Our annual Weichert Global Representative (WGR) Summit is an important part of our training initiative, bringing together WGRs from across the world to review updated Scorecard standards and education curriculum, share regional news and re-confirm our commitment to delivering legendary service.
As our WGRs provide an extension of our services on the ground in over 185 countries, we want to make sure we continually update them on our business strategies and partnership expectations, while creating a forum for examining ideas for strengthening global synergies.
Our most recent Summit saw a record number of attendees and especially vibrant discussions. Central to this Summit was an interactive panel discussion featuring several WGRs representing very divergent regions, who spoke on current trends and challenges within their areas of expertise. I was proud to serve on this panel alongside the following WGRs:
WGR, Myanmar, Japan
WGR, Latin America
WGR, Hong Kong, China
WGR, South Africa
In this post, I wanted to offer a sampling of the information that was presented to our global audience.
Alexandra: Safety and security are perhaps the biggest concerns for expatriate families and companies. One of the most important considerations here is to temper the assignee’s expectations by providing realistic and practical information and guidelines. This can be done on the pre-trip call. An orientation trip also goes a long way toward demonstrating that assignees and their families can expect a normal, safe way of life in most locations. Other steps we take to ensure our clients’ safety are to source housing in areas that meet our minimum security requirements—for example secure, gated communities and homes with alarm systems—pointing out areas to be avoided and providing a detailed list of safety dos and don’ts.
Another major concern is exposure to risk. We minimize this exposure by ensuring that we have the highest ethical and compliance polices in place as well as processes for the protection of data and personal information. We also conduct due diligence on landlords wherever possible to mitigate the risk associated with renting properties, particularly in locations where rent is payable upfront.
Steve: In Japan, International School availability is challenging, and housing options are also scarce in many popular areas. Due to such a long lull in the market, we’re facing challenges in having our corporate accounts, local and global HR, understand that we are no longer in the market of 2011 and 2012. We are spending an increasing amount of time managing expectations, reaching out to people to explain things as early in the process as possible.
In Myanmar, there are numerous issues; in particular, a severe lack of good hotels and good property options. We are working very hard to create local relationships, so that we will know about the options that do exist as soon as they become available. A lack of good medical options is also an issue. We are advising our clients to work out solutions such as International SOS outside of Myanmar before coming into the region. Minor issues can be addressed by international hospitals, but any major issues would likely require a flight to Bangkok.
Michelle: Assignees’ primary concerns are typically air and water quality. Property management can also be a concern; a growing number of available properties are in a state of rapid deterioration requiring active attention to repair and maintenance. We have to be advocates for assignees in these cases, particularly because there is typically a language barrier between them and their landlords.
Sean: We see security issues becoming a growing concern, and take necessary precautions for our clients and their assignees, debriefing them on any behavioral changes that might be necessary in country. Other things that companies need to be aware of is the lack of availability of adequate schooling in some locations, causing split family arrangements that can increase costs. We also see a lack of company guarantor support on assignee leases, which requires us to negotiate deposits or assist with a local form of guarantee, such as insurance bonds.
Alexandra: That companies can get by on a generic policy. Ours is not a one-size-fits-all location; you do need to have location-specific policies and guidelines to meet the challenges of this region. Another misconception is that rental fees are negotiable. This is not the case. In South Africa, in fact in most of Africa, the demand for housing is so high that the landlords can set the price they want and they will get it. They may even be able to get more. Having said that, in some locations we can negotiate for value-adds, which can help the client.
Another misconception is that it’s inexpensive. That may have been the case in the past, but it’s not anymore. In fact, Luanda in Angola is the second most expensive expat location in the world and Nigeria is not that far behind.
Steve: One of the most common misconceptions about Myanmar is that it’s a dangerous place. But in the time I’ve been here, I’ve found the opposite. It’s a Buddhist country, the people here are very tranquil and very reserved. I feel as safe in Myanmar as I do in Japan. One other misconception is that Myanmar is like Thailand, in fact it’s been called “the next Thailand,” but it’s not. It is very much underdeveloped. It’s actually more expensive there, due mainly to the lack of housing and hotel supply. People can come with the expectation that Myanmar is going to be inexpensive because it’s just “opening up,” but it is not.
Sean: Where we see a lot of the misconception is people not understanding that Latin America is made up of many different countries.As you move between markets, local practices change, housing practices change, costs are completely different. Clients will often treat assignees who are moving between different countries in Latin America with the same budgets and the same benefits, not realizing that if they are going from, say, San Jose in Costa Rica to San Paulo in Brazil the difference in two bedroom costs between countries could be thousands of dollars, depending on the area.
We also see a lot of misconceptions regarding repatriation back into the region. An assignee might say, “I’m from Chile, I was born there, I lived there most of my life, how much could it have changed in the fifteen years I was away?” They expect everything to be exactly the same. But the truth is, once they go back, they realize that the people are different, the highways are different, the housing market is different. They have a very big culture shock to deal with and that’s where we come in; we help them understand that the world continues to revolve while they are gone.
Michelle: For Hong Kong, the biggest misconception is that because it is one of the most international cities in the world and English is widely spoken, it is very easy to move into. People forget that there are still great cultural differences, the city is different, the people are different, there are greater concerns over air quality and school selection. These are things we have to address during the orientation process.
Alexandra: In our region I would say the infrastructure deficit in Africa creates a great opportunity for that sort of investment in infrastructure development. We’re also seeing huge interest in Africa from the energy sector, and I expect that to continue. Another thing which may be more on the negative side is how recent changes in immigration legislation and the increase in government protectionism will impact workforce mobility. These rulings are making organizations reconsider their candidate selection and how they move people into certain African locations.
Steve: In Myanmar, things will be shaped by whatever different laws are passed as time goes on. Right now this is very much an emerging market, there are many people moving in and out, so we have to watch what kind of laws are going to be passed in the future that might disturb or alter how foreign businesses move their people. Are there going to be more requirements on visas? Answers to these types of questions will be very important.
Sean: We’re still an emerging market, but the Olympics has been a hot button and will continue to be. There are a lot of companies looking to be a part of that. There’s a lot of excitement and energy being generated. The only concerns we have are clients trying to limit the amount of benefits they provide assignees as a cost-cutting measure. This can be difficult as it limits what we can do for the assignees.
Michelle: We expect a lot of change in China with greater movement from tier one and tier two cities to tier three and tier four cities. We also expect to see companies moving more country nationals from one province to another which will definitely mean a lot more domestic, intra-China moves.