The versatility of electronic voucher cards is helping their popularity overtake paper vouchers, says Alison Coleman
Trends in benefits may come and go, but gift and motivation vouchers remain a favourite among employers and staff, particularly in the current economic climate, when they can be used to help workers’ money go a bit further. But tradition is giving way to change, with paper vouchers slowly being replaced by electronic cards.
Paul Bartlett, head of reward and benefits at Grass Roots, says more employers are either switching to electronic cards or deciding any new scheme they introduce should include cards rather than paper vouchers. “Initially, we saw employers add the electronic card as an option to the voucher choices already in place, partly because there was a limited choice of retailers where the card could be spent. With more retailers now participating, the trend is towards having electronic cards as the single option.”
There are several advantages in offering electronic cards rather than paper vouchers. Schemes are generally easier, cheaper and more flexible to run, while paper-based schemes require a specific choice of voucher, making it difficult for employees to change their mind.
Security is another advantage of cards, says Kevin Pike, head of media at the UK Gift Card and Voucher Association. “A card is more secure than paper vouchers, which occasionally get lost in the post,” he says.
“Essentially, an employer can send out the cards empty and add the monetary value electronically with immediate effect.”
Employers can choose between electronic voucher cards that can be used at a single retailer, such as a supermarket or travel company, or ones that are redeemable within a group of retailers.
Multiple-retail electronic card schemes are often administered by third-party providers, incurring a management fee. Buying from a single provider only costs the employer the monetary value loaded onto the cards.
Empty of cash
Yvonne West, manager of gift cards at Sainsbury’s, says: “The employer simply orders however many cards they need and we send them out, either pre-loaded with a specified amount, or empty of cash which is assigned electronically at a later stage.” But Kevin Harrington, director of Sodexo, a provider of motivational voucher schemes, says multi-outlet cards are becoming a more popular benefit. “In the current climate, single-retailer cards are viewed with slightly more suspicion, because what happens if the company goes bust, like Woolworths? If employers are buying a reasonable quantity of multiple-retailer cards through a thirdparty provider, they usually get a discount.”
Electronic cards can be more flexible and cost-effective when used regularly, for example, to reward monthly sales targets. They also overcome a common bugbear of paper vouchers – the fact that change is not given when the spend is less than the voucher’s value.
Like paper vouchers, electronic cards as a benefit are subject to tax and national insurance, but employers often cover employees’ liability, ensuring they get the full cash value of the card
What are electronic voucher cards?
These cards can be used as an electronic substitute for traditional paper gift vouchers. They can either be pre-loaded with cash to be spent or with points that can be redeemed at single or multiple retail outlets.
Where can employers get more information?
The UK Gift Card and Voucher Association provides information on electronic voucher cards and lists a number of providers at www.ukgcva.co.uk
Who are the main providers?
Single retail providers include B&Q, Debenhams, House of Fraser, John Lewis, Next, and Marks and Spencer. Multiple-outlet providers include: Accor Services, Capital Incentives, Grass Roots, Logbuy, Love2reward, Michael C Fina, P&MM, Projectlink Motivation, and Sodexo.