Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid considers discount platforms


One of the consulting firms we work with, Hugely Expensive Consulting, has come out with a new platform for non-cash benefits, such as discounts and vouchers. Meanwhile the Higher Beings, our executive team, have also demanded that we review the executive perks that we offer. That makes another unexpected project on my desk. Uff.

I point out to Big Bad Boss that we are tied in to our current supplier until the end of next year, and it would mean yet another interface drama to move to a new system. Big Bad Boss bats these details away with a waft of his hand. He tells me to get a few firms in to look at, and that I should make sure I include the new platform from Hugely Expensive Consulting. Could it be, I wonder, that they have taken him for a nice lunch again?

My contact at Hugely Expensive wants to know our budget and details of the request for proposal (RFP). At this stage, we just want to have a look, I say, hoping I don’t end up having to go through the whole rigmarole of an RFP. Our current supplier will demo their platform too, and I also take the opportunity to invite a funky firm offering connected benefits, a sort of internal eBay just for employees. I met the chief executive officer at a networking event and thought he was cute; Big Bad Boss is not the only one who can be biased.

Making the pitch

Hugely Expensive is taking this demo very seriously. They have sent in not two, but four consultants, all in smart blue suits. As it is only Big Bad Boss and me from our side, we are a bit overwhelmed. One of the suits is the vice president of hugely expensive platforms, so we are particularly honoured.

The sales people speak in a way that could make an egg-timer sound exciting. I can’t remember their actual pitch, but there was a lot of talk about ‘intuitive digital platforms’ and ‘data-led strategy’ for employee engagement. I understand the individual words, but what does that really get us? A hugely expensive fee, that’s what.

Behind the spin, all Hugely Expensive really seems to offer is a glorified website, with some discounts on individual purchases. There are apps for that, I think. Perhaps we just send out a link to a voucher site and be done with it.

Big Bad Boss mentions that the Higher Beings have a particular interest in perquisites, so Hugely spend a lot of time showing us their C-suite where, at huge additional cost, we can offer discounts to high-end goods, services, and venues with special corporate subsidies for senior management. Big Bad Boss gets particularly excited by the golf venue page and I feel like palming my forehead. They leave us with a goody bag containing a rather nice notebook and a box of golf balls. No one can say they haven’t thought through their pitch.

Next up is my handsome friend from the networking event. He strolls in 15 minutes late in a t-shirt and jeans. He still looks great and his presentation is brilliant. He is lively and articulate. He paces up and down running his hands through his hair as if our questions have foxed him, but then shows us he has all the answers down pat. It is his own company and he is so passionate about the product, I am almost wooed. However, his platform offers little on perks that our existing supplier doesn’t already. His main selling point is the way his platform uses the site to connect employees around the world to create their own voluntary benefits through a bartering system. It’s an interesting and creative idea but, cuteness aside, I don’t think it would really work for us. I can see Big Bad Boss doesn’t either. He’s fiddling with his glasses. Bad sign.

I have deliberately put our existing supplier, Smarmy Consulting, up last. Oily Oliver we already know, and he’s brought along a new guy, James. I can see James is here to sell. He, too, spouts off about the intuitive digital technology and strategic data analysis, but manages to steer clear of the worst corporate speak so that Big Bad Boss and I can stay awake.

Oliver demos the system. It is, in fact, pretty much our current tool, but they’ve made it look great for this demo. They’ve added a few options that we haven’t been utilising, like setting up special employee groups. It’s spooky, but all the offers they show relate to golf or cycling products, and they just happen to display several discounted golf resorts.

Big Bad Boss asks a few questions, which Oliver is readily able to answer. So he should; I told him what questions to expect. Big Bad Boss wants to know how much it would cost to get them to upgrade our platform. It’s more than it’s worth, but a lot less than Hugely Expensive.

Considering the options

When they’ve gone, Big Bad Boss and I meet to discuss. It is in my interest to stick with Smarmy; it’s cheaper and, more importantly, involves no extra work for me.

Big Bad Boss needs to give the Higher Beings the idea they’ve got something special; we can package the Smarmy tool so that it looks like an improvement, but the Hugely Expensive platform alone allows us to subsidise certain products for certain employee groups.

I say that adding pure subsidies for executives leads to unfavourable publicity, both internally and externally. They get enough stick over their eye-watering salaries, as reported in the accounts. I’ve no idea if extra discounts on golf holidays would end up being reportable for company directors, but I say it anyway. Big Bad Boss nods.

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I do find if you say something with enough confidence, people don’t question it.

Next time… Candid plans her successor.