Innovating mobility services in Asia Pacific

As mobility in Asia Pacific gains momentum, how can service providers help companies fully deliver on the opportunities this presents? Ruth Holmes asked experts for their views on how the region’s mobility agenda is developing.

Asia Pacific
Across Europe and North America, in particular, mobility’s increasingly strategic role in supporting the talent agenda is a dominant theme in the sector. Many companies and mobility service providers, such as those honoured in the recent Re:locate Awards, are embracing this strategy to great effect.Is this approach gaining ground, or even the way ahead, for Asia Pacific’s rapidly growing and frontier markets?

Linking talent and mobility – an Asia Pacific perspective

Asia Pacific’s well-documented skills gaps and China’s global ambitions are driving the region’s mobility boom, domestically, regionally and globally. Yet data suggests that the link between talent and mobility has not yet been widely made among the region’s organisations, meaning, perhaps, that mobility’s full value for businesses and assignees has yet to be fully realised.More than 85 per cent of non-Chinese-headquartered companies in China responding to Lexicon Relocation’s China Global Mobility 360 Survey regard the link as ‘somewhat’ important. For China-headquartered companies, the figure is around 75 per cent, with 23 per cent regarding it as of limited importance, which compares with 10 per cent for non-Chinese-headquartered companies.Asked whether HR, mobility and talent practitioners in the region are prepared for the scale of the challenges involved in managing large mobile populations and complex mobility programmes, Avrom Goldberg, senior vice-president, global solutions, at Lexicon Relocation, believes not quite yet.“That’s not because of capabilities, but I just don’t yet see evidence that links talent and mobility strategy enough,” explains Mr Goldberg. “Alignment, so far, is aspirational, and that is great. But in my view, the majority is a long way off anything like alignment and where organisations would like to see talent and mobility.”Whether this aspiration gap is an issue of the prevalence of joint ventures and consequently less control over mobility programmes managed from elsewhere, or talent mobility is developing a different, more local, agenda, there are opportunities for companies wanting to improve the alignment of talent and mobility.

A more strategic approach?

As mobility takes off from Asia Pacific to more diverse destinations, the issue for in-house practitioners, here as elsewhere, is likely to be one of developing specialist knowledge and managing workloads. This is alongside ensuring consistent policy implementation and procedures, and the often-elusive strategic alignment with talent.Global mobility firm Santa Fe’s study Responsible Global Mobility: Protecting Your Global Mobility Programme in a World of Heightened Risk – published in 2015 using data from the company’s 2015 Global Mobility Survey of 1,282 companies in 74 countries – shows that, for respondents, tax and immigration compliance, together with assignment administration, and compensation and benefits, take up most of their global mobility management teams’ time.However, when asked what these teams should be spending time on, respondents switched their focus to more strategic areas, including workforce planning and the evaluation of expatriate-versus-local hire options, alongside assignment management and compensation and benefits management.In a region regarded as among the most challenging, with its top destination, China, frequently identified as one of the hardest to relocate to and within, there are benefits to a more outsourced approach. Robert Wyatt, vice president of client services and administration at TheMIGroup, notes, “Mobility services providers are quickly becoming invaluable to in-house mobility experts to help manage these key issues. It is simply unrealistic to expect in-house personnel to be experts in all the varied and complex components of mobility, such as visas and immigration, tax, payroll, and so on, in all countries round the world.“In-house personnel and their corporations can be quite exposed to risk, especially if they are moving into a new region.”

Bringing partners on board

Despite the positive aspects of bringing in specialist providers as partners to global mobility programmes, data suggests a relatively low take-up of outsourced services in China-headquartered firms, a significant source of assignees in the region. However, this picture could be set to change, especially as mobility service providers develop their approach.“Corporations are starting to recognise the value of having a consultative versus a transactional mobility partner,” says Robert Wyatt. “This is particularly valuable in an era of cost containment and high competition for talent. Given the challenges associated with risk management and compliance, corporations are increasingly relying on industry experts to ensure their programme is compliant.”For Avrom Goldberg, the question in relation to China-headquartered companies is with whom these partnerships will be built. “I foresee the possibility of the emergence in China, as companies expand globally, that they adopt what I call the Japanese model.“Japanese businesses have been engaged in the global economy for five decades, yet Japanese companies try to preserve their culture as much as possible. This means, for example, having a clear preference for working with Japan nationals or Japanese service providers.“I foresee the same thing possibly happening with Chinese companies. They have a very strong culture and a determination to maintain that.”For Chinese companies, cost and cost containment are also important, which may lend itself to the new era of self-service moves into and out of China and the wider region, especially with growth in tech-enabled mobility products and services.As well as lump-sum packages becoming more common than standard expatriate packages, Robert Wyatt observes, “There is definitely a move towards a more self-service approach to assignment management, not only for assignees but for mobility managers, too. This trend will likely continue to increase as Millennials continue to move into more assignments.”

The future?

Exactly how the mobility agenda and the role of specialist providers in it develops in Asia Pacific remains open to question. But the next few years are set to be interesting times as the mobility sector strives to support business and assignee needs, and maximise the opportunities for all.

APAC global mobility magazine
Read more about the Asia-Pacific region in our APAC Summer 2016 digital magazine.
 
For more Relocate Global news and features about the Asia Pacific region, see our Asia and China sections.