Internet site takes mystery out of relocating staff

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 August, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 August, 1998, 12:00am

RELOCATIONS are an ever more common occurrence as businesses become increasingly global.

But managing those executive moves is a time-consuming and expensive task, one that frequently falls to an already overworked country head or human-resources manager.

Advertising agency Leo Burnett Hong Kong's general manager Charles Cadell now handles five or six relocations a year.

Working with country heads elsewhere and outside consultants, he manages financial and practical details for two or three departing executives and a similar number of arrivals each year.

'We needed an easier or quicker understanding of housing allowances, colas [cost-of-living allowances], tax breaks and moving expenses,' he said.

So, when a new Internet-based service combining the financial expertise of business consultant Arthur Andersen, relocation-information provider Craighead Publications and the Economist Intelligence Unit became available, Leo Burnett signed up for a trial.

CountryNet brings together financial, political and economic information on more than 80 countries.

Designed for any business with a global work force, the CountryNet Web site [www.] provides a wide range of information that an executive and his family might need when planning a move abroad, from how to apply for a work visa to details about international schools and the cultural environment.

The on-line service also provides details of the history, politics and business environments of the countries featured.

'Any global business traveller would benefit by being more informed,' said Mark Blumenthal, tax partner for human-capital services at Arthur Andersen Asia Pacific.

The service - which costs from US$7,000 to $42,000 per company, depending on the number of users - is not cheap, but Arthur Andersen believes the quality of its information makes it a worthwhile investment for many businesses with mobile staff.

Few Internet sites provide financial information as detailed as that available through CountryNet, and most tend to target people living in the United States.

Those sites that do have in-depth or specialised information usually charge for it.

The Living Abroad site (, for example, charges $30 for a country overview or detailed information on a particular aspect of a country.

Mr Cadell said CountryNet's financial information might save Leo Burnett money. In particular, he said it would be useful in calculating what salaries would be equitable in a new country.

'That negotiation is probably top of the agenda [for relocating executives],' he said.

At the moment, he said, colas generally were determined by hiring a consultant in the new country. 'And it is not cheap!' Mr Cadell said.