Asia Must Navigate Pensions Crunch

4 April, 2019
"With Asia’s aging populations staying productive into their 70s and 80s, it is critical to improve the provision of adequate and sustainable retirement income."

Asian pension systems are facing major challenges. The region is experiencing seismic demographic changes, with rapidly aging populations and declining birthrates. But investment returns are relatively low due to geopolitical uncertainty and minimal interest rates.

With the region having relatively few robust retirement systems, many Asian countries will struggle to provide adequate pensions. Governments need to take positive action now to reduce financial pressures and avoid intergenerational conflicts between the young and old.

Life expectancy at birth in the region has increased by seven to 14 years in most countries during the last 40 years, according to the 2018 Melbourne Mercer Global Pension Index (MMGPI), which ranks pension systems round the world on adequacy, sustainability and integrity. This is an average of one additional year every four years. The increased life expectancy of a 65-year-old over the last 40 years has ranged from 1.7 years in Indonesia to 8.1 years in Singapore.

Much of the rest of the world is facing similar challenges relating to aging populations, and nations are pursuing similar policy reforms. These include raising pension ages, encouraging people to work longer, increasing the funding levels set aside for retirement and reducing the amount of money people can take out of their pension accounts before they reach retirement age.

The 2018 MMGPI findings pose the fundamental question: What reforms can Asian governments implement to improve the long-term outcomes of their retirement income systems?

The natural starting place to create a world-class pension system is ensuring the right balance between adequacy and sustainability. A system providing generous benefits in the short-term is unlikely to be sustainable, while a system that's sustainable over many years usually provides modest benefits.

Without changes to retirement ages and eligibility ages to access social security and private pensions, the pressure on retirement systems will increase, which could threaten the financial security provided to the elderly. Increased workforce participation by women and older workers can improve adequacy and sustainability.

Japan, China and South Korea rank near the bottom of the Mercer index. Their pension systems do not represent a sustainable model to support the retirement of current and future generations. If left unchanged, these countries will suffer social conflicts, since pension benefits will not be distributed equally between generations.

Japan, for instance, is taking baby steps to reform its pension system by gradually raising the mandatory retirement age of some 3.4 million civil servants to 65 from the current 60 years of age. Japanese retirees can now choose to start receiving their pensions at any point between the ages of 60 and 70, with greater monthly payments offered to those who start at age 65 or older.

Having the world's highest life expectancy and lowest birthrate, Japan's population is expected to shrink. This challenging situation is already contributing to skill shortages, which will further impact Japan's shrinking tax revenue base. The Japanese government could improve its pension system by encouraging higher levels of household savings and continuing to increase the level of state pension coverage, since 49 percent of the working age population is not covered by private pension plans. Introducing a requirement that part of the retirement benefit must be taken as an income stream and not a lump sum will improve the overall sustainability of the social security system — as would reducing government debt as a percentage of gross domestic product, as this improves the likelihood that the current level of pension payments can be maintained.

China faces different issues. China's unique pension system comprises various plans for urban and rural populations, as well as for rural migrants and public sector workers. The urban and rural systems have a pay-as-you-go basic pension consisting of a pooled account (from employer contributions or government expenditure) and funded individual accounts (from employee contributions). Supplementary plans are also provided by some employers, particularly in urban areas.

The Chinese pension system could be improved by increasing the use of workers' contributions to pensions to enhance the overall retirement protection of workers and increasing minimum support for the poorest retirees. A requirement that part of the supplementary retirement benefit must be taken as an income stream should be introduced, as well. More investment options should be offered to pension holders to permit a greater exposure to growth assets, while pension plans should improve their communications with members.

Hong Kong should consider introducing tax incentives to encourage voluntary member contributions, thus increasing retirement savings. Hong Kong should also require that part of the retirement benefit be taken as an income stream. Older workers should be retained in the labor market as life expectancies rise.

South Korea suffers from one of the weakest pension systems for the poor when expressed as a percentage of the average wage at just six percent. Its system would benefit by improving the level of support provided to the poorest pensioners, introducing a requirement that part of the retirement benefit from private pension arrangements be taken as an income stream and increasing the overall level of contributions.

