By inviting the global economy to invest in its progressive financial mechanisms and bolster tourism through campaigns highlighting the nation's history, Saudi Arabia is poised to lead its people, and the world, into a future forever defined by a new, modern view of the future. Will it work? The world will know in 2030. Sources: 1. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. "Saudi Census: The Total Population." General Authority for Statistics, Accessed 11 July 2019,https://www.stats.gov.sa/en/node. 2. Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud. "Vision 2030." Vision 2030, 9 May. 2019, https://vision2030.gov.sa/en. 3. Critchlow, Andrew. "India is too important for oil titan Saudi to ignore." S&P Global Platts, 6 Mar. 2019, https://blogs.platts.com/2019/03/06/india-important-oil-saudi/. 4. Nuruzzaman, Mohammed. "Saudi Arabia's 'Vision 2030': Will It Save Or Sink the Middle East?" E-International Relations, 10 Jul. 2018, https://www.e-ir.info/2018/07/10/saudi-arabias-vision-2030-will-it-save-or-sink-the-middle-east/. 5. "Saudi Arabia Vision — Goals and Objectives." GO-Gulf, 14 Jul. 2016,https://www.go-gulf.com/blog/saudi-arabia-vision-2030/.

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