Shifting sands of change for end-of-service benefits in the GCC
By Chris Cain, Client Services Director (Middle East), Equiom.
In February 2020, following 3 years of careful planning, the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) made amendments to its statutory End of Service Benefit (EOSB) regime for expatriate workers, requiring employers to make mandatory contributions into a Qualifying Savings Scheme in a Defined Contribution manner on an ongoing monthly basis. Any historic liability that employees had accrued prior to February 2020 was capped from this date and not required to be transferred over. Critically, due to the relatively low average employee numbers per employer within the DIFC, a default Qualifying Scheme was made available for employers to enrol their employees into, this was called the ‘DIFC Employee Workplace Savings Plan’ or ‘DEWS’ for short.
DEWS is a Master Trust arrangement with 3 separate organisations involved, each appointed following a competitive RFP process. They are; Equiom as the Master Trustee, Zurich as the Administrator and Mercer as the Investment Advisor. The majority (approx. 99%) of the 1,300+ employers in the DIFC elected to join DEWS from the outset and to date the plan has grown in line with forecasts and has been deemed a massive success with member engagement statistics well above industry averages.
Expansion of DEWS in 2022
In March 2022, his Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, and Chairman of The Executive Council, approved the launch of a new ‘Savings Scheme for Employees in the Government of Dubai’, which acts as an expanded DEWS scheme. The aim of the expansion is to attract and retain top talent in the UAE, by providing an integrated system that offers various savings opportunities for employees to secure their present circumstances, as well as their future savings. The scheme, conceptualised after the successful launch of the DEWS plan, initially targets expatriates in Dubai who work within a government entity, with the scope of expanding it further at a later stage.
Throughout June 2022, the 3 DEWS service providers along with the DIFC, held several virtual ‘town hall’ meetings with senior executives from government entities in the UAE to discuss the detailed implementation plan of a new ‘Savings Scheme for Employees in the Government of Dubai’. The new scheme covers expatriates on a mandatory basis and allows for voluntary enrolment from Emirati employees and came into full effect on 1 July 2022.
Some of the key highlights of the DEWS plan, including their design and capabilities include:
Protection and oversight
The DEWS plan is set up under a trust arrangement which means the investments are ring fenced and not held by individual employers, this in turn removes the liability from the employers’ balance sheet in favour of the employee. The DEWS plan is overseen by the trustee, who has a number of key roles to play; namely to act in the members’ best interests and ensure the plan is run in line with the agreed deed and rules. Furthermore, the plan is audited annually and, as an extra layer of oversight a Supervisory Board has been formed and meets on a quarterly basis to review the performance of DEWS and track any ongoing developments.
Enrolment and contributions
From 1 February 2020, employers had to make mandatory monthly contributions on behalf of their employees. The amount of the contributions they have to pay are based on a percentage of the members basic salary and dependent on the employment duration of the employee. For anyone within the first 5 years of employment the minimum contribution percentage is 5.83% (replacing the previous 21 days accrual as had been the case prior to 1 February 2020) and for those who had over 5 years of service, the minimum contribution percentage is 8.33% (replacing the previous 30 days accrual). A key benefit of DEWS is that employees are able to make voluntary contributions, as a deduction from their salary if they would like to further save and plan for their future.
Historic liability transfers
While DEWS covers the ongoing End of Service payments employers still have the responsibility of managing any accrued liability up to 1 February 2020. DEWS however provides the ability to transfer this ‘historic’ liability (i.e. pre-February 2020) into the plan either on a member consented or non-consented basis.
A really important element of the new arrangement was that it provided the ability for members to choose where their money would be invested. DEWS provides access to ten institutionally priced investment options including 5 ‘core’ risk rated funds and 3 Shariah compliant options. On joining the plan, members are automatically defaulted into the low/moderate investment and can easily switch between the available options at any time using their web portal or app. Up-to-date investment performance, fund fact sheets and an investment guide are readily available to members to help them understand the options available to them within DEWS.
When a member leaves their current employer, they will be contacted by the DEWS administrator to let them know their options and how they can access their DEWS money. If they do not wish to make an immediate withdrawal, they have the option to remain as a ‘deferred’ member, at that point they can no longer add any additional contributions, but they will continue to have the same investment range available at no additional cost. The withdrawal process is automated through the member portal and app and any voluntary contribution amounts can be withdrawn during employment, albeit with some restrictions on the amount and frequency that can be withdrawn.
Online administration and support
The DEWS experience, from enrolment to withdrawing and everything in between, is designed to be as automated as practically possible. Employers and employees have access to a personalised web portal and app, supported by a full suite of literature to help educate and support on the plan. A quarterly newsletter is sent to members to keep them updated on investment performance, developments and changes. Additionally, each year members receive an annual member statement detailing what has happened to their individual savings the previous year.
When DEWS was launched in February 2020, it was the first scheme of its kind in the region and reformed the end-of-service benefits regime for people working in DIFC. It has since gone from strength to strength, both in size and performance. Its expansion in 2022 is testament to its success and will further help to align the UAE with international retirement savings standards.
Equiom Group has been providing trust services for End of Service funding solutions and workplace savings plans in the Middle East for many years, and is proud to be the long-term trustee for the Emirates Airlines Group Provident Fund as well as the Master Trustee for the DEWS plan.
From our network of global offices, we are able to help facilitate a wide variety of packaged solutions including investment, platform hosting and trustee services. If you would like to discuss DEWS or how we can help you to set up an End of Service Savings Scheme for your organisation, contact Chris Cain.
For further information on Equiom, please visit equiomgroup.com
This article has been carefully prepared, but it has been written in general terms and should be seen as broad guidance only. The article cannot be relied upon to cover specific situations and you should not act, or refrain from acting, upon the information contained therein without obtaining specific professional advice. This is not a financial advice, and you should seek your own financial advisor. Please contact Equiom to discuss these matters in the context of your particular circumstance. Equiom Group, its partners, employees and agents do not accept or assume any liability or duty of care for any loss arising from any action taken or not taken by anyone in reliance on the information in this article or for any decision based on it.
Equiom Fiduciary Services (Middle East) Limited is regulated by the DFSA. Any information contained herein is intended only for Professional Clients or Market Counterparties as defined by the DFSA, and no other Person should act upon it. Equiom Fiduciary Services (Middle East) Limited only deals with Professional and Market Counterparty Clients and does not hold a Retail endorsement. However, all employers and employees participating in the DEWS plan will be treated as Retail Clients under the DFSA requirements. Any underlying investment options made available within an EOS arrangement could potentially carry investment and market risk, whereby the value of the underlying investments can go down as well as up. The underlying assets within some investment options may be illiquid and or subject to restrictions on their resale. Participants in any solution should undertake their own due diligence and where necessary seek independent professional advice on the available investment options.
For information on the regulatory status of our companies, please visit equiomgroup.com/regulatory
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