Singapore's well-structured pension system is ranked top in the region and has seen improvements in sustainability. Its retirement system, the Central Provident Fund, provides flexibility to its members, who include all employed Singaporean residents and permanent residents. But more can be done. Barriers to establishing tax-approved group corporate retirement plans should be reduced, and the CPF should also be opened to temporary nonresident workers who comprise more than a third of the labor force. The age that CPF members can access their savings should be raised, as well.

Since pension systems are an intergenerational issue, they require a long-term perspective. Pension systems, which are one of the largest institutional investors in any market, should increasingly recognize the importance of acting as good stewards of the capital entrusted to them, including managing risks, such as climate change.

With Asia's aging populations staying productive well into their 70s and even 80s, it is critical to improve the provision of adequate and sustainable retirement income. Raising the retirement age, expanding the coverage of private pensions for workers and encouraging financial planning and early savings should be the focus of employers and policy makers.

Article originally published in Nikkei Asian Review.

More in Retire

Janet Li | 20 Dec 2018

Quality of life is a powerful force. When a generation of citizens experiences unprecedented economic opportunities and long-term financial well-being, there is a strong desire to maintain—or advance—those standards. In China, a surging middle class is determined to enjoy their comfortable lifestyles well into the future. In addition, a younger generation of tech-savvy and financially sophisticated Chinese employees is redefining the meaning of retirement for a population of 1.4 billion people.  Trust plays a key role. The Chinese strongly believe in the ability of external financial support sources—such as the government, pensions funds, employers, families, life insurance benefits, and financial advisors—to provide for them in retirement. Younger workers just entering the workforce are placing even greater faith in online tools and financial apps to manage their long-term finances. This trust, however, will be tested as China pivots to accommodate larger global economic forces and powerful cultural developments—such as societal aging—as detailed in the Melbourne Mercer Global Pension Index (MMGPI). The Challenges of Adjusting to Change   The MMGPI measures the retirement income systems for nations based on three key sub-indexes: Adequacy, Sustainability and Integrity. A comprehensive analysis of these data sets determines a nation’s overall index rating. For 2018, China received an overall score of 46.2. For perspective, the Netherlands and Denmark received the highest ratings—with scores of 80.3 and 80.2, respectively—and Argentina earned the lowest rating at 39.2. Japan (48.2), Korea (47.3) and India (44.6) all received similar scores to China. Unsurprisingly, these growth economies face domestic and policy challenges that are familiar to China—especially with regard to providing financial support to millions of aging people in an era of declining birthrates.   In 1970, the average life expectancy in China was 59 years; today it is 76.5 years. Aging Chinese workers are living longer and causing seismic changes throughout population demographics in China. Increasing life expectancies will test the nation’s pension resources and the financial power of China’s middle class to support the parents and grandparents who worked so hard before them. Currently, China’s retirement income system entails a rural system and an urban system that leverages a pay-as-you-go basic pension. Those pensions consist of pooled accounts (from employer contributions or fiscal expenditures) and funded individual accounts from employee contributions. In some urban areas, employers also provide supplementary benefit plans. These combined resources, however, are not keeping pace with the needs of China’s aging population.  Communicating a Diversity of Resources The MMGPI’s analysis of China’s retirement income system reveals that the most impactful path forward entails bolstering existing services, implementing proactive policies and educating employees about the various options and programs that best suit their individual needs. Specifically, the index findings recommend that Chinese policymakers: 1. Continue to increase the coverage of workers already in pension systems. Enhancing coverage allows for a more robust safety net for millions of retired workers, raising the Adequacy quotient. 2. Increase the minimum level of support for the poorest aging individuals. This demographic represents the most vulnerable and highest at-risk group in the aging population, and the one that benefits the most from additional support. 3. Require that part of the supplementary retirement benefit must be taken as an income stream. Installment payments or income annuity payments offer a fixed, effective means of paying the bills—especially when used as part of a diversified retirement income strategy. 4. Increase the age to qualify for a state pension over time. People are living longer, which naturally translates into working longer and retiring later in life. This is key to boosting Sustainability. 5. Allow more investment options to members, thereby offering greater exposure to growth assets. Diversification is the foundation of smart investing. Providing more investment opportunities leads to increased financial stability—especially for China’s middle class, which desires new ways to empower their assets. 6. Improve communications and better educate members regarding the details of pension plans. The accelerated emergence of new investing mechanisms, policies and digital technologies means individuals are often uninformed about the latest opportunities.     A Collaborative Quality of Life   Successful cultures strive to provide a dignified quality of life to every member of society. This requires the fair and disciplined acquisition and distribution of assets. In modern China, those assets are largely being created by younger workers, particularly in the growing middle class which has experienced a tremendous rise in wages and opportunities. As China’s middle class increases its appetite for new consumers goods, high-quality luxury products and improved standards of living, it must also come to terms with budgeting for the long term—both for themselves and their aging family members.   Nearly 43% of Chinese workers expect to be able to enjoy their desired quality of life after retiring by increasing their retirement fund contributions and working side jobs to supplement their savings. This demonstrates that significant segments of the Chinese population acknowledge the pension challenges ahead and are taking informed personal actions to mitigate potential future struggles. This engaged approach to personal financial well-being, supplemented by smart retirement income systems from employers and government organizations can empower Chinese workers—from GenY and Millennials to their aging parents and grandparents—with a synergy of resources that will make quality of life a standard part of getting old. To learn more about retirement income systems in China and the rest of the world, download the full Melbourne Mercer Global Pension Index  and visit Mercer China.

