US investment group Fidelity is coming our way and bringing its defined contibution administration system with it. The Fidelity Participant Recordkeeping System (FPRS), which handles some 20% of the US 401(k) business, has been rebranded Global PRS for the excursion.

The system has been bedded successfully into the Canadian market, says Robert Flater, president of Fidelity Group Pensions In-ternational. He believes the exercise has been a good case study" for elsewhere.

On the face of it Canada with its close business and cultural links might not appear too different from the US, apart, that is, from the French language requirement. Says Flater: "But in any market, there are a number of features that cause you to say: 'You really need to have a separate administration system'." Fidelity reckons its is im-portant to have local people in their markets doing the servicing - ranging from plan design, technical knowledge, to working with both plan sponsors and ultimately with the plan participants. "Even something like an accent is important. So when an individual there calls our service centre they hear a Can-adian accent." It is all a matter of making the customer comfortable when dealing with the group.

The regulatory and other requirements for a system unique to the marketplace also lead to building a front end system tailored to that market. "And from a competitive point, our peers in the market have Canadian-designed and oriented systems. We need to match these in our capabilities," says Flater.

The Canadian system was port-ed from the US mainframe to a file server architecture. "Then we add-ed the functionality to service Can-adian plans," he says. Altogether it was a "significant investment" in-volving two years of development and testing. Now fully operational, it is running over 30 plans, some for a number of the country's larg-est employers. Flater says the front-end component and the database element will be moved from country to country. "We will devel-op the system's attributes based on the local requirements, but with the same look and feel and level of service." From time to time, he expects to use local accounting providers to supply some of the recordkeeping aspects, as the group did in the UK, with Fidelity overseeing the operations. This is because at the early stages of being in a market it gives the group time to assess what is needed to bring its own "accounting engine" into that market. In some countries, the group will be looking for partners to provide these services.

A group aim is that US multinational plan sponsors wherever they are operating "will feel that it is a similar quality set of services they are getting in terms of reporting, as well as plan design, as they are used to getting in the US". The reporting across the different markets will enable them to compare the attributes of performance of a plan in different countries. According to Flater, Fidelity has the technology to operate out of its data centres in the US and UK. Some countries may require that the ac-counting and other services be done in the local market. "Our tele-communications and our processing capabilities allow us to operate the systems basically in any systems environment." Fennell Betson"