Not too long ago, the ideal career path was relatively straightforward. Land a lifelong job with a trusted employer, put in time and dedication, and come retirement, look forward to a comfortable pension with a chance to check off those bucket list dreams. But things have shifted in recent years, with many millennials and younger generations leaning towards enjoying their earnings in the present instead of saving for the future. However, amidst rising inflation and mounting financial pressures, the wisdom of retirement planning has never been more apparent.
Recognising such evolving financial realities and a changing mindset towards retirement savings among its own employees, one of Malta’s long-standing employers, Bank of Valletta, took a significant step to addressing the issue back in 2022. The Voluntary Occupational Pension Scheme (VOPS) was launched as a forward-thinking initiative underscoring the bank’s commitment to ensuring the lasting welfare of its people. This innovative solution provides BOV employees with a simple and accessible means to bolster their savings for the future through an easy, flexible, and highly beneficial monthly savings scheme.
Shedding light on the motivation behind this move, Simon Azzopardi, Chief Personal and Wealth Officer, explains: “Many believe a state pension is enough to live on, and while Malta’s pension isn’t bad compared to other countries, relying solely on it won’t sustain the lifestyle many of us are used to. Families enjoying holidays and dining out regularly may find these luxuries unattainable post-retirement. The irony is many work their entire life to enjoy quality time with their loved ones later on in life, only to find they do not have the financial means to support their desired lifestyle. It’s this growing reality that prompted BOV to establish the Voluntary Occupational Pension Scheme, enabling us to address the need for a more secure financial future for our employees.”
The mechanics of VOPS are simple. Employees can voluntarily enter the scheme by contributing a monthly sum, from as little as €50, towards their pension. The unique feature is that the bank matches every employee’s contribution up to €2,400 in a calendar year, a commitment guaranteed for at least the next three years, effectively doubling their pension savings during this period.
“What’s more, the VOPS scheme offers remarkable flexibility. We enable our employees to adjust their savings over time. Not only can they increase or decrease contributions, but they also have the option to temporarily pause the plan. We are really proud of this scheme and feel that it’s a significant investment towards our employees, one which they will really benefit from in the future,” Simon adds.
Recognising that managing additional financial responsibilities can be time-consuming, BOV has streamlined the process as much as possible. Contributions can be deducted automatically from employees’ monthly salaries. Furthermore, employees can choose to be as hands-on or hands-off as they prefer regarding their underlying investments. They have the option to trust BOV’s seasoned wealth managers, who rank among the most experienced on the island, or opt for a personal consultation for more informed decisions on their investment preferences.
The VOPS scheme has been met with a positive reception among BOV employees, with a notable 40 per cent participation rate among staff. However, the bank has also detected a certain hesitation among younger employees in the 18 to 30 brackets, uncertain about committing monthly funds which they won’t be able to access until retirement age. In response, BOV has actively engaged employees through informative sessions. These educational outreach efforts aim to provide staff with a deeper understanding of the scheme, answer their questions, and illustrate its potential positive impact on their future.
According to Ray Debattista, Chief People and Culture Officer at BOV, the VOPS scheme has also enhanced the bank’s standing as an employer of choice. He states, “At BOV, we invest in our employees’ careers, education, and progression opportunities, ensuring they can enjoy a secure job for life with us. Now, with VOPS, we are also making a direct material contribution towards their future, which, in addition to our competitive salaries, is a significant financial incentive to join our team.”
Over the past few years, BOV has in fact been dedicated to refining its employee benefits to meet the changing expectations of today’s workforce, with the goal of fostering higher retention rates and maintaining a legacy of excellence. A notable focus has been on enhancing wellbeing initiatives, covering areas such as medical and general health, physical and nutritional aspects, the right to disconnect, and financial wellbeing.
“At BOV, we understand the significant impact of mental health on everyone, including our employees. The World Health Organization notes that one in four people may face mental health challenges during their lives. That’s why we aim to create a positive work culture that supports our team during personal difficulties. Initiatives such as partnering with Richmond Foundation, offering mindfulness training, and even fun events like dress-down days contribute to a positive and supportive work culture. These efforts align with our commitment to addressing mental health proactively and ensuring our employees can easily access the support they need when they need it the most,” Ray explains.
In response to changing work trends post-pandemic, Bank of Valletta has also introduced remote work and flexible hours for its employees, acknowledging the diverse needs of its workforce. This flexibility has also reaped positive outcomes for BOV’s customers. With more employees able to work across flexible hours, the bank has been able to extend its hours of operation on certain days, ensuring customers can better fit their banking needs around their life commitments.
And naturally, as a leading bank in Malta, BOV also extends comprehensive financial benefits to its employees. These include advantageous subsidies on home and personal loans, opportunities for overtime payments, and long-term benefits tailored for employees who contribute extended service to the bank.
“Our emphasis is on cultivating strong relationships with all our team members, supporting them throughout their journey with us, from their initial joining to advancing in their careers and even beyond when they retire. We want our employees to know that we are dedicated to their well-being every step of the way,” Simon emphasises.
Echoing this sentiment, Ray adds, “Our open-door policy also reflects our understanding that circumstances may change. Even if someone decides to leave, we always keep the door open for their potential return. We’ve seen employees returning at various points, and we gladly maintain those connections, ready to provide new opportunities when possible.”
This commitment extends to the VOPS scheme. Should an employee decide to leave, they have the option to sustain contributions to the retirement plan seamlessly, ensuring uninterrupted benefits upon reaching retirement age.
As Bank of Valletta gears up to celebrate its 50th anniversary this year, Simon and Ray hint that there are more employee benefits and initiatives in the pipeline. Presently, the focus remains on motivating additional employees to take up VOPS to capitalise on its unique advantages. Looking ahead, the bank is committed to enhancing its employee offerings, ensuring a continuous commitment to the well-being and future of its valued workforce, while cementing BOV’s standing as an employer of choice.
Bank of Valletta p.l.c., 58, Triq San Żakkarija, Il-Belt Valletta VLT 1130. Bank of Valletta p.l.c. is an enrolled Tied Insurance Intermediary under the Insurance Distribution Act, Cap. 487 of the Laws of Malta for MAPFRE MSV Life p.l.c. (MMSV). MMSV is authorised under the Insurance Business Act, Cap. 403 of the Laws of Malta. Both entities are regulated by the Malta Financial Services Authority. The VOPS product is manufactured by MAPFRE MSV Life p.l.c. and is distributed by Bank of Valletta p.l.c.
Photos by Inigo Taylor
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