James Lawrence | 20 Dec 2018

There’s no denying it, in the same way fad diets work over the shorter term, simple investment strategies can also provide strong performance when everything works to their advantage. But, over the longer term, the result is likely to be the same for both our physical and financial health – a lack of fuel to power us through retirement. Ongoing investigations of the market for investment consultancy services by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in the UK reinforce this point of view. In a provisional decision report, the CMA stated that they "encourage policymakers to consider how best to address the lower level of engagement by Defined Contributions (DC) schemes in investment matters." But there’s a disconnect between this and the design of DC investment strategies. Changing Relationship Between Employer and Employee Rather than the short term objectives, which drive the focus on current thinking in DC pensions, there needs to be an increased focus on investments, with a long-term time horizon and a disciplined set of core principles. This criteria will provide members with the fuel they need for a financially healthy retirement. Below are three key reasons we believe many investment strategies are lacking the ‘nutrition’ they need for the longer term, and why this needs to change. Deficiency #1: Low Cost = Good Value There’s no doubt that the current regulatory environment has a strong focus on cost, from the charge cap to value for money assessments. Low cost is also a key driver when selecting a provider. But there’s a key difference between cost and value that’s being missed by the market. This race to the bottom is compromising member outcomes. Instead, the focus should switch to value – pushing hard on fees, but not compromising on selecting the best investments when they add value for members. An open architecture structure, with transparency on which funds can be used, can help to manage and improve this selection process. Deficiency #2: A Focus on Cost Means Lack of Diversification Diversification is said to be “the only free lunch in investments,” but we see a number of investment strategies in the market lacking the balanced nutrition to provide members with a healthy pot at retirement. Whilst we’ve had a market environment over the past 10 years that has broadly been favourable for simple, undiversified strategies, the future is uncertain, with political risk across the globe, uncertainty around the impact of climate change, and DC members who are struggling to save enough for retirement. There’s a misconception that focusing on cost means you have to invest only in the traditional asset classes – equities and bonds. Not only does this leave members exposed, it also isn’t true. There are a number of more innovative asset classes that tick the box of being both cost-effective and strong diversifiers – emerging markets, infrastructure and property (on a listed basis) to name a few. On top of this, we believe that set-and-forget long term allocations are leaving money on the table. When you have the right expertise and depth, using a dynamic asset allocation process, adjusting for short to medium term market views, can and does add value by positioning portfolios for all market conditions. Deficiency #3: Members Move Around – Why Should I Care? Members will be invested for upwards of 40 years, but on average members will spend 8.6 years at each employer1. So you can see why employers are reticent to spend time, and money, on designing their investment strategies. But if we all took that view, we’d be failing members. Over the next 20 years, average DC pot sizes are expected to increase by 91 percent2. In addition, assets under management in the DC workplace pension market are expected to increase to c. £1.7trn in 20302. Whilst many members may be relying on other sources of income currently, this isn’t going to be the case in the near future, and the shift from DB to DC pensions means more people will be increasingly reliant on their DC pot to fund their retirement. Most people realise the importance of healthy eating and a balanced diet on their long term health, but often we don’t think they give the same care to investing for retirement. There are a number of reasons and key drivers for this –but these will need to be overcome for us all to have healthy retirements. While investment strategies which fall victim to these deficiencies will falter, and fads will run out of steam, an investment solution based on solid, grounded principles will stand the test of time. Choosing a DC pensions solution that has this at its core is critical. All parties will have a role in this, from members to trustees, pension providers to regulators, and we all need to take action to make sure investments are given the focus they deserve. Download the Investment Nutrition: The Fuel For Retirement report to continue reading what we believe are the key reasons many investment strategies are lacking the nutrition they need for the longer term, and why it’s critical to implement change now.  You can also visit to learn more.   1 Oecd - 2 FCA - Retirement Outcomes Review.

