Interview with Elliot Rees-Davies, head of reward at Aviva

Elliot Rees-Davies, head of reward at Aviva, has had an exhausting year helping to implement major benefits changes as the insurance giant also underwent a huge rebrand

Elliot Rees-Davies must be one of the busiest people in the benefits sector at the moment. As head of reward at insurance giant Aviva, he has seen the organisation go through a massive rebrand over the past 12 months, and has had to cope with myriad challenges in the process.

Implementing change in a company as big as Aviva, with approximately 25,000 employees, is no easy task. So it is little wonder that Rees-Davies is proud of the changes he has helped to make, citing them as one of his greatest career achievements.

“We have put in a new UK-wide recognition scheme, pension salary sacrifice and a new flexible benefits plan,” he says. “Having to do all that in 12 months as well as going through a massive rebrand has been quite an achievement, to be honest.”

Greatest moments

But just as the changes have resulted in some of Rees Davies’ greatest moments, so they posed some of the biggest hurdles he has faced in his career so far. “It is [due to] the sheer size of the population, especially the IT systems and just communicating with all the different types of people in all the different offices,” he explains.

The importance of communication is one of the biggest lessons Rees-Davies has learned during his reward career. “Invariably, where an organisation gets it wrong is in the communication.” he says. “It can have the best-designed plan in the world, but if it does not implement and communicate it correctly, then all that time is wasted.”

Rees-Davies has honed his skills over a 13-year period, starting when he arrived at Arthur Andersen in 1996. After he had successfully applied for a position in the tax practice, the company had a change of heart and thought he would be better suited elsewhere. He ended up in the company’s human capital consultancy.

“I do not know whether they were trying to fob me off and get me out of the tax practice or what, but I said yes [to human capital] as it sounded more interesting than just doing tax returns,” he says.


He has never looked back. Rees-Davies’ position carries with it a great deal of responsibility, which he is quick to acknowledge, particularly having moved in-house after starting his HR career as a consultant.

“There has been an increase in accountability and responsibility for the reward agenda,” he says. “It is clear it is up to you what you do with reward within an organisation, but also you are responsible for it. It has become a lot more personal.”

Such decisions have particular relevance in a recession, says Rees-Davies. Like many reward professionals, he is currently tasked with balancing the economic constraints of the recession with the inevitable demands of employee performance.

He currently divides his time between London, Norwich and York, and says visiting various offices helps him see whether his initiatives are working.

Rees-Davies certainly has a busy working life, but he does not seem to mind. “I enjoy compensation and benefits,” he says. “It has an impact on staff and I will probably stay with it.”

Curriculum Vitae:

  • 2008-present head of reward, Aviva
  • 2005-2008 head of employee benefits, Lloyds TSB
  • 2002-2005 compensation and benefits consultant, Watson Wyatt
  • 1999-2001 compensation and benefits consultant, Ernst and Young


Who is your role model?
It is a question of seeing other people around and taking the best bits of each one. There are two or three people I have thought were pretty good in the whole reward space, so I have tried to take the strength that each of them offered.

What is your favourite benefit?
One we have offered to staff is the retail discount card, which I am hoping will gain a bit of momentum. The one I would make use of is the cycle-to-work scheme. I have just picked up my new bike from Halfords.

What is your career goal?
From here, the next step is to be the compensation and benefits director for a FTSE 100 company, whether in Aviva or externally.