New Ways to engage with staff

It is now vital to use the latest communication technologies, says the Financial Technology Research Centre’s Ian McKenna

In the current economic climate there is a distinct risk that employees will fail to understand the cash equivalent value of the total remuneration and benefits packages they receive.†

Despite the difficult times, several technologies flourished during 2008. Internet streaming services, television-on-demand and digital hard drive recording services have all significantly altered consumers’ viewing habits.†

Similarly, the advent of the iPhone and other smart bits of kit have revolutionised the way people use the devices they carry around with them. Mobile internet technology is no longer the exclusive preserve of the BlackBerry-wielding executive. Now, at the beginning of 2009, electronic reading devices have the potential to transform the way we read books and newspapers.†

Although the past 20 years have seen an unparalleled expansion in communications technology, for the vast majority of employees most benefits announcements continue to be made on paper. Compared with those who harness the capabilities of modern technology, anyone still communicating solely by paper and traditional web services these days is unlikely to capture the audience they are seeking. The challenge is to give individuals the information they want in the format they want it, when they want it.†

Limiting the ways in which benefits are communicated by not taking advantage of modern technology represents a lost opportunity for businesses. Enlightened employers that bring their communication methods into the 21st century stand to gain a number of advantages.†

There are compelling economic and environmental arguments for delivering information in any of a wide range of digital formats. Currently, few employee benefits providers appear to have recognised this opportunity. Standard Life has made a start with its Go Paperless campaign, which gives members the opportunity to opt for electronic benefit statements in lieu of paper, but even this is only scratching the surface.†

Electronic documentation presents an opportunity to deliver a far greater depth of information to employees, enabling them to enter into an interactive experience which could in turn personalise information in ways that are impossible with traditional paper communications.†

Services such as the PDF portfolio function included in the latest release of the Adobe Acrobat computer program enable the creation of benefit statements with audio, video and interactive graphics from a wide range of sources. If most employees consider benefits a dull subject, it is essential that we communicate with them in the most engaging way possible.†

Delivering boring pieces of paper featuring big numbers that are difficult to comprehend is hardly likely to capture a recipient’s imagination. But when it becomes possible to deliver an interactive presentation, which can be personalised to allow the member to explore their individual circumstances, the experience can be transformed. This can be done using the employee’s choice of interface – say, mobile browser, interactive podcast or digital television.†

It will, however, be essential for regulators to ensure they are not a constraint on progress in this area. There are lessons that can be learnt here from the way the Financial Services Authority (FSA) has evolved its approach to technological platforms as part of its Retail Distribution Review.†

Employers’ ability to get the full value from the benefits package they develop in future years is as likely to be defined by the communications delivery mechanisms they use as it is by the perks.

Ian McKenna is the director of the Financial Technology Research Centre

Key Points

  • Employers that fail to exploit the latest technology to communicate benefits are missing out.
  • Electronic documentation delivers more in-depth information to employees and can be personalised.†
  • Employers who rely solely on paper-based communications are unlikely to grab the attention of their target audience.
  • An employer’s ability to maximise the value of their employee benefits package is likely to be defined by the communication methods that they use.