Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC)

Frequently Asked Questions

All About DEWS

Q: What is DEWS Plan?

The DEWS Plan is a funded workplace savings Plan for expatriate workers.
The end-of-service gratuity payment Plan currently in place in the DIFC (which is a defined benefit Plan) will be replaced with a funded professionally managed defined contribution Plan in line with the latest global best practice. The DEWS Plan will offer employees a low cost investment platform for receiving and managing mandatory employer end-of-service contributions. Employees will also be able to save with the DEWS Plan by making voluntary contributions to the plan.

Q: Why change the existing system?

The DIFC Employment Law, Law 4 of 2005, currently requires employers to provide an end-of-service benefit for expatriate workers based on years of service and final basic salary – a defined benefit (DB) entitlement.
However, over the last 20 years, globally, corporates have adopted the defined contribution plans (DC) to avoid the risks associated with open-ended defined benefit plans.
The DIFC Authority has recognised the need to reform its Employment Law, to reduce such risks on employers and to ensure that members have access to a level of leaving service benefits.
This shift will help DIFC offer benefits that meet international standards. This will also become a key factor for retaining and attracting talent.

Q: Who is the Trustee to the Plan?

Equiom (Isle of Man) Limited (Equiom) have been selected as the master trustee (Trustee) for the DEWS Plan following an extensive selection process undertaken by the DIFC Authority in conjunction with their external advisors. Once established by Presidential Directive, the Supervisory Board of the DEWS Plan (Supervisory Board) will formally appoint the Trustee and settle the DIFC trusts that will constitute the DEWS Plan.
With almost 20 years’ experience of providing such specialist services to employers in the Middle East, and having operated in jurisdictions with comparable legislation to that expected to be implemented by the DFSA, Equiom are well placed to fulfil the role of trustee for the DEWS Plan. Equiom are licenced by the DFSA and operate within the DIFC.

Q: Who is the Administrator of the Plan?

The selected administrator for the DEWS Plan is Zurich Workplace Solutions Middle East Limited (Administrator), which is part of the Zurich group, a leading multi-line insurer serving customers in global and local markets. The Zurich Group has a long-standing presence in the region for 30 years and robust expertise in workplace savings. Once the DEWS Plan is settled and the Trustee is formally appointed, it shall in turn formally appoint the Administrator.
The Zurich Group currently administers over 750 workplace savings plans with USD5 billion in funds under administration for more than 90,000 plan members.

Q: What is the Administrator's role?

The Administrator will facilitate the enrolment of employers into the DEWS Plan with the assistance of the chosen technology service provider of the DEWS Plan, Smart Pensions. They will be responsible for

  • contribution collection,
  • allocation to member accounts and
  • maintenance of member records.

In addition, they will administer new joiners to the Plan, leavers and changes to contribution rates as notified by employers. They will also provide support to the Trustee, assist in their governance role and the requirement to provide regular reports to the Supervisory Board.

The Administrator will provide full support to employers and employees through an online portal, giving real-time Plan information and data.

Q: What is the Investment Adviser's role

The investment advisor (Investment Adviser) is appointed by the Trustee to assist it in compiling and placing the funds on the investment platform of the DEWS Plan. Mercer Financial Services Middle East Limited (Mercer) has been selected as the Investment Adviser to the DEWS Plan. Mercer is part of the Marsh & McLennan Group of companies and is the world's largest institutional investment advisor with over $10trn in assets under advice and more than $200bn in open architecture assets under delegated management. Mercer is not tied to using any one asset manager or vehicle for implementation, instead it is required to use its research expertise to select the best in class funds and blend these into specific risk profiled funds for the DEWS Plans. This process is then continuously monitored and reviewed to ensure the plan's investment strategy delivers on its objectives

Q: Will the Plan offer financial advice to employees?

No, employees will have to seek financial advice on their own if they need. However, the Administrator will provide employers ready-to-use content to educate members about the DEWS Plan - this will cover all general queries.

Q: Who provides ongoing oversight and governance of the Plan?

