Future of Flexible Benefits in the Region

An Expert’s Perspective – Sandrine Bardot, Managing Director, The Bardot Group

For almost 20 years, Sandrine took on positions with increasing responsibilities in Compensation & Benefits in Microsoft, Airbus, Apple, Fiat and more, leading to global positions of Head of Performance and Reward at Majid Al Futtaim (Dubai) then Mubadala (Abu Dhabi). She now offers  specialised C&B training, consulting and keynote speaking services throughout the GCC and Asia.

1.Do you think that the region is now ready for Flexible Benefits?

I do believe in Flexible Benefits but I think that the region is not ready. First, I think that in a lot of companies what is considered to be benefits does not follow the correct definition. For example, housing allowance falls under compensation while providing accommodation is a benefit; this creates some ambiguity around the concept. Some companies say that they are offering Flexible Benefits by providing house allowance instead of accommodation, allowing people to use the cash based on their choice. Personally, I don’t consider this to be the right approach to Flexible Benefits. So this is ambiguous considering that the core benefits should include things like pension and healthcare.

2. Why the region is not yet prepared for Flexible Benefits?

Having Flexible Benefits can be critical for some multinationals that are based in countries where the state provision is relatively low and therefore have a multitude of private offerings. These organisations then apply the same Flexible Benefits strategies that are suitable for their specific countries on the global level, importing them to other regions. However, the same Flexible Benefits programmes that are so big in the US or in Europe become a lot less prevalent in the Middle East because they are so difficult to implement, not due to a lack of willingness but because of the environment. For example, pensions are mandatory for nationals in the GCC while the expats only get end of service benefit. There are very few companies that offer expatriates saving plans as a form of retirement funds. Meanwhile, the regional providers are not yet ready to offer these packages. Recently, a few insurance companies have been trying to provide products that cater for these needs but this is still at the initial stages.

Regarding healthcare, it is good to see that some organisations provide more than what is required but the reality is that outside of large corporations most companies provide minimum healthcare insurance. So how can Flexible Benefits programmes be successful in organisations that will only pay the minimum that is mandatory by law? I believe that the region needs to continue to grow and mature in its packages, approaches, and frameworks.

3. What do you think is the ideal compensation and benefit scheme that might be different from what is currently being implemented in the market?

Some of the benefits used to be provided for transportation or utilities allowance which was actually a reimbursement of DEWA invoices for example. All this now is often being given in cash, even the air ticket is given in the form of cash allowance rather than providing the ticket itself.

From this perspective, such perks are considered to be compensations rather than benefits, because if you don’t require an entry to justify how the money is spent then it is called compensation. I really believe in Flexible Benefits but I also believe that except in companies where Compensation & Benefit strategies are well established, true Flexible Benefits are not being practised here in the region.

4. Is this the case all over the GCC or just in the UAE? 

This is probably the case all over the region because of the existing framework of insurance and the transient nature of the population. Having expatriates settle down in the GCC is a relatively new trend so pension schemes were never really a priority. Also, implementing such new strategies take time. This can be challenging here because intrinsically we have the locals and the expatriates and there is more integration between them in terms of benefits, making it difficult to build the Flexible Benefits framework.

For example, we heard a lot about the pension schemes for expats that was supposed to be implemented by late 2012 but it is still in progress until now. Because Dubai’s vision aims to be the best in the world in everything, they will not launch something which is below average or incomplete.

Sandrine will be speaking at the 19th Compensation and Benefits Forum 2015, 7 – 11 June, 2015, The Address Hotel Dubai Mall, Dubai, UAE on Using data and analytics: How you can talk to your CFO like a CFO

For more information on the event, please visit

www.totalrewardsme.com

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