Benefits options in a virtual world

Technology needs to guide staff to the most appropriate benefits options, says RBS Group’s Jim Cowan

I have long held the view that a well-structured benefits programme can increase the value of perks for employees. Going forward, technology will have an increasingly important role to play in improving the customer experience, as well as providing easy access to cost-cutting initiatives such as salary sacrifice arrangements.

Benefits technology adds value by allowing a number of processes to be strung together. For instance, employees with access to a benefits platform can use the technology to get information on perks as well as register for benefits.

In addition to this, technology often plays an important role when it comes to the efficient delivery of benefits to employees. This is particularly good news for the benefits professional, who hates to hear employees saying they didn’t know certain benefits were available or that it is too much hassle to take advantage of cost-efficient perks.†


It is fairly easy to design benefits programmes offering extensive choice but what makes a programme effective is the quality of the communications used to promote it and the ability to measure the effect it is having on the people participating in it.

Of course, the easiest way to ensure employees fully understand the benefits available to them is to discuss their options with them face-to-face. However, in most organisations this is clearly impractical so benefits professionals need to assume the role of a marketing manager in devising a communication and decision support programme to ensure individual employees receive information that is appropriate for them.

At Royal Bank of Scotland we offer a range of complementary benefit programmes including flex, voluntary benefits, share plans and discounted banking products. Each is supported by excellent online and offline communications, and most allow employees to register online or make arrangements over the telephone.

As well as this, for some time we have been employing a segmentation model to help us personalise our communications to staff.†

The Virtual department store

In the future, I believe technology needs to embody what could be called a ‘virtual department store’ in which employees can relay their needs to a virtual ‘receptionist’ or ‘sales adviser’ before being guided towards the most appropriate benefits option. This type of solution could not only help online users but also take support to a new level.

Today’s workforce includes a vast number of employees who communicate with one another more than ever before, but not so much through traditional media. That is why we need to bring on board technology that enables instant communication for the Facebook generation.

Going forward, benefits decision support tools should allow employees to model all manner of lifestyle changes in advance to help them revise their benefits choices as their requirements change, thus ensuring they can always extract maximum value with ease from their reward packages. Once decisions are made by staff, these need to be instantly reflected in real-time online total reward statements.

For the benefits professional to successfully wear the marketing manager’s hat technology must provide predictive information. It is one thing knowing that certain employee groups have chosen certain benefits after the event, but a technology that recognises individuals who show repeated interest in a benefit without choosing it opens up a new world of opportunity.

Finally, let us not forget about the business imperatives behind all this. Links between benefits systems and business systems that give the line manager visibility of the connection between business performance and benefits take-up could finally turn business managers into the benefits champions they surely should be.

Jim Cowan is a senior consultant of remuneration and benefits at Royal Bank of Scotland Group