Dicing with data

Debi O’Donovan, editorial director at Employee Benefits: At the Employee Benefits Exhibition & Conference 2007 several delegates complained that their benefits advisers and providers did not supply them with benefits data. However, I believe it was a case of them not realising that data was available and all they had to do was ask for it.

The danger is that these employer-delegates were very much in awe of any benefits advisers who were boasting of offering data (for example, return on investment figures – ROI, take up rates or costs) as part of their service. These employers do not seem to realise that many providers can offer it but do not make a song and dance about it (more fool these providers, as they are likely to lose out to more marketing-savvy competitors).

However, benefits managers need to watch themselves, because some tend to become magpie-like when it comes to figures and ask for numbers they can never hope to have the time to crunch and analyse. So the onus, on both adviser and employer, is to find out exactly what the employer wants and why. Are they trying to cut absence costs? Improve staff retention? Justify the ROI on a new flexible benefits scheme? The questions will determine the data. This is not a time for ‘I’ll give you the answer, and you guess the question’ games.

With most admin being done online, reams of figures are captured daily from flexible benefits choices and take up figures, to absence rates and medical claims. These are often captured by providers, advisers, internal HR and/or payroll departments. Downloading all this data from different sources into the same format, merging and trying to cross analyse it could cost more than any benefits this exercise will bring.

However, some employers have managed to save vast sums when they have used data in a targeted fashion. Doing a cost analysis on ill-health retirement from the pension scheme versus claims on income protection has been an area that has led some employers to review their current practice in order to save millions in pensions money. Others, have been able to completely revise which benefits they invest in based on actual take up rates – thus ensuring they offer the most appealing perks to staff, which should influence recruitment levels.

While some benefits managers have a very clear vision of what data they need and how to translate this into useable figures to formulate benefits and HR strategies, many still need help and risk drowning in reams of numbers that have no use or meaning to anyone.