There are various levels of oversight and governance related to the Plan.
Equiom, as Trustee, will oversee the DEWS Plan and ensure that it is operating in accordance with the trust deed and Plan rules of the DEWS Plan (Trust Deed and Plan Rules). The duties of the Trustee (from a governance and commercial perspective) will be overseen by the Supervisory Board. Equiom will also be regulated by and accountable to the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA) in respect of the financial services that it provides by providing trust services to the DEWS Plan.
Zurich, as Administrator, will also be regulated by the DFSA and will be required to report to the Trustee in respect of its administration of the DEWS Plan and the underlying investments of the DEWS Plan.
Mercer, as Investment Adviser is also be regulated by the DFSA. It will assist the Trustees in implementing the funds that will be placed on the investment platform of the DEWS Plan (Investment Platform).

Q: What does the Trustee do?

The Trustee's primary function is to act as legal owner of the contributions made by the employing companies, whilst the beneficial interest lies with the underlying members (employees). They key benefit to employees is having the comfort of knowing that once contributions are made they are no longer controlled by their employer, but rather an independent trustee that is accountable to the DFSA and there to protect the members interests throughout.
The Trustee will appoint and oversee the Administrator of the DEWS Plan whilst working with the appointed Investment Adviser to ensure that the investment options available to Plan members are performing appropriately and that the necessary information is provided to the DFSA, the Supervisory Board and key stakeholders in accordance with the regulations and plan documentation in place.

Q: Is the plan voluntary?

The DEWS Plan is only voluntary in respect of any contributions that an employee wants to make through salary deductions. All DIFC employers will be obliged to enroll as a participating employer with the DEWS Plan or another Qualifying Plan (as defined in the Employment Law). A Qualifying Plan will require a Certificate of Compliance from the DIFC Authority and shall have to adhere to the Qualifying Plan requirements that will be set out in the Regulations to the Employment Law. Please consider the proposed amendments to the Employment Law and the proposed new Employment Regulations issued for public consultation under DIFCA's Consultation Paper No. 7 of 2019.

Q: What will happen to the end of service gratuity accrued up to the Changeover Date?

All current accruals in respect of gratuity payments under Article 66 of the Employment Law will stop accruing on the day before the Qualifying Plan Commencement Date (as defined in the Employment Law). Employers will remain liable to pay the accrued gratuity payment benefits to an employee at their termination date and the gratuity payment will also remain subject to adjustment to whatever an employee's basic whgare is at the termination date. Article 66(5) of the Employment Law will also make provision for an employee to pay any gratuity payment benefits that accrued prior to the Qualifying Plan Commencement Date into the DEWS Plan. However, employers will only be absolved in respect of any residual responsibility thereof if the employees concerned gave their prior written consent to such transfer.

Q: What is the Supervisory Board?

The Supervisory Board will be a statutory body established by the President of the DIFC under Article 5(6) of Dubai Law No.9 of 2004 concerning the Dubai International Financial Centre. It will be the settlor of the DEWS Master Trust, and be responsible for the appointment and removal of the Trustee and settling the terms of the Trust Deed and Plan Rules with the Trustee.
The Supervisory Board will provide non-fiduciary oversight of the DEWS Plan's overall governance, fitness for purpose and performance . It will be comprised of DIFC Authority representatives, employer and employee representatives as well as independent chair with a casting vote appointed by the Governor of the DIFC.

Q: Are UAE or GCC national need to be included in DEWS?

DEWS is a workplace savings plan for expatriate employees working in the DIFC. It will replace the current end-of-service benefit entitlement from 1st January 2020 for expatriate employees only. The Plan will not include the UAE nationals or GCC nationals who are accruing a social security benefit separate from the requirements of the Employment Law. However, such employees and their employers may choose to make voluntary contributions to the DEWS Plan.

Q: What was the process for setting up the structure and selecting components for DEWS?

The structure of the DEWS Plan (and indeed what should be a Qualifying Plan in the DIFC) has been under consideration for the last two and a half years with working groups made up of industry experts. The working groups studied the global landscape, including the risks and issues involved in delivering a workplace savings solution. Once the detailed design features were identified, a group of specialist barristers in the United Kingdom were briefed to assist DIFCA in the drafting of the requisite legislation and Plan materials.
It was crucial for DIFC that the partners selected to manage the DEWS Plan demonstrated outstanding capabilities, a well-tested track record and alignment with international best practices. The thorough process of vendor selection was based on these parameters.

