A service worth waiting for

Standard’s recently unveiled workplace benefits portal solution sets a new benchmark for the industry, says Ian McKenna, director of F&TRC

Few areas of the industry are currently seeing such intense levels of new development as workplace marketing. April sees the live roll out of the first implementations of Standard Life’s long awaited workplace solution, Lifelens.

The launch is the culmination of the life office’s 2008 acquisition of flex benefits specialist Vebnet. Although it may have taken time to arrive, there was talk of the service launching last year, this is a service worth waiting for. Having had a chance to examine some of the content, it is clear that the quality of the delivery validates the insurer’s decision to buy the Vebnet business and build a truly integrated solution, rather than just licence their software.

Where Lifelens is different is that this is a true merger of a pension system with a full blown flex platform and financial education. It is not a flex platform being used to sell a group pension service. Standard appears to be genuinely as interested in those members who choose to spend their benefits entitlement on services other than a pension offering as any others. This is on a par with, if not better than propositions that would come from some EBCs.

The service is designed to make the site more personal to the employee. It allows the employer to cascade important information and overall the objective is to achieve a significant increase in employer engagement.

In addition to the group pensions and corporate Isa offered users can opt for a full range of flexible benefits, for example childcare vouchers, cycle purchase, travel and dental insurance, health care plans and online shopping at special terms including major grocery retailers such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s, as well as total rewards statements.

The market research produced to coincide with the launch clearly demonstrates a belief on the part of many employers that they should contribute to their employee’s financial competence. The service has clearly been built with finance and HR directors who hold such views in mind.

From the deals announced so far it is clear that Standard has major customers queuing up for Lifelens and when one looks at what is on offer relative to the rest of the market, this is perhaps not surprising

The initial proposition already includes a number of useful calculators and tools to help employees gain a better understanding of their financial position but, given Standard’s additional acquisition of Focus Solutions the specialist adviser software business, it is reasonable to expect some even more interesting developments in the future. Having had the opportunity shortly before the takeover to see some of the consumer tools Focus are developing there is clearly significant further potential.

From the deals announced so far it is clear that Standard has major customers queuing up for Lifelens and when one looks at what is on offer relative to the rest of the market, this is perhaps not surprising. Equally that so many significant organisations have been announced as early adopters validates the opportunity that this distribution channel presents to the market.

Lifelens is a major leap forward in the breadth of propositions available from pension providers. Whilst inevitably at launch of a new service there is a lot more that can be done, the current offering moves the market significantly forward.

Shortly after the media launch of Lifelens at the end of February the organisation also rolled out a new stand-alone flex proposition to target small and medium size businesses, known as Box of Benefits. This is also a good example of the type of content the new venture is bringing to market. The two propositions can be found at Lifelens.co.uk and boxofbenefitscom respectively.

For adviser firms it should enable those who would not previously have had the resources to go head to head with one of the major EBCs, or a large corporate IFA that had invested in their own unique flex and educational content, to compete on a level playing field. Even for those larger firms with their own flex proposition the quality of the Lifelens offering makes a compelling case. In this context this delivers a significant commercial advantage to Standard Life over their peers.

Other organisations are known to be moving in a similar direction and Lifelens going live should act as both a call to action to get their propositions launched before Standard hoovers up too much of the possible market. At the same time this proposition sets a new definition for best in class for insurer propositions in what will undoubtedly be one of the key distribution channels of the next decade. The real winners from this look likely to be those employers and employees who will have access to better support education and benefits, which is really how things should be.