As technology becomes increasingly important, Owain Thomas examines how platforms can support the employee benefits.
Benefits administration is increasingly being governed by the role and ability of technology. Almost every benefit provider has its own technology system or platform to accommodate and administer the process.
While this may be helpful when introducing new benefits, it can leave both the employee and employer feeling overwhelmed – requiring a login and password for each system and then matching up data and communications could become something of a logistical nightmare.
This is why the trend, at least in some circles, is for platforms to become more encompassing and user friendly. Busy Bees finance director Jo Dalby is at the sharp end of this in her work, and so supported the firm when it started re-developing its own platform.
“From our research, employers are looking for a one-stop shop where they can manage all their benefits in one place, and also it makes it much more obvious to employees what they’re saving,” she explains.
And making things simple and obvious for staff is often essential to ensure good take-up and utilisation. Dalby continues: “This moves towards total reward statements (TRS) because the trouble with a lot of benefits is that employers put them in but people don’t use them and they don’t realise the savings they are missing.
“Integration of systems is important too. To have the most seamless product is helpful because employees are quite lazy really, so if it’s not easy, people won’t do it. And there’s the move to interactive, smartphones and being online too.”
Social media effect
As social media continues to grow, one trend being witnessed in the development of platforms is a willingness to get employees involved and interacting with managers and their colleagues in online workspaces. Providers are increasingly including online communities or forums to allow staff to discuss the benefits they are being offered and to access support.
A lot of the success of these features could depend on the culture and people within the organisation. As Dalby acknowledges: “It is an emerging trend, but whether people actually use [such features] is yet to be seen.”
Friends Life is one firm to have made the step – using its e-community software to work with its user segmentation software to enable employers to target certain members of their workforce with specific messages.
Included in the platform is a Linked In-style facility to allow groups to be formed, while the employer’s intermediaries can also make their own expertise available.
Steve Payne, the company’s managing director of UK protection, says that so far the response from the pilot organisations has been positive, and that using employers as a way to reach employees is a natural fit: “We’ve got good feedback about the social media forum. It allows a community to be set up without the employer having to provide all of the solution, and a community could be a good way of signposting things or reinforcing messages. It’s a subtle form of communication, and anything that does that is good.
“Work is a second family for most people – the trust is there and that’s reassured by workplace laws, meaning there are rules around that trust and it makes that community. We can see that being recognised by government in the form of pensions and now other things.”
Friends Life built on its original offering and focused primarily on financial education and associated benefits, but expects community use and discussions to branch out from that base – something Payne believes is more likely to generate the growth and development in platforms.
“The commercial reality is that platforms have been built to provide the areas for the bulk of the business, but companies are now seeing that they can build those up in their silo and are thinking how best they can utilise them,” he says. “We have started to think about that with ours. It’s a corporate benefits platform but it gives us the opportunity to put things on it, and that’s what we’re looking at in the next two years.
“We know the marketplace is going to change and we have to work out other ways to engage with customers. Sometimes we worry about the media we’re using, but we are trying to think through the issues to use technology to support that engagement.”
Scottish Widows is another financial services firm that has invested heavily in its workplace savings platform. Despite most employers being focused on delivering auto-enrolment (AE) for their organisations, the firm has seen steady take-up of the Mymoneyworks platform over the last year – growing from 33 employers in January to 93 in December, with around 44,000 registered users.
Lynn Graves, Scottish Widows’ corporate pensions head of business development, explains that the market has not been as flat as anticipated. “We expected a bit of a hiatus as companies went through their staging date and that’s happened to some extent, but we have set up a number of schemes over the year to date,” she says.
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