Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid keeps compliant in France


Big Bad Boss has been reading one of those benefits bulletins again. All of our consulting friends send us these little updates to tell us what is happening in the world of benefits. Smarmy Consulting is the worst; it sends us not one but three newsletters, all pretty much saying the same thing. The first is a glossy brochure on international benefits trends. Then there is a monthly online global newsletter and, finally, an emailed alert any time any government even thinks about changing policy on benefits.

I don’t bother reading them anymore. I used to waste a lot of time wading through pages of detailed explanations of pension changes, only to find in the fine print that they didn’t apply to our particular scheme or it hadn’t been properly enacted yet anyway. It is a much more productive use of time to simply ask Oily Oliver, the account manager, if there is anything we need to action. Indeed, Oily Oliver usually gets in first, as this is how he earns consulting fees from us.

Big Bad Boss, however, clearly doesn’t have enough to do because he reads each and every report. He gets all in a panic about commission changes in Denmark only to discover our particular policies are not affected. He will jump up and down over pension age changes in Netherlands that are still in consultation. This time it is France. He has read something about compulsory health plans and worried about the impact on our benefits budget. He needn’t stress, but I will have to look into it. He orders (yes, that is the only way to describe it) a complete review of the benefits in France. I point out that we only just conducted an audit as part of the migration to the new benefits portal. Well that’s too bad; we have to look at them again, to make sure we are legislatively compliant, and to work out any incremental cost as a result. Right you are, boss.

I wonder if I can nip over to Paris for this project, but actually I know the answer. A big bad ‘non’. We have one of those silly travel freezes on right now, so that precludes even a measly rail ticket. I arrange a conference call with local HR and Smarmy’s French office.

We have a list of the local benefits on our new portal, so I enter the benefits portal to print off a report in preparation. We haven’t collected data on local statutory provisions, but the database does contain a report of the legislative requirements from Smarmy’s own surveys. We have relatively few company benefits in France, and I realise why: we are already paying a fortune in social taxes. French organisations pay a separate social tax for every possible need. UK national insurance seems positively straightforward by comparison, although obviously not so transparent.

I ask about the compulsory health plan changes in Smarmy’s alert. Okay, that’s not a problem, the local HR office says airily. It has already accounted for that and it is covered by a new policy. New policy? I am a little piqued. Is it on our database, I ask? Oh no, it was arranged after the new portal went in. But, all new policies must come through our team now, I point out. We have to approve everything centrally and enter it on the database to keep it up to date. I can almost hear a Gallic shrug.

I get them to send me the market review so I can see which vendors were considered. At least the one selected was the cheapest and at least they had looked at all the major suppliers. I get back to Big Bad Boss with the good news. We already have a compliant health insurance policy, so there will be no additional costs. I was going to gloss over the fact that it was not approved centrally, but Big Bad Boss seems to have a spooky intuition and he starts firing out questions. When was the policy taken out? Who is it with? Had we considered the international pool as part of the review? Well, no, because we hadn’t been involved in the change at all, I have to confess.

I watch a transformation as Big Bad Boss starts to morph into his biggest baddest alter-ego. We have to review every policy change in line with our pooling strategy, he shouts. Yes, I know. Have we done that?

I am calm. Luckily, I had already looked to see if the new insurer was in our pool in France. It isn’t, but the pooled company was part of the review and it was more expensive so that’s Okay, right? Big Bad Boss starts to return to his normal self and he pushes his glasses straight. Phew.

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Our so-called pooling strategy is an interesting topic. In my mind, we don’t have one, but in Big Bad Boss’s mind, and those of the Higher Beings, we do. I would say we simply use the cheapest insurer, because that is the reality, whether or not they are in the pool. If by chance, we happen to choose a pooled firm it is a bonus, but we are not allowed to express it in that way. We must say that every policy is reviewed in line with our pooling strategy. For a quiet life, I am learning to say what the Higher Beings want to hear, in the way they want to hear it.

Next time…Candid makes a presentation.