Q: Do seconded employees, into or out of the DIFC, have to be enrolled into DEWS?

It is not mandatory for seconded employees from other regions to be enrolled in the DEWS Plan, but their employers may opt them into the DEWS Plan if they chose to do so.
Employers with employees seconded to regions outside DIFC (but still remaining on a DIFC visa) will need to be enrolled in the DEWS Plan as they are still subject to the requirements of the Employment Law. The minimum/ core contributions to be made by employees to the DEWS Plan will be paid on an employee's monthly basic wage, which under the Employment Law may not be less than 50% of an employee's monthly compensation (not including discretionary payments such as bonuses and commissions).

Q: Do partners in a DIFC business have to be enrolled into the DEWS Plan?

Partners/ shareholders in firms in the DIFC that are not salaried employees (i.e. who take profits or dividends from a drawings account) will not require contributions into the DEWS Plan. However, if their remuneration structure includes a form of salaried compensation (e.g. salaried partners) they will need to be enrolled into the DEWS Plan and the core contributions to be made for them will be based on their basic wage.

Q: Where can we get any benchmarking information on what companies are doing e.g. around enhancing contribution rates?

As the Dews Plan progresses, Zurich may be able to offer insight into benefit trends by business sector. If produced, this information would be generally available to all DEWS employer participants.

Q: What were the results of the employers survey conducted by the DIFC in 2018?

The survey returned an overwhelmingly positive result, with over 85% of respondents in favour of a transition to a defined contribution Plan from the existing defined benefit end-of-service gratuity Plan.
The details of the survey results have not been made public as responses included confidential information related to internal policies.

Plan Investment Details

Q: Why should an employee use the DEWS Plan as opposed to a personal savings plan?

The DEWS Plan will allow employees to manage their end-of-service contributions (and their own savings if they so chose) in a savings Plan that is cost effective and flexible. They will be able to plan their savings goals for their retirement or whatever other objectives they have in a very user-friendly manner. In addition, employees will have the peace of mind that their savings are legally separated from their employer, via a trust. The trustees will act in the beneficiaries (employees) best interests in providing oversight and reporting to the DIFC Supervisory Board.

Q: Can employers influence or make the decision on the risk profile of the investments made in DEWS?

All contributions to the DEWS Plan will be invested in accordance with the Employee's instructions to avoid any investment advisory function on the part of the functionaries of the Qualifying Plan. Employers will have no say in this. A variety of educational material will be made available to employees to ensure that they make informed choices in the above regard. In the event of an employee not making an investment choice their contributions will be made to the default fund, which is the low/medium risk option that offers potential for long-term growth.
Employees will also be able to switch between different funds on the DEWS Plan investment platform if they they so chose and such changes will be cost-free.

Q: Is there any vesting applicable to DEWS?

No. On leaving service employees will be entitled to 100% of the invested benefit. However, if they so chose, they will also be permitted to leave their benefits in the cost for as long as they wish but no further contributions will be permitted in circumstances where they are not in the service of an employer that is participating in the DEWS Plan.

Q: Can an employee make voluntary contributions into DEWS?

Yes, employees can do this through salary deduction by informing their employers thereof and requesting the deduction. Employees will also be able to make contributions into the DEWS Plan from funds that do not emanate from their employers, provided that the Trustee is satisfied regarding the sources and origin of such funds.

Q: What will be the employer contributions to DEWS?

As is the case with the current end-of-service gratuity payment Plan in the DIFC, an employer's minimum end of service contribution liability under the DEWS Plan will remain depend on the length of service. Under the DEWS Plan, each the minimum contribution rates for employees would as percentage of their monthly basic wage as follows:

  • for members with less than 5 years service - 5.83%
  • for members with 5 years service or more - 8.33%

This broadly matches the same responsibility of employers under the old system (i.e. 21 days of Basic Wage for each year of service up to 5 years and 30 days for every additional year of service).

Q: Do employees have the ability to switch between investment funds?

Yes. Employees will have the control over their DEWS Plan portfolio of holdings and which funds they are invested to. They can switch to different funds as often as they wish with additional charges being incurred in respect thereof.
They will be able to do so using the app or the website.

