Engaging users in financial fitness

Aon’s Bigblue benefits platform is a guiding light in the development of tools for promoting employees’ financial fitness says F&TRC director Ian McKenna

I don’t usually look at a proposition from one company more than once a year in this column, however, occasionally something exceptional comes along which makes it worth varying my rule. In this instance it’s Bigblue, the workplace benefits portal, originally built by Lorica and now adopted by Aon following the recent acquisition, which can provide some important lessons for good practice in building such services.

Financial fitness tools can play a crucial role in the future of the employee benefits. Such services represent an opportunity to become an individual’s most trusted sources of financial guidance and make a real difference to their day-to-day lives, rather than being primarily a way to plan for retirement. At the same time they can deliver enormous benefits to employers. Debt and financial stress can have a corrosive effect on productivity in the workplace, so an effective financial fitness plan can deliver significant return on cost.

Whilst there is a compelling case for financial fitness, services need to be really engaging for users in order to ensure that they build them into their day-to-day lives. Against this background it’s not surprising that Bigblue has won so many awards and plaudits.

The signup process is easy and fluid and it doesn’t take long for the member to enter sufficient details so they receive an instant view of their aggregated accounts. This is quickly rewarding members with information that provides great insight into day to day spending and analysis of historical spending trends. Categorisation tools allow users to allocate particular items to different budgets and to personalise the way they wish to allocate spending.

The service plan pulls all of a client’s corporate and personal investments and insurance policies together with details on assets and liabilities. These are segmented into easily distinguishable categories – such as physical assets, retirement assets and savings – providing a truly holistic picture of the user’s financial life. Providing such a complete picture to employees should put corporate benefits firms in an excellent position to deliver personal financial guidance to individuals as well as the employer.

Lots of benefits portals will allow users to carry out extensive modelling of their future retirement income and comparison of a wide range of funds but where Bigblue makes a difference is the way in which this is presented in the context of the individual’s future life. People who are struggling to deal with day-to-day financial pressures are unlikely to prioritise the need for long-term saving unless it can be communicated in ways that they can see as relevant to their current lives. This is especially powerful when linked to detailed analysis of the individual’s current income, expenditure and debt.

Financial fitness is not going to be a universal panacea – it cannot help those employees who do not want to help themselves. But for those individuals who do want to take more control of their financial lives a service like this can be invaluable. In practice Bigblue is delivering far better insight on an individual’s finances then they can get from other sources they might expect to help them. For example an employee is likely to get far more understanding of how to improve their budgeting from this service than they would from their bank’s online offering. Helping employees take better control of their finances is a real way to improve the value they derive from their pay.

When delivering services of this type it is not only important to get the information right, you have to also make the user interface really engaging and easy to use. A lot of time was obviously spent in this area in the creation of Bigblue, which is clean and clear and easy to understand.

A number of highly innovative new technologies are converging to make it possible to deliver truly customised guidance to employees thinking of taking more control of their financial lives when they need it most. Whilst I am sure this will be a highly competitive market and it will be necessary to continue to make substantial ongoing investment with the work they have already done on Big Blue, Aon is well placed to take full advantage.  Doing so will help employers ensure they get the maximum return on their benefits spend.