© Copyright 2006 Rogers Publishing Ltd. The following article first appeared in the January 2006 edition of BENEFITS CANADA magazine.
Editorial: Take a number
Lessons learned during an afternoon at the passport office.
By Don Bisch

D84. That’s what it read on the slip of paper I had clenched in my fist as I took a seat in the crowded passport office back in October. According to the screen mounted on the wall above the row of customer service counters, they were “now serving D57.” I was going to be waiting for a while.

Having decided months earlier to spend the last week of November on a beach in the Caribbean, I realized just weeks before the trip that my passport was long expired. Panic—and then dread—set in as I looked at the calendar and contemplated the trials that lay before me: picking up the application forms, posing for an unflattering photo, cobbling together the supporting documents to prove my identity, and lining up references and a guarantor.

After managing to jump through these administrative hoops in about a week, I headed to the passport office. Ten minutes later, number D84 in hand, I sat waiting to see a service agent who I hoped wouldn’t inform me that I’d used the wrong forms and needed to start over.(These are the kinds of fears that race through your mind as you kill time in a sterile government office.)

If simply applying for a passport is this harrowing, I thought, glancing up at the screen(they were now serving D65), imagine the logistics involved in administering pensions and benefits across borders. Not only is there a wide assortment of regulatory and legislative regimes to contend with, there are also the challenges of communicating with employees in different languages and cultures, dealing with differing expectations about compensation and plan design, and ensuring consistent standards and governance practices on a global basis. Just the thought of it was mind boggling.

Turns out that quite a few plan sponsors feel the same way. Last fall, we asked delegates of BENEFITS CANADA’s 2005 Cross Border Summit to identify the three greatest challenges they face as multinational plan sponsors. Some cited the costs and financial risks associated with administering pensions and benefits across borders, such as currency exchange fluctuations and premium increases for the U.S. Pension Benefit Guarantee Fund. New international accounting standards and requirements were also mentioned, as was ensuring a smooth transition of healthcare and pension benefits for mobile employees who work in multiple countries for short durations throughout their careers.

Fortunately, there are people who’ve spent more than just an afternoon in bureaucratic limbo pondering these topics. In this special Cross Border Issue of BENEFITS CANADA, we’re pleased to offer the viewpoints and insights of experts from both Canada and the U.S. as they tackle some of these and other crossborder obstacles, and pass on trends and best practices from around the globe.

As for my wait at the passport office, they finally did get to D84. And a week lying on the beach more than made up for the wait.

Don Bisch