Puneet Swani | 30 Oct 2018

Businesses operating in much of Asia face a serious aging population challenge that is distinct to the region. While as a whole, Asia Pacific is the fastest aging region globally, there are varying paces of population aging across member countries –with some economies expected to encounter the problem of an older workforce sooner than others. Businesses need to do better at assimilating older workers, especially in sectors like technology, where demographics are skewed towards a younger set of workers. Without the wisdom of older people, every new generation born into the world would have to start from scratch. Children would have to teach themselves to read, to tie their shoes, and open doors. There would be no rules to sports. Cars would turn to rust on cracked highways. Fortunately, older people—parents, teachers, and mentors—provide ensuing generations with the wisdom they need to live, navigate life’s challenges, and find meaning in the world. Older employees offer companies these same benefits, and much more. Though researchers have found that the biology of age tends to negatively affect episodic memory (remembering context) and processing speed (handling complex tasks), researchers have also found that increases in age are associated with better semantic memory (base knowledge) and language and speech skills (discourse). In fact, in general, researchers have found that while ‘fluid intelligence’ (new problem solving, pattern-finding) tends to be lacking in older workers, ‘crystallized intelligence’ (accessing skills from knowledge and experience) tends to be much higher in older workers.[1] Older workers have also been known to have better capacities for emotional regulation, meaning that in stressful or tense workplace situations they are more likely to act calmly and rationally (and therefore cost-effectively) when making difficult decisions. [2] The Power of Gratitude   Aging employees understand that life is temporary, and that good health and a rewarding job should never be taken for granted. Aging employees enjoy higher job satisfaction rates than younger employees. They tend to able to focus and are not consumed by outside distractions and influences. Younger employees, particularly when the economy is strong, often ponder better opportunities elsewhere—jobs with better salaries, better amenities, and better working conditions. Younger workers are more prone to leave jobs and often believe the best way to land a raise is to change companies rather than negotiate with their current manager. Today, it is common for younger employees to depart a job in less than two or three years and move on to the next one. This trend is extremely costly for employers. Older workers in a firm also provide the crucial potential for firm-building and knowledge consolidation. During a vast wave of retirement in the early 2000s as baby boomers left the workforce, many companies struggled with the knowledge gaps created in their absence. Preserving older workers’ intellectual capital is key for culture and knowledge preservation – a crucial attribute in an environment of constant disruption and evolution. Studies also show that older workers are better at nurturing and guiding younger workers, which helps improve business continuity and mitigate knowledge gap problems. We see clear evidence of this trend, especially in the Energy industry. In a recent recruitment campaign across Asia, featuring pictures of older workers using the latest technology, Saudi Aramco went on a hiring spree targeting retired drilling experts to join their newly acquired offshore refinery off the coast of Malaysia. Aging employees also know who they are and what they want from a job and their employers. They are better at negotiating a salary that makes them happy during the interview process, and more astute at knowing which opportunities best fit their skills and sensibilities. Older workers have grown beyond young-adult family and social obligations and offer employers a level of loyalty that can be difficult for younger workers to achieve as they juggle competing