As expatriate benefits programmes become increasingly complex, companies need to balance global consistency with sufficient flexibility to ensure appropriate and adequate coverage. Often, a single arrangement is the answer – consistency in benefits, cover levels and cost efficiency are important to global benefit managers wishing to reduce complexity and manage costs.
However, when it comes to communicating the benefits to members, one size does not fit all. Employee benefits communication programmes are well established in the UK, but the key to delivering successful international communications lies in looking beyond the usual cultural references and geography, to the characteristics of particular industry sectors.
Multinationals are turning to suppliers who share their wealth of industry knowledge and experience. With a dispersed, multicultural workforce, they are looking for a partner who understands the differences of their plan membership. Rather than expecting the standard methods used domestically to travel internationally, they tap into their supplier’s industry knowledge to help deliver a more insightful approach to member communication.
The international challenge
The desired outcome of member communications is to provide the right information, at the right time, to support the important decisions that plan members need to make.
So start with the basics; who they are, their location and cultural mix. Appreciate how they think, and especially their attitudes to savings and retirement. Segment your plan members based on what they know, what they need to know and how much they understand. Develop messages based on knowledge levels and the stage in the communications journey – new members, dormant, active or engaged.
Consider generational differences. Generation Y use technology in every day life, and lifestyle not money is their driving factor. Build their trust with open and honest communication, use technology wisely and counteract short-term thinking by introducing three- to five-year investment targets, rather than focusing on retirement age, which can seem a long way off. Use these fundamentals as your foundation and layer with industry sector knowledge for real benefit.
Case study 1, travel and tourism
Many hotel chains enjoy an international presence and global brand recognition, but a decentralised group structure and high levels of employee turnover raise particular challenges. Using a flexible structure can allow for a tailored benefit design for different regions, whilst administrative headaches can be solved using multiple, regional hubs to manage contributions in different currencies. Bear in mind that plan members may have a fairly basic level of financial awareness and as a result their perception of the benefit arrangements available to them can be low.
First impressions count, so think about the branding of starter packs and guides as employees are more likely to engage if these are provided in the brand they are affiliated with.
Counteract a decentralised structure with online joining information available through email and regional intranets and use straightforward language to explain financial terms and investment concepts. Regular updates promoting the benefits of the plan in newsletter style will be easier for members to digest than a yearly update.
Case study 2, shipping
With a high percentage of the workforce spending long periods overseas, and in many cases at sea, shipping companies have unique challenges. But with high replacement crew costs, promoting plan benefits is important for retention.
Use face-to-face introductory sessions to promote plan benefits and educate crew when they first join the company. Make straightforward guides available so that seafarers can manage their plans and switch investments. Use education material with simple explanations of the concepts around savings and take into account the cultural differences around saving and retirement. Language will always be a challenge – you may standardise and only produce material using English as the language of business, but language options will increase engagement.
Using industry insight will not only help you set up effective international benefit plans, you’ll also be better able to advise on effective plan communication and promotion – helping to ensure a successful plan for the client and plan member, as well as setting yourself apart from your competitors.
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