The recognition that 'one size does not fit all' is a guiding principle behind employee benefit provision at Mobil, the US multinational oil and chemicals company, according to Kelvin Young, compensation and benefits adviser for Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
This means that although Mobil operates worldwide, its pension programmes are very much geared to the local situation, as Young comments: We take into account legislation, the tax environment and the practices of other large companies operating in the country. In doing this we recognise that different approaches suit different countries."
For this reason Mobil has no single corporate model on pensions, preferring to adapt to the local en-vironment. An example of this is the corporation's approach to funding.
In Germany most pensions are book reserved and therefore this is the system Mobil has adopted, as it fits with the local benefits culture.
In the UK, on the other hand, Mobil has a funded plan to suit the local environment there.
On the question of DB versus DC provision, Mobil's policy recognis-es that DC will not work in all countries, stressing that at the very least a sophisticated financial system is a pre-requisite for any DC move.
Countries where Mobil has made the move include France, Spain, Denmark and South Africa, with issues such as the tax situation, competitive practice and business drivers, prompting the switch.
Such a change can also involve a major change in thinking regarding vesting which, in many countries, only occurs at retirement. In Young's assessment, we are likely to see more and more DC schemes because of its predict-ability for companies and the way vesting fits in with modern employment patterns. "But it must make business sense," he emphasises.
Mobil's recent joint venture in Europe with BP certainly tested its approach to pensions. The venture involved BP taking over fuels marketing and Mobil heading the 'lubes' operation, a situation which entailed the transferral of some 3,500 employees between the two companies.
"We established some ground rules firstly, to ensure we were particularly conscious of the importance of pensions on employee morale, one principle being that past service benefits already accrued should be protected," Young says. "Then, when it came to future service, we looked at what made sense on a country-to-country basis," he adds.
The resulting programmes, Young feels, both support the businesses and are consistent with company philosophy.
A key part of Mobil's approach is the constant monitoring of development in each country of the local pension system and other companies' responses to any change.
This provides a framework for Mobil to develop its strategy in each country, and may determine whether a move to DC is appropriate, or if improvements in existing provisions are called for.
It may also entail a shift from integration with state benefits schemes. Above all though, in considering any changes, Mobil will always relate back to the business needs, as its benefits programmes must support its business drives.
Commenting on the arrival of the euro, Young says that Mobil is already giving serious consideration to its implications: "Pan-European pensions may have seemed a long way off a year ago, but you have to think the euro will have a serious impact at some stage."
He feels, however, that while individual countries maintain distinctive social security systems, change will be slow.
In the future, Young expects pensions to continue to increase in importance and complexity, creating challenges and calling for innovative thinking and solutions. Not only does he think pensions in Mobil can be a big part of the company's employment package, but also that it can give the group a competitive edge in recruiting and retaining the calibre of employee required to grow the business."