priorities. For employers, this sense of stability and happiness has an incredibly valuable impact on the workplace culture. It leads to reduced employee turnover and increased productivity and worker morale. Older employees are the perfect balance to younger employees who are still finding themselves, and where they belong, in the workforce. It is heartening to see an increase in the number of older workers active in the workforce, thanks to the increase in retirement age in many countries. The resulting multigenerational workforce will benefit employers and eventually the overall economic environment, with less dependence on social security. The Continuation of Values   Every successful company is built on particular values. Some companies prioritize VIP customer service, the power of new technology, or being environmentally conscious. Over time, we often find companies can lose sight of their mission and values and must revisit their past to find a new direction for the future. Take, for instance, Apple which, in 1997, was operating at a loss. The board decided it had no choice but to rehire co-founder Steve Jobs to kickstart the company toward financial recovery. (Microsoft and Windows 95 had taken over the market.) Steve Jobs’ passion for, and understanding of technological disruption, industry defiance, and sleek-beautiful products returned Apple to its former glory. It also introduced the world to a new succession of streamlined products that dominate our culture today. Aging employees provide companies with a continuity of values. The incessant pressure to innovate and compete often sends companies into misguided directions that can cost millions in wasted capital. Aging employees have had time to internalize the values of a company and can identify when outside pressures are tempting the company into products or behaviors that will ultimately undermine resources and brand equity. Consider this: of the companies that comprised the Fortune 500 in 1955, only 12% were still around in 2016. Sure, the march of time and technology changes the business landscape, but certainly, many of those companies became extinct because they lost sight of their North Star. Older workers, like older family members, can bridge the past and future. Diversity is the New Competitive Edge   As companies strive to outmaneuver the competition, they’re discovering the inherent power of a diverse workforce. Not even the latest technologies and business strategies can offer the sheer power of ideas generated by a diverse group of people trying to solve a problem. The more brains with different backgrounds and experiences that are sitting around the table, the greater the opportunity for unique, revolutionary ideas. And no workforce is truly diversified without aging employees. Accomplished business leaders have witnessed the magic that happens when employees from different cultures, races, genders, and ages work together to create something entirely unexpected – something that elevates a brand or company to the forefront of their industry. Aging employees are the cornerstone of a diverse workforce. Whenever a business encounters mistakes or troubled times—and they all do eventually—older workers are there to provide mentorship and perspective. A company’s workforce is a community, and that community needs the grounded insights of employees who have lived through bull markets, recessions, and every type of economic swing and industry shakeup. Also, aging employees simply know more about life than younger employees because they have more experience with it. Whenever a younger employee struggles to balance family and work or navigate other problems that impact the quality of their job performance, older employees are there to offer guidance. This provides a level of value to companies that may not appear in their annual budgets but nevertheless can determine if they succeed, or disappear from the Fortune 500 list.   1 Cognitive Predictor and Age-Based Adverse Impact Among Business Executives, Klein et al. 2015 2 Carstensen, Fung, & Charles, 2003; Charles, Piazza, Luong, & Almeida, 2009