Q: What are the investment options available as part of the DEWS Plan?

The investment strategy of the DEWS Plan is in the process of being settled between the trustee and the administrator with the assistance of the investment adviser to the trustee. The aim is to allow employees to choose from 5 risk profiled funds - (i) low , (ii) low/moderate, (iii) moderate, (iv) moderate/high and (v) high. The low risk fund is planned to be a risk averse, conservative, money market investment aimed at capital preservation. The default portfolio will be (ii) above, i.e. the low/moderate risk profiled fund. This will also conservative but is planned to include an allocation to growth assets to allow for improved member outcomes as compared with the low risk fund. There will also be Sharia complaint options available. The investment fund range will be passively implemented, but dynamically managed to ensure better risk diversification for members. By using a passively implemented, but dynamically managed and diversified asset allocation, the intention is for expected returns to be increased, volatility being reduced, and reliance on equity markets being reduced with the objective of increasing the efficiency of members’ portfolios At the outset, all members will be defaulted into this low/moderate risk profiled fund. Thereafter employees will be able to go online and make a different selection from the remaining 4 risk profiled funds and Sharia options. Mercer, as the investment advisers to the Trustee, is currently assisting the Trustee in the establishment of these funds. Mercer is not tied to using any one asset manager or vehicle for implementation, instead Mercer use their extensive manager research expertise to select the best in class and blend these into the 5 risk profiled funds. This process is continuously monitored and reviewed to ensure the investment strategy delivers on its objectives

Q: What investment options will be available and how can employees select them?

Initial contributions will be automatically invested in the Default Fund. This will be a risk averse fund with some exposure to risk assets that aim to achieve real growth over the long term. There will also be other fund options, varying in degrees of risk, that an employee can switch into. Employees will receive fund information through a Fund Guide and monthly fund fact sheets which will include past performance data.

DEWS Process

Q: Can an employee withdraw an amount during employment?

No, employees will only be permitted to receive their entitlement in respect of employer contributions at the point of leaving service. However, they will be able to access any voluntary savings that they made into the DEWS Plan in a manner permitted by the Trustee.

Q: How and when will benefits be paid under the new system?

Core benefits (i.e. those that have to be paid by employers on behalf of employees on a mandatory basis) will be paid on leaving service. The payment will be made directly to the employee's nominated bank account. Alternatively, the employee can defer taking such benefits when they fall due and remain invested in the Plan until a later encashment date. Any voluntary contributions made by employees into the Plan may be made available at such times requested by employees.
Employees will remain entitled to an end-of-service gratuity payment benefit from their employer that accrued prior to the qualifying Plan introduction date (planned to be 1st January 2020). This will remain payable to employees at termination of their service in the way that is currently the case under the Employment Law, and will also remain to be subject to adjustment to what an employee's basic wage is at termination. Note also that the proposed amendments to the Employment Law that will facilitate the introduction of the DEWS Plan in the DIFC will provide Employers the ability to pay such accrued benefits into the DEWS Plan but they will only be absolved in terms of their responsibilities under the current law in respect thereof if the Employee agreed to such transfer. Please refer to DIFCA Consultation Paper 7 of 2019 and the proposed amendments to the Employment Law and the new Employment Regulations in this regard.

Q: What are the overall costs associated with DEWS?

The overall cost associated with operating the DEWS Plan has been settled at 1.33% at the Plan commencement date, which is within the price range of 1.25% to 1.50% targeted by DIFCA during the competitive bidding process selecting the service providers to the DEWS Plan. The overall cost includes trust, administration and investment services. It will be a duty of the Trustee in the trusteeship agreement to come up with a fee proposal by the end of the 2nd anniversary of the Plan as to how fees will be charged going forward on a sliding scale in respect of the DEWS Plan's assets at that time, also including (i) a value for money assessment; and (ii) a commercial benchmarking exercise. In addition, the fees relating to the DEWS Plan will be reconsidered every 5 years as service provider appointments are made every 5 years.

Q: How can employers submit data to the DEWS platform on a monthly basis?

