Are apps increasing the take-up of voluntary benefits?

Voluntary benefits technology

Need to know:

  • The convenience and functionalities apps bring provide an opportunity to boost employee engagement with voluntary benefits.
  • Good user experience and compelling content can ensure repeated use of an app.
  • For maximum effect, mobile offerings should be strategically integrated into employers’ benefit programmes.

In 2015, smartphones surpassed laptops as the most popular way of accessing the internet, according to research by Ofcom. Its 2015 Communications market report, published in August 2015, found that 33% of internet users view the smartphone as the most important device for going online, compared to 22% in 2014. The popularity of tablets for internet access also increased, rising by 4% to 19%, while laptops and desktops declined by 10% and 4%, respectively.

The continuing shift in individuals’ internet usage habits brings with it implications and opportunities for employee benefits that are primarily accessed online, such as voluntary benefits. Saurav Chopra, chief executive officer at Perkbox, says: “Mobile apps and mobile web are having a dramatic impact on the take-up of employee benefit services.”

The retail discounts, timely offers and savings available through voluntary benefits programmes are well suited to the immediacy and convenience provided by apps, and enhanced by features such as location functionality. “From a user-experience standpoint, mobile apps offer a lot of advantages and capabilities that help take employee benefits to the next level,” says Chopra. “Apps are also a great driver of engagement because they are sitting on [a] handset with anytime, anywhere access.”

The ability to send push notifications can further drive engagement, whether with specific offers on a voluntary benefits platform or with benefits communication more widely. Moreover, while the functionality and comparative advantages of offering a web, hybrid or native app can be debated according to particular requirements, user behaviour and expectation mean that the potential scope of mobile within the employee benefits arena is significant and ripe for innovation.

Mike Morgan, chief executive officer at PeopleValue, says: “[Employers] are using the mobile device as a communication tool for employee engagement. There’s really big growth in that and in terms of how HR departments and strategies within business can disseminate information and update employees.”

Ensure apps are used effectively 

To harness the power of apps in boosting engagement with voluntary benefits, employees must first and foremost be able to obtain the app and understand how to use it.

This might involve making mobile devices available to staff through the voluntary benefits programme or on a salary sacrifice basis, as well as offering communication support around using the app, such as how to download it and enable push notifications, says David Walker, chief commercial officer at Personal Group. “Strategically, it’s absolutely critical [that employers] understand the level of current technological awareness among their workforce,” he adds.

Of course, an employee simply having the app on their tablet or smartphone is redundant if they do not use it. “[Employers] have to give people a reason to use [an app] and to use it often,” says Walker. “That’s why [organisations] are looking at integrating elements that are really compelling for employees to go into the app to use, such as payslips, holiday booking or offers on the high street.”

Employers should consider how a voluntary benefits app fits within their overarching benefits offering. Establishing clear goals and fully assimilating mobile into a benefits strategy will not only have a greater impact, but will also reduce the risk of the app becoming outdated or superfluous. “It’s very important that the app is able to grow with you,” says Walker.

Aggregate information such as how employees are engaging with voluntary benefits through mobile devices and the value it provides employees in terms of savings and discounts, for example, could also help employers shape and enhance their mobile and benefits proposition.

While apps are unlikely to fully replace desktop and laptop-based access to voluntary benefits, by focusing on employee experience and positioning apps within an integrated offering, employers can present an attractive means of engaging with voluntary benefits, particularly outside of the workplace. PeopleValue’s Morgan says: “I think we’ll still see a high percentage of [desktop and laptop] work-based usage of these [benefit systems], but by increasing user experience from mobile devices we will also see a lot more usage outside of work.”