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Global Nomads' Retirement Puzzle

Sunday, September 16, 2012
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Some call them "global nomads." Others say they belong to an "international cadre." Either way, they are expatriate employees who spend a decent chunk of time (three to five years or longer) on multiple international assignments, typically moving from country to country in the process.

According a recent survey from Mercer, drivers such as developing global leadership talent and the growth of new business ventures abroad have fueled a rise in global mobility. At the same time, companies establishing retirement benefit plans for their longer-term, mobile global nomads, who may wish to retire outside the United States, face challenges to implementation while trying to keep those valuable employees happy.

Mercer's 2011-2012 Benefits Survey for Expatriates and Internationally Mobile Employees found the number of "global nomads" increased by two-thirds since 2008-2009.

While the number of employees on international assignments has remained relatively stable over recent years, says J.P. Provost, a senior partner in Mercer's international consulting business, the rising percentage of global nomads and long-term expatriates has meant the provision of expatriate benefits is a key priority for multinational companies; 85 percent of respondents have specific procedures in place to monitor the success of expatriate benefit programs.

"Employers are eager to ensure that their expatriate benefits programs not only support business and HR strategies, but also meet their assignees' needs," Provost says.

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Provost says, the most common approach is to maintain coverage in home-country plans, based on the assumption that assignees are more likely to retire in their home countries. Some 63 percent of traditional and long-term expatriates are maintained in their home-country retirement plans, according to the Mercer survey, which polled some 288 multinational companies.

Steve Kueffner, a partner in Towers Watson's Detroit office, says some -- but not all -- employers are moving to international pension plans when it comes to their "global cadre" of employees.

"The treatment would differ depending on how many such employees a company might have on assignment," he says.

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