Concern about data and how it is protected and moved around is yet to peak. Law and regulation always lags commercial innovation, particularly where supranational regulation is needed. There will be regulation and appropriate controls after some messy scenarios. But there will be no retreat from the use and reuse of employee data.
Our purpose as employee benefit professionals is ethical and is driven by our corporate customers and their people. That purpose is to get the right savings, catastrophe cover and wellbeing services to people, leveraging the purchasing power of the employer and to deliver through automation.
Lead ambitions are data analytics for the employer so they can understand their people, tracking return on investment on benefit spend, consumer app quality user experience for the employee and automation of supplier accounting and administration for finance.
Add in capability for individual supplementary sales to the employee with the payroll as the premium gathering agent, aggregation of data enabling automated guidance and financial wellbeing services, and single sign on gateways for employees to access provider hosted services such as automated underwriting for life and disability cover, and pension projections.
So what are we prepared to change to get this? Providers often respond to these demands with something that looks like innovation but in truth is as little change to the current operating model as possible.
That position just doesn’t hack it any more. The global carriers – or providers – are lagging the global employee benefit platforms. And both are at risk of not meeting the current expectations of their global clients. As for the consultants advising those global employers, they are the part of the value chain that most needs to change its approach, as traditional broking and intermediation services can seem distinctly last century.
There is no doubt that employees are becoming demanding consumers. And there is no doubt that employers want their people to be engaged. This is heard so often that the words are at risk of having no meaning. To ensure that repetition of the phrase ‘employee engagement’ does not crowd out all thinking and initiative, what is needed is focus on the real people in the corporate client’s community. Study and analysis of their economic realities and their family obligations can be the start of this. This is seldom done beyond pay surveys to establish what the employer must pay in any given location not to have high people turnover.
What we do know is that people expect to be able to manage all aspects of their lives on a device of their choosing – desktop, tablet or smartphone. They also want to be able to enrol into and manage their benefits easily online. An employer that does not invest in, and continually improve, both the platform and the benefit offer simply looks like they cannot be bothered. The risk of employee disengagement is surely increased.
The foundations for the next era in employee benefits delivery are the data interfaces with benefit carriers. Unless and until we have data flowing to and from carrier platforms we will not create a consumer app quality experience for the employees.
This has started in the global clients and will be amplified by the leading SaaS organisations who need to build out the back end – the data connections to carriers – to continue to grow and to realise their profit potential. Where do carriers, employee benefit consultants and software as a service providers start on a task as broad and daunting as this?
The universe of carriers of employee benefits to a global client is bewilderingly diverse. The employers may be global but products, regulation and tax and welfare systems are stubbornly local. It will start where there are willing pension providers and insurers who have already invested in their administration platforms. A challenge will be put bluntly to carriers – are you seriously interested in transforming the service to our mutual corporate customers and, through getting data flowing securely and promptly, transform access to benefits?
Unless data is flowing from employer payroll and people systems through employee
communication and fulfilment platforms – the SaaS layer – to carriers and back again, the sector’s ambitions will not be realised. The strategic opportunity is clear. It will define the next era in employee benefits.