More from Voice on Growth

Mustafa Faizani | 30 May 2019

There is no doubt that family businesses are prominent across the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) in various industries. From small to renowned multinational corporations, family owned and managed companies are the foundation of the modern country. Many of these businesses have been in existence for five decades and still exist today. As the first-generation of individuals begin to step down, we're seeing a shift to second and third generation ownership. It is estimated that, in the Middle East, approximately $1 trillion in assets will be transferred to the next generation of family owned companies over the next decade.1 The transition from the first to the second generation, and increasingly, the second to third generation, will have tremendous implications on the sustainability and growth of these companies. As a result, legacy and succession planning are becoming an increasing concern for the region, as many businesses stand in a position to pass the baton over to the next generation. While existing leaders prefer to keep the business within the family, there are many challenges that can arise if there is no preparation done well in advance of the transition. This lack of preparation is common, as it's easy for leaders to be so involved in the day-to-day running of the business that they lose sight of longer-term, more strategic priorities. The penalty for failing to tackle leadership or ownership changes can be significant. Lack of a clear, strategic succession plan can cause disruption, conflict and uncertainty within the business, making it vulnerable to an acquisition or takeover. The long-term survival of a business and the preservation of the wealth that has been built, will likely depend on getting ahead of those changes through legacy and succession planning. Have a Strong Internal Talent Strategy   Planning can have many benefits. The priority is to ensure leadership continuity, which is an important factor in keeping employees engaged and ensuring retention. It also allows time to hire internal candidates for key positions, therefore avoiding the cost of external searches. Internal candidates know the organization better and tend to have a better chance of success than external hires. Additionally, promoting internally helps retain good people, because they see opportunities for growth and will stay on to pursue them. A strong talent strategy can also fill leadership positions quickly, not only avoiding the potential cost of unfilled positions and errors from a lack of leadership, but helping to circumvent legal consequences from potential missteps. Evaluate Your Operating Structure and Execute in Phases   Leaders often first look at the current reporting structure and organizational chart to evaluate who the next leader(s) may be. However, it is also important to think of an organization's operating structure and how it may change over time. Leaders must consider how functional activities will evolve as the business grows, while also looking at the experience of the shareholders during this significant change. These factors need to be reviewed before selecting the people who will take over the function. As part of this process, it's critical that succession planning is done in phases. Firstly, it is important to identify the roles critical to the business and the pool of successors that best fit the organization's requirements. Ensuring the right assessments to determine readiness levels can solidify the next generation of company leadership. Multiple assessments methods are suitable, including looking at historical measures of performance, 360 leadership behaviors tests and predictive measures of potential. Involve Executive Leadership   Lastly, executive leadership involvement is essential in the succession planning process. The organization's top leaders should be fully on board with the plan to bring in the next generation and meet frequently to discuss strategic talent management issues. The ultimate results of a business succession plan depend on the adherence and commitment to it from the organization. It requires a high level of engagement and continuous efforts to keep the succession moving forward over time, despite inevitable interruptions of operational needs and unexpected changes. To learn more about succession planning for family businesses, visit us here. 1Augustine, Babu, "Middle East's Family Businesses Get Serious on Sustainability" Gulf News, November 7, 2015,

