Sixty-four companies sign up for DIFC's new savings scheme

The Dews plan, which restructures the UAE's existing gratuity scheme for employees in the financial free zone, went live on February 1

Executives from Zurich and the DIFC at the Dews launch ceremony. On-boarding for the workplace savings scheme is now live. Courtesy: Zurich
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Sixty-four companies in the Dubai International Financial Centre signed up for the free zone's new workplace savings scheme after it went live on February 1, according to Zurich Workplace Solutions, the administrator of the plan.

Companies have until March 31 to complete the onboarding process for the DIFC Employee Workplace Savings scheme (Dews), which restructures the existing gratuity benefit and allows the 2,300 DIFC-registered companies to enrol and begin making contributions for its 24,000 professionals.

"Sixty-four companies have enrolled so far," Reena Vivek, senior executive officer at Zurich Workplace Solutions, told The National at 3pm on Sunday. "It could be that all of the 2,300 companies in the DIFC enrol with our scheme as it is the only scheme approved with a certificate of compliance. However, the final number could be higher as new companies may have joined the DIFC by the deadline."

The National first reported the DIFC's intention to replace the end of service gratuity with a funded workplace savings plan for its expatriate workforce in March last year. The changes make the free zone the first body in the UAE to overhaul the current gratuity system — a defined end-of-service benefit that all expatriate employees are entitled to after completing at least one year of service. The new scheme ensures the liability moves from an unfunded to a funded benefit, which is taken off a company's balance sheet and placed in a trust-based structure.

The implementation of the Dews plan was extended from January 1 to February 1 in December by DIFC to give companies more time to migrate to the new initiative. Employers also have until April 21 to make their first contribution, which will cover the February and March payroll.

"The one-month extension or a February 1 starting date and the grace period for enrolment until March 31 was announced in the beginning of December after considering feedback from DIFC employers during the legislative consultation period that ended at the end of November 2019," Jacques Visser, chief legal officer at DIFC Authority, told The National.

The majority of DIFC companies are expected to choose the Dews plan over qualifying alternative schemes, he said. The free zone has “one pending application at present” from a company looking to enrol its staff on to a qualifying alternative scheme, Mr Visser added.

However, so far no alternative qualifying scheme has been approved, Ms Vivek said.

One company proposing an alternative is Aon Retirement Solutions, which is looking to have its Aon United Pensions International option certified by the DIFC Authority's deadline. The company said it has been sharing details of its plan with clients since November last year.

"Aon has been advising employers to compare the default Dews scheme with possible alternatives ... but wait until mid-March to commit," said Adnan Ali, principle consultant of Aon Retirement Solutions.

"This will allow employers to be ready if their chosen scheme gets qualified while having the option to fall back on the default Dews plan in case their qualifying scheme is not approved by DIFC Authority."

Under the Dews plan, DIFC employers must make monthly contributions to a managed investment scheme. The targeted returns for the Dews plan range from 2.5 per cent and 6.8 per cent, while the fees are between 1.26 and 1.33 per cent, according to the plan's investment adviser Mercer. Employees can choose from five risk-profiled funds: low, low/moderate, moderate, moderate/high and high.