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Retirement Benefits: Longing for Standardization

Over the years, employee benefits offerings have become much broader. Ideas seen in other markets (i.e. retirement planning) are sometimes copied and rolled out in another part of the world or even globally. Managers with reports in different countries look for internal equity and consistency in the package offered. They may expect that with ongoing globalization, more employee benefits — including retirement plans — will move toward a single global solution in terms of vendor and/or design.

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Managers may understand when the organization is forced by local law, collective labor agreements or even pressure from local unions to provide a certain pension scheme design in a country. The main difficulty lies in integrating the concept of “established practices” behind the different retirement plans across — and at times, within — countries.

In some instances, understanding how the provision of social statutory benefits vary by country represents a challenge as well.

Recalling the Obvious: Total Rewards
Packages are designed to attract, retain and engage resources, usually in the country where those resources are located. Retention of experienced individuals without retirement benefits is far from an easy task. Certain talent will reject an offer that does not include retirement benefits as commonly provided where they live and work.

Human resources business partners working with managers who are looking for a global plan can find help by using a comparison across countries illustrating the different company-sponsored retirement plans, including the varied social/statutory benefits and tax exemption limits.

Throughout the years, global employers may have spent time establishing broad policy specifications related to retirement benefits. These may include features such as:

  • The adoption or switch to defined contribution plans, wherever possible;
  • A list of preferred retirement vendors;
  • A minimum rate of contribution from the employer;
  • A matching contribution from the company provided that the employee pays into the scheme;
  • A minimum number of investment options to offer to a plan member;
  • The minimum vesting period of the contributions;
  • Facilitating additional voluntary payments into the plan; and/or
  • A cash solution in-lieu when the headcount is lower than a given threshold or when there are tax inefficiencies or restrictions (i.e., for high earners).

Efforts may have been made, but general standardization has not been reached yet as tax rules, social benefits and vendor offers are not globalized. In addition, existing global policies or specifications are more of a guideline than a mandate for local operations.

Employers who may have started down the road to standardization may have contracted the same vendor and/or established the same retirement design in small regions such as the Gulf countries, coping with the differences in statutory/social schemes, when any exist.

When the intention of an organization is to create space for a global retirement policy, a path to follow is to start streamlining and aligning vendors and design across countries and regions while accepting that certain elements retain a local touch for compliance or competitive purposes.

Vendors with a wide geography and global retirement consultants may help with the exercise which comprises inventory of the existing plans and their features as well as identify those regions of the world where some uniformity may be reached.

About the Author

Laura Manganotti is a senior reward business partner working for a multinational company in Paris.


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