James Whelan: Time for benefits to get personal

Existing employee benefit data points can be cross-referenced with other data to create a profoundly personalised worker experience says Avantus Systems managing director James Whelan

Until recently, employee benefits were delivered, typically, in a ‘one-size-fits-all’ wholesale fashion. Employees were presented with a set list of benefits and given little flexibility in terms of options to select from.

But expectations in the workplace are shifting – employees are individuals with unique preferences and, in line with many other areas of their lives, they expect a greater degree of personalisation with tailored offerings which best match their preferences, lifestyle and interests. And these needs will change throughout their life. Driven by the retail trend of providing a customer-centric, personalised shopping experience, there are now significant changes in the way that employee benefits are delivered.

This is, in part, also driven by changing demographics in the workplace. Millennials make up a greater, and growing, part of the workforce and have been leading the charge when it comes to demand for customisation tailored to their lifestyles in everything from retail to entertainment.

There are benefits all round to this approach: delivering more tailored employee benefits is a way for organisations to engage and instil employee loyalty, to both attract and retain staff and to differentiate themselves from competitors. Employees will feel that they are valued as individuals rather just a ‘number’, with rewards and benefits that are custom-made to their specific wants and needs.

Technology is the enabler for this shift. New advances in employee benefits systems and a data-led approach to delivering packages are together enabling employers to customise their employee benefits offerings and deliver this bespoke approach. For example, if an employee has a dependant between certain ages, the system can present them with relevant benefits such as childcare vouchers. Additionally, if an employee’s line manager is given a selection of vouchers to reward staff, these can be presented on the basis of an individual’s personal interests, such as restaurant or cinema tickets. Or they may be presented with discounts on the retail value of a new bicycle and/or accessories for the ‘Cycle to Work’ scheme.

This personalised approach is enabled by harnessing data: employee benefits systems now hold huge amounts of information on their employees such as their age, gender, location and marital status, type of employment and activities outside of work. When these are cross referenced, the options are endless: this pool of ‘big data’ can be mined so that organisations can deliver an intelligent approach to the user-focused experience.

One of the most valuable parts of an employee package is their pension and just one example where this data-driven approach to benefits can be used is in anticipating what employees may need. Now that auto-enrolment is a legal requirement, after a period of time, an employee benefits solution is able to spot various trends in certain demographics. For example, it is possible to identify if contribution levels were to vary significantly between genders and age groups. These groups can then be presented with opportunities to use online automated advice on how to increase their contributions for a better retirement outcome. Here ‘machine learning’ – a way of analysing data to find hidden insights – can recommend outcomes that might not be suggested through a standard process.

It can also provide opportunities to up-sell and cross-sell certain solutions that are tailored to employees’ specific needs and changes in personal circumstances can trigger new offerings. If, for example, an employee has recently re-mortgaged, a system can recognise that they might need specific additional services such as an income protection increase. If they add details of a dependant, it may suggest they save into an Isa for the child’s education.

Data is key to personalisation, although as more information on employees is gathered, employers should consider how this is collected and stored. This must comply with the forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), due to come into force in May 2018, governing the privacy of employee information, ensuring that data is only used for the purposes agreed.

Personalisation offers huge scope for adding value to rewards packages, identifying trends and rewarding employees in the most meaningful and appropriate way. Advancements in technology are providing a way for employers to keep up with this shifting trend towards more personalised employee rewards. Tailoring packages to better suit individuals’ preferences, and anticipating their needs, ultimately provides a route to more satisfied and engaged employees and gives employers the ultimate in a flexible approach to rewards.