The process of enrolling employers into DEWS and submitting monthly data will be made available shortly. However, the technical solution to be provided in this regard will be very flexible and be able to integrate with a large variety of payroll systems. No technical development or interfaces will be required on the part of employers. Please keep visiting this page regularly for updates as to the roll-out of the on boarding process that will commence shortly.

Q: Will Plan data be visible to employers and employees?

Yes, employers and employees will be able to access Plan data online. The portal will offer real-time fund data 24x7.
Apart from the website, employees will also be able to access their DEWS data through an application that can be installed on mobile devices. They will also be able to receive updates and execute a variety of instructions via this application or even integrate ith with other technology platforms such as Amazon's Alexa or Google's Home .

DEWS Access

Q: Will employees have access to DEWS when they go back to their country of origin?

Yes, if they decide not to take their benefits on leaving service they will still be able to withdraw their benefits in any country, provided that the bank account to which the proceeds of such benefits will be paid must be in the name of the employee or the beneficiaries nominated by the employee.
Depending on the country of their origin, the employees may need to seek tax advice before accessing benefits.

Q: How can an employee view their DEWS information and access the fund performance data?

Employees will be able to access all relevant information about their benefits and portfolio of fund holdings, online, via desktop and/or a mobile app. The portal will offer real-time fund data 24x7.
The technology platform made available by Smart will allow employees to get all their DEWS updates using Amazon Alexa and Google Home integration.

DEWS Implementation

Q: Is there any grace period for implementing DEWS for employers?

At present no. Participating employers will be required to enroll with the DEWS Plan prior to the Plan commencement date(currently planned to be 1st January 2020). Enrolment with a qualifying Plan will be mandatory requirement. What may happen closer to the implementation date is that the legislative regime mandating contributions into a qualifying Plan will go live but employers will be give a short grace period to start making such contributions on a back-dated basis going back to the statutory commencement date of the new regime.

Q: What are the requirements for a firm to be able to opt out of the Plan and into an alternative arrangement?

Each employer seeking to opt out of the DEWS Plan will have to select ir implement a Qualifying Plan and apply to DIFCA to obtain a Certificate of Compliance in respect thereof. The Employment Regulations setting out the requirements of a "Qualifying Plan" has been published as part of DIFCA's Consultation Paper No. 7 of 2019. In essence, a Qualifying Plan will be required to be an "Employee Money Purchase Plan" that provides so-called "Money Purchase Benefits "which alludes to benefits the rate or amount of which is calculated solely by reference to assets which (because of the nature of the calculation) must necessarily suffice for the purposes of their provision to the member (it being immaterial for the purposes of this definition if the calculation of the rate or amount of the benefit includes deductions in relation to administrative expenses or commission). This is a standard requirement for retirement/ savings Plans of this nature in other jurisdictions and the definitions in this regard were modelled on those in place under the Pensions Act in the United Kingdom. In addition, the service providers of a Qualifying Plan (e.g. the trustee and the administrator will have to be regulated in a regulated jurisdiction by a recognised regulator). The Employment Regulations also have a number of minimum design and operational requirements that will have to be adhered to by a Qualifying Plan.

Q: Will employers have to enter into a contractual relationship with the Master Trustee or the Plan Administrator?

Employers will need to complete a Deed of Participation in the Master Trust as part of the DEWS enrollment process. This will be part of the on boarding process of employers and will be done digitally.

Q: Will employers have to share personal data with the Master Trustee or the Plan Administrator?

Employers will need to complete a Deed of Participation in the Master Trust, as part of the DEWS enrollment process. This will include consent from employees to share their personal data.
Employers will be required to upload current employee data onto the administration platform.

Q: Will employers have to pay any fees to the Master Trustee or the Administrator?

The cost of running the DEWS Plan will be charged to the pool of assets held on behalf of the members of the DEWS Plan (i.e. the employees). Other than being required to make the mandatory contributions on behalf of employees on a monthly basis, employers will not be required to any costs or fees in respect of the DEWS Plan, or indeed to cover the costs of the establishment of the DEWS Plan, which is covered by DIFCA.

Q: Will employers be required to implement any new technology in order to participate in the DEWS Plan?

We do not anticipate the need for employers to implement any new technology. Employers and employees can access the DEWS online platform via their web browser.

