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Need for change and innovation in GCC’s ‘End-Of-Service Benefits’ system, reveals new Insight Discovery leadership roundtable report

United Arab Emirates: Monday, July 02 - 2012 @ 11:37

While examining employers’ EOSB obligations, payments and balance sheet provisions, the report titled, ‘Beyond the End of Service Benefit’, outlines the issues faced by many GCC companies. In spite of legal provisions, the present EOSB system faces numerous challenges including the effective safeguarding of employee interests. The report also discusses the evolution of the present system, its’ possible replacement and subsequent implications for the financial services industry.

Commenting on the latest roundtable report, Nigel Sillitoe, CEO of Insight Discovery, said, “Most expatriate employees in the GCC receive a one-off lump sum payment in the form of ‘End Of Service Benefit’ or Gratuity as opposed to the occupational pension schemes of many other countries. Leading financial, consulting and legal experts have raised concerns about this present system, its issues and challenges for both employers and employees. Understanding the issues that surround the EOSB system and its future evolution is of vast importance to all employers in the region. It is indeed a very topical subject as it affects the majority of expatriates and the implications of changing this system are considerable.”

Sillitoe added, “However, we do observe an increasing momentum for desired change as some companies adopt innovative schemes to attract and retain key talent along with maintaining healthy balance sheets. While some GCC governments are looking into the problems of the present system, we think that the most likely and innovative solutions will be developed by the private sector. If any regulatory framework is drawn, it will present itself with tremendous opportunities for fund managers, pension solution providers, life insurance companies and independent financial advisors.”

Acknowledging the End Of Service Benefit (EOSB) system as a key issue affecting employers and employees in the GCC region, Insight Discovery organised a consultative roundtable in partnership with Falcon Private Bank and Royal Bank of Canada during June 2012. Other roundtable participants included Clyde & Co, Emirates, Mercer Consulting and SEI. The key protagonists at the roundtable identified the important issues on which this strategic report is based upon.

Key highlights of the roundtable report:

• Balance sheets could be adversely affected if large EOSB payments are not allocated and planned properly, particularly in situations such as high numbers of employees departing at the same time;

• EOSB payments and allocations are seen to be used by many companies for other business purposes, and not to safeguard the employees legal entitlement;

• Unlike other markets where there is a huge move towards defined contribution schemes, the situation in the GCC is not underfunding – it’s rather non-funding;

• In spite of EOSB being legally binding, increasingly the number of issues and problems are rising and more legal cases are seen to be filed;

• Awareness and education is seen to be a key aspect, both for employers and employees about the EOSB system and its inescapable legal liability;

• The EOSB system may be looked upon by some as the GCC version of pension schemes in other countries, but it lacks the sophistication and transparency of provident and pension programmes of other countries, and more needs to be done in this context;

• If the EOSB system is restructured innovatively, it could result in more employer sponsored schemes offering greater benefits through economies of scale and could serve as a low-cost vehicle for employee savings and investment.

Simon Stirzaker, Senior Manager – Development & Strategy, Royal Bank of Canada, said, “It has been estimated that the combined EOSB liability of employers in the UAE alone exceeds $4bn. This combined EOSB liability is growing exponentially and critically needs to be managed accordingly. There are numerous issues with the present EOSB system which needs to be proactively addressed by regulatory bodies and employers. Companies will be ahead of the curve and stand to benefit in the long term if they infuse innovative structures within the framework of the current legislation as overhauling the entire system may take some time.”

Damian Hitchen, Director of Falcon Private Bank, said, “An important aspect of GCC countries’ continued growth is the need for expatriate labour. However, each country competes to employ and retain a labour force which is increasingly demanding greater employee rights and benefits offered by competing jurisdictions for their talent. There is already a growing debate amongst stakeholders and this issue will become increasingly critical as GCC markets become more sophisticated and integrate closely with the global economy. There are interesting cases of GCC companies adopting creative ways within the current system for the greater benefit of both employers and employees. Provident scheme allows employees to save their money alongside the sums that are being contributed by the company on a very cost-effective basis, providing a vehicle for its staff to save toward retirement which are common place in developed markets. With the average overseas stay for expatriates increasing we see the demand for such schemes from employees increasing going forward.”

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Monday, July 2- 2012 @ 11:37 UAE local time (GMT+4) Replication or redistribution in whole or in part is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Mediaquest FZ LLC.

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