THE CORPORATE AGENDA

Research amongst employers shows how much genuine value they see in the services they receive from corporate intermediaries

Debi O’Donovan
A couple of weeks ago I was lunching with about a dozen top-level benefits directors, and a key topic of conversation was what they thought of the providers and advisers they were using. Several of my guests were looking to renew contracts or sign up for new services and wanted informal references and opinions from their peers.

Given that each person makes buying decisions for workforces of several thousand staff, it was clear that a damming testimonial over lunch would be costing some advisers a lot of business, while compliments would cause potential clients to take a closer look.

This type of word-of-mouth cannot be bought or marketed, although I do know of at least two advisers in the benefits markets who seem to be able to turn clients into evangelists for their products despite the high prices they are charged. These advisers fully understand the importance of customer service.

But this is all anecdotal. What do employers really think of their corporate advisers? To find out, Employee Benefits magazine conducted research among its readers, and the good news is that 70 per cent of employers are satisfied with their adviser, while 23 per cent are extremely satisfied.

However, the research does show that advisers need to be on their toes. The vast majority review advisers regularly (just 16 per cent leave it longer than every three years), and 27 per cent had changed adviser in the past 12 months, mostly to achieve better value or because of poor service levels.

The coming few years should bring good business opportunities for corporate advisers. The research shows the 66 per cent of respondents plan to use advisers to help with pensions in the coming year, with 64 per cent using them to help with pensions legislation.

Interestingly, health and wellbeing strategies have often been dealt with by employers themselves, but this research shows that as many as 37 per cent are expecting to use advisers to help them in this area.

While the numbers looking for help with healthcare are far lower than those needing help with pensions, I believe this is a growing area for advisers because many employers are now looking to integrate their various employee health programmes in order to implement co-ordinated wellbeing strategies. The return on investment figures are finally coming through proving that well thought-through wellbeing programmes do deliver positive results for the business.

Debi O’Donovan is editor of Employee Benefits magazine

Colin williams
The corporate benefits market continues to go through considerable change. Employers are offering more varied benefits packages than ever.

Providers are consolidating to bring together best of breed propositions, including processes, products and services. And regulatory and legislative changes such as RDR are changing the landscape we’re all operating within.

But what does all this mean for corporate advisers? It means that their services and guidance are even more crucial than ever, and that is evident in the Employee Benefits/Friends Provident Adviser Research 2010 findings.

An encouraging trend is that employers appear to remain committed to using advisers for a number of subjects, the firm favourite being all things pensions related. Not surprisingly, legislative changes in the field of pensions, including auto-enrolment and tax, feature in the list of subjects where employers are looking for advice over the next 12 months, along with pensions, dealing with new legislation and dealing with tax changes for high earners topping the list.

The move towards integrated financial and health provision is also evidenced in the findings with 37 per cent of those responsible for, or having influence over the selection of advisers stating employee health and wellbeing as an area they are looking for advice. The introduction of corporate platforms will make the administration of combined benefits packages easier for employers, but initial guidance, advice and education is going to be required before the concept truly takes off. And this is where corporate advisers can come into their own and really add value. But how is that value measured?

Interestingly, quality of advice comes out as one of the successful measures for advisers according to respondents, with 76 per cent saying this is important. What concerns me about this statistic is that employers don’t necessarily fully understand how they are remunerating their advisers and as such, how are they measuring that quality of advice?

For corporate advisers there is a massive opportunity to increase transparency and confidence in, as well as commitment to the advice chain, by proactively agreeing success measures with customers.

Colin Williams is distribution and marketing director, corporate at Friends