John Benfield | 16 May 2019

Times are changing. The world is moving toward an ethical, long-term sustainable way of investing. Forward-looking governments are increasingly emphasizing the role of financial markets in fostering sustainable development. Investor demand for responsible investment (RI) solutions has increased significantly, as observed by the growth of assets being allocated to RI-related investments. Combined with the shift toward low-cost equity index tracking, this has led to an increase in the number of RI indices that are now available. We expect RI indices to become an important first step in integrating environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) considerations for many investors with existing passive or factor-based investments. At Mercer, we define Responsible Investment as the integration of ESG factors into investment management processes and ownership practices in the belief that these factors can have a material impact on financial performance. Meanwhile, in the GCC region, with efforts to diversify the economy, governments are gaining awareness around the importance of responsible investing. The GCC makes up four of the six Sovereign Wealth Funds (SWF), which founded the One Planet SWF Working Group in December 2017 at the occasion of the "One Planet Summit" in Paris. Within the UAE itself, numerous initiatives — such as The Green Economy for Sustainable Development and Green Agenda — are propelling the country into the future of responsible investing. In keeping with the diversification strategy, these initiatives support Vision 2030 by aligning with the nation's economic growth ambitions and environmental sustainability goals. Abu Dhabi is contributing to the agenda in a major way through various developments, such as Masdar City — a multi-billion dollar green energy project.1 Meanwhile, Dubai set up an energy and environment park called Enpark — a Free Zone for clean energy and environmental technology companies.2 As the business case for responsible investing gets stronger in the GCC, there is a growing demand for incorporating ESG factors or sustainability themes into investment decisions and processes. Institutions are factoring the benefits of responsible investing, not only to their investments but also to their reputation and bottom line. Sustainable investing offers attractive opportunities to tap into the growth potential of companies providing solutions to various challenges of resource scarcity, demographic changes and changes in the evolving policy responses to a range of environmental and social issues. Studies and industry evidence have shown the benefits of integrating ESG factors on the company's long-term performance. For example, Deutsche Bank reviewed more than 100 academic studies in 2012 and concluded that companies with higher ESG ratings had a lower cost of capital in terms of debt and equity. Another study in 2015 by Hsu (Professor at the National Taichung University of Science and Technology, Taiwan) and Cheng (Professor at the National Chung Hsing University, Taiwan) found that socially responsible firms perform better in terms of credit ratings and have lower credit risk.3 With companies operating against the setting of public concerns around environmental and social issues, incorporating ESG considerations is now also considered best practice. Employees increasingly want to work for and invest in companies that make a positive environmental impact. Global initiatives and bodies, such as the CFA Institute, have highlighted the financial and reputational risks of not taking ESG considerations into account. While the GCC is beginning to understand the benefits of applying ESG, the region hasn't been too far from its concept. Sharia-compliant investing has been around for the last two decades. Both frameworks apply the negative screening approach and seek investments which provide a sustainable return. With the combination of ESG factors and Sharia screening, Islamic investors can improve investment performance while meeting social and environmental goals at the same time. As the UAE is now focusing on diversifying its investments, it can highly benefit from creating a responsible investing market and culture where strategy and processes go hand-in-hand as important steps for successful integration. When seeking sustainable growth, an additional layer of insight and oversight is extremely crucial to mitigate emerging risks, like climate change. To that end, implementing ESG assessments will help set clear KPIs and identify where and how projects generate value and mitigate risks associated with them. For example, Mercer applies an Investment Framework for Sustainable Growth with its clients, which distinguishes between the financial implications (risks) associated with environmental, social and corporate governance factors and the growth opportunities in industries most directly affected by sustainability issues. Measuring impact and mitigating risks has become increasingly important and represents a strong investment governance process. The benefits of adopting ESG are numerous. While the GCC has started with the implementation of ESG principles, more work still needs to be done in making sure governments are fully engaged with stakeholders, including investors, and strategies are aligned across the region. Regulatory pressures to meet global standards of ESG integration will only increase in the coming years. Instead of hiding from it, it is time for companies, investors and governments to come together and define a way of working that moves the GCC forward in terms of responsible investing and sustainable growth. 1Carvalho, Stanley, "Abu Dhabi To Invest $15 Billion in Green Energy," Reuters, January 21, 2008, 2Energy and Environment Park:Setup Your Company In Enpark, UAE Freezone Setup, 3Chen, Yu-Cheng and Hsu, Feng Jui, "Is a Firm's Financial Risk Associated With Corporate Social Responsibility?"Emerald City, 2015,

