How long is the future?

Robin Hames, Head of Technical, Marketing and Research Bluefin Corporate Consulting
Robin Hames, Head of Technical, Marketing and Research Bluefin Corporate Consulting

Among the many notable quotes from Loesje, the international organisation for free speech, the observation that “the longer you wait for the future, the shorter it will be” seems the most appropriate when considering corporate advice and technology.

There can now surely be little doubt that when future historians look back at this period of human development, they will observe changes perhaps even more fundamental than such turning points as the Industrial Revolution.

Living through such change, it can be easy to overlook its scale and speed; so quickly does the new reality become engrained in our daily life.

Annual statistics produced by Pingdom, the uptime monitoring company, show just how rapid this ”Digital Revolution’ has been:

In 2009, the number of email messages sent averaged 247 billion per day with 100 million new email users compared to the   year before.

There were estimated to be 234 million  websites by the end of 2009. In 1995, there were only 10,000; in 1990 there was only 1,   the original Tim Berners-Lee site for CERN.

The number of daily tweets averaged 27.3   million last year while Facebook now has   over 500 million members.

Over the last decade, mobile phone use has also exploded to well over one billion subscribers worldwide. In fact, those who do not own a mobile phone have become a minority in several countries.

Interestingly 150 million of its users now access Facebook through their mobile device. And those that do access in this way are twice as active compared to non-mobile users.

The success of the iPad is a clear indicator of our continued thirst for new technology.

This pace of change seems, if anything, to still be accelerating and it is fundamentally changing the way we live our lives and engage with the outside world. The notion that this is all ’new fangled’ technology and ’just for the kids’ is unsustainable; as each year passes technology adoption is proliferating across all generations.

Employee benefits, and the advisers who consult on them, have to keep pace with the digital age or become swept away as irrelevant; the future could indeed be short.

We believe fundamentally that the future of employee communications lies in maximising the engagement that can be achieved through technology. So we were delighted to receive the highest recognition, ’eee’, for our Orbit online benefits platform following the in-depth analysis conducted for Corporate Adviser by F&TRC.

However we also recognise that today’s benchmark may seem laughably basic in only a few years time: a Commodore 64 compared to the latest generation Playstation. That’s why we are constantly investing and evolving Orbit to continue to meet users’ growing expectations.

Indeed in the short period between F&TRC’s scrutiny of our platform and the publication of this magazine, we will have launched Fund Centre, a fundamental upgrade to the pension element of our benefits proposition.

Fund Centre bridges the gap between the education and communication delivered to members via seminars and webinars and the Financial Express fund factsheets available online.

Amongst other things, it allows members to compare and contrast funds directly, x-ray a portfolio of funds to determine the overall risk being taken and the returns that would have been achieved and to tap into regular market and press commentary regarding their chosen funds.

It’s the next step in enhancing the employee experience and allowing them to receive meaningful guidance in a DC world where their decisions will have the most impact on the income they have to retire on.

In an environment where true individual advice, as opposed to dressed-up ’guidance’, is beyond the pocket of most employers and their employees, technology offers the solution to employee benefits engagement.

The need for consultancy will certainly still exist; the spectre of DB liabilities, our ever-changing legislation and policy requirements will ensure that.

However the employee solutions offered in the future will be all about the continuous development and galvanisation of technology to help employers make the most of their investment into benefit programmes and to allow employees to successfully plan for their current and future needs.