However, employers may need to make necessary changes to their internal HR systems in order to:

• make mandatory contributions for eligible employees

• deduct the amounts relating to employee voluntary contribution from employee payroll

• upload monthly contribution files

• transfer the relevant amount to the bank account of the DEWS Master Trustee for investment

More information will be available shortly. Please keep visiting this page regularly for updates.

Q: Will an employer need to sign a contract to enroll in the DEWS Plan?

There will be no contract. However, employers will need to complete a Deed of Participation in the Master Trust as part of the digital enrollment process.

Q: Will the employer need to share any information with the Trustee/ Administrator?

Employers will need to complete a Deed of Participation in the Master Trust, as part of the enrollment process. They will also be required to share the details of employees monthly basic wage and details of any voluntary contributions that will be made by them on behalf of employees. Further information may also be required for AML purposes. Please keep visiting this page regularly for updates in this regard. Note also that the Trustee (as a Reporting Financial Institution under the Common Reporting Standard) will have duties to exchange information in respect pay-out details of benefits to employees under the Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters.

Q: Will employers be required to make any changes to their existing HR systems?

Although employers will not be expected to do technical developments or interface requirements for the implementation of the DEWS Plan, they will be required to make necessary changes to their internal HR/ admin systems in order to

(a) make mandatory contributions for eligible employees

(b) deduct the amounts relating to employee voluntary contribution from employee payroll

(c) upload monthly contribution files

(d) transfer the relevant amount to the bank account of the DEWS Master Trustee for investment

Employers and employees will be able to log into the DEWS system to track contributions, investments, and portfolio valuations, as well as place instructions for withdrawals.

Q: Will DEWS have a standard payroll date or will employers be able to provide information based on their current payroll cycle?

The payroll date will not be standardised and employers will be able to continue following their established process. The monthly contributions towards the DEWS Plan will have to be made the following month and a cut-off date will be applied accordingly. Currently, it is anticipated that this cut-off will be set to the 14th day of the next calendar month, however, this may be subject to change. Please keep visiting this page regularly for updates.

Q: What happens to the existing gratuity balances from the launch of the new DEWS system?

See above.

Q: Many companies have multiple entities in the DIFC. Will they have a consolidated account or each entity will have a separate account?

Companies that have multiple entities in the DIFC will have separate accounts for each entity at the time of launching DEWS.

Q: Many companies run their payrolls on MS Excel. How will data be transferred between these companies and the new administration system/portal?

All information is required to be uploaded in a specific format. Further information about this will be shared shortly.

Q: Will the new administration system be GDPR compliant? Where will employee data be stored?

The new administration system will be compliant with the relevant Data Protection regulations. The system will be hosted by Amazon Web Services in Dublin and all employee data will be stored there.

DEWS Support

Q: Is there a help-line for employers who have questions regarding the plan?

Yes. Employers can send their queries to dewsinfo@difc.ae

Q: What ongoing information and support will be provided to companies and employees?

The DIFC website, www.difc.ae will host all information about the DEWS Plan on a separate tab. Employers and employees will also benefit from digital brochure, video, FAQs. Please visit the DEWS webpage regularly for updates and fresh support materials.
In addition, a 360 degree on boarding program will be set up with town halls, workshops, webinars, booth to cater to questions and hands-on guidance.
A support team of the Administrator (Zurich) will also be available there to guide employers and employees through any queries on a dedicated helpline.

Q: When will the engagement process with employers start?

There are a number of aspects concerning the detail of the DEWS Plan still outstanding in order for the employer enrolment process to begin. These were primarily related to the details included in the proposed amendments to the Employment Law, the details of what constitutes a qualifying Plan under the Employment Regulations, as well as the DFSA Regulations. All of these and the details of the Trust Deed and Plan Rules have been settled. Consultation Paper No. 7 of 2019 has now been issued any may be consulted at www.difc.ae in this regard.

Q: What support for enrollment will be made available to employers in the coming months?

A number of support activities have been planned, from October onwards, to help employers with the enrollment and other processes.
This will include an employer survey to collect information to ensure a smooth transition to the DEWS Plan, a series of townhall meetings to share further details on the enrollment process, requirements and phases, as well as supporting material such as digital brochures and informational videos.
Please keep visiting this page regularly for further updates.

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