Danielle Guzman | 16 May 2019

Imagine you're tasked with creating a brand-new city from scratch. A broad, meandering river cuts through a level plateau of arable land, and you're responsible for whatever's to come. What do you do first? Lay out a street grid? Install emergency services? Block off land for preservation and development? Think wisely, because your next decision may determine the fate of your city's inhabitants for generations to come. At its core, this is the same decision that local leaders of the world's emerging megacities face today. They may not be starting from scratch, but tomorrow's megacities face a similar potential for dynamic growth and expansion as yesterday's frontier boom towns. What should be their number-one priority when focusing on future development? People. According to a recent report from Mercer titled, "People First: Driving Growth in Emerging Megacities," we must prioritize humans (not robots) for a competitive advantage. We must design technology with humans at the center. To quote Pearly Siffel, Strategy and Geographic Expansion Leader, International, at Mercer, "In the future, work will be less about 'using' technology and more about 'interacting' with technology." 1. Technology Is Fungible, People Are Not   The well-worn axiom that AI will transform the future of work is more true today than ever before, but it misrepresents how the future will be transformed. What may start as a race to adopt and leverage AI in the workplace will inevitably end in a saturation of technology: As soon as one firm unlocks the full potential of automation, it'll be a matter of time before their competitors replicate the model. Who wins in a world where AI is in every office? The organizations with the best talent. Consumer and workforce demands will inevitably adapt to an AI-empowered future, and the real differentiator will be the human skills, such as critical thinking, emotional intelligence and creative problem solving, paired with technology. A recent report by the World Economic Forum outlines the 10 skills humans will need to create value in an increasingly automated world, and it's a great reminder that peoplemust remain the focus if we're to build anything that works in the future of work.1 Tamara McCleary, Founder and CEO of Thulium, summarized this point well in a recent conversation we had: "If we are distracted by all that glitters with the promise of a frictionless future with AI, then we will surely miss the mark. While technology may be an economic accelerator in the future of work, people are still the core drivers of sustained productivity." 2. When AI Is Everywhere, People Will Still Go Somewhere   Everyone's familiar with the dystopic tomorrow-lands depicted in literature and film: techno-centric, automated megacities serviced by an army of robots where people are undervalued. This is not how I envision the future of work. The proliferation of AI may mean some jobs will be automated, but those displaced workers still represent remarkable potential to cities, employers and economies. McKinsey estimates that disruption from digital transformation, automation and AI will force approximately 14% of the global workforce — 375 million workers — to find new career directions.2 However, as the economy of the future becomes less murky and reskilling/upskilling becomes a staple of every career path, there will be a massive scramble to find talent to plug newly created roles in the workforce. This new economy is why people-skills will be so sought after in the future of work, according to April Rudin, CEO and Founder of The Rudin Group. "AI will be a tool to empowerhumans instead of replace them, enabling people to spend time on the things they do best: making relationships, exercising judgment, expressing empathy and using their problem-solving skills." Those cities that remain people-focused will be the ones with talent on-hand, and they'll be the ones to succeed. 3. A Clean Start Provides a Leg Up   Think about the investment that today's economic powerhouses have made in their broader commercial infrastructure. Think about public transportation systems, electrical and IT networking, private development and public zoning districts. Billions of pounds, dollars, yen, renminbi, rupees, euros and more spent on getting those cities ready for the economy of today. How will those investments pay off in the future of work? Today's emerging megacities are "unencumbered by the legacy systems of their larger and more established brethren," according to Mercer's People-First research. While it may require massive investment to install the building blocks of a future-focused economy, there's none of the wasted expense or necessary compromise that comes with retrofitting an outmoded city for the tech-enabled future. Those cities can focus time and resources on building attractive, people-centric cities where employees will want to live, work and raise families in the future. "It's hard to fathom the competitive advantage a modern, mass transportation system gives a city," says Walter Jennings, CEO of Asia Insights Circle. "When economic reforms started in China, Shenzhen was a fishing village of 50,000 people. Today, there are estimates of 12–16 million residents." What's Next?   Let's return to the city planner. You're overlooking your parcel of land, and you're trying to envision the ideal city of the future. We may not know the street names, but we have a better sense of the guiding principles for your soon-to-be booming metropolis. I leave you with my three takeaways, just one lens through which to explore the opportunities which lay ahead with people, technology and the emerging megacities that will power global growth. 1. Build your city (or company) around people. 2. Don't discard valuable assets. There will always be a place for good talent in good places. 3. Look for what will carry you into the future, not what's carried others in the past. 1Desjardins, Jeff, "The Skills Needed to Survive the Robot Invasion of the Workplace," Visual Capitalist, June 27, 2018, 2Illanes, Pablo, Lund, Susan, Mourshed, Mona, Rutherford, Scott and Tyreman, Magnus, "Retraining and Reskilling Workers in the Age of Automation," McKinsey Global Institute, January 2018,  

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