Sponsor’s comment: What are we all waiting for?

Flex has a big role to play as businesses move out of recession, says Tobin Coles, director, flexible benefits and marketing, at Lorica Online

Challenging times continue for our businesses. The pace of restructuring has slowed, but it is clear that the echo of substantial changes organisations have had to make through the downturn still reverberates through workforces.

Insecurity and a lack of understanding of value still worry our staff and, I believe, will continue to do so for some time. However, as economists assure us the official end to the recession is now in sight, it becomes clear that a changed landscape within our businesses compels us to again look closely at matters of reward, compensation and benefits.

Attractive reward and benefit packages

Increasing fiscal security and recovering revenues will bring new challenges for organisations looking to create attractive reward and benefit packages to entice some of the great talent that has been laid off over the past months back into business. If these are indeed the green shoots of recovery, it is perhaps all of our collective responsibilities as employers, advisers and employee benefits providers to create more sustainable, affordable and attractive reward packages that do not cripple businesses’ bottom lines, yet deliver value and the ‘wow’ factor to long-suffering staff. I strongly believe flexible benefits schemes have a leading part to play in this leaner, more considered world.

Before we explore what part flex will play in reward packages in the coming months and years, it would be remiss not to comment on the obvious changes that have occurred among flexible benefits providers themselves. Stimulated to a large degree by the global economic challenges, there has been a series of leavers, acquisitions and new entrants to the flex provider marketplace. Life companies continue to acquire and invest in flex technology, although the question remains as to how long they will be able to operate without solely recommending the products and services of the parent business. In addition, a number of independent financial advisers (IFAs) that had, at best, dabbled in providing flex have disbanded their operations.

Holistic flex proposition

The net beneficiaries of this change have been the employee benefits consultancies, super IFAs and flex system providers that can offer a holistic flex proposition. In short, it is no good providing just software. In the new world, flex providers must be able to provide software, build flex design documentation, advise on the benefits, run the administration, project-manage implementation and create engaging launch campaigns. This is what the savvy, switched-on clients of the post-recession world demand of us… and rightly so.

Perhaps what we are left with is a clearer picture of the flex providers that are here to stay and a clearer brief from organisations on what they want from flex. It strikes me that what employers really want is innovation, efficiencies, employee engagement and, above all, a demonstrable return on investment. If all those boxes can be ticked, there should not be a shortage of organisations, either taking the plunge for the first time or reviewing whether they made the right flex choice the last time round. For those that are looking, innovations in software and competitive pressures reducing purchase costs mean there is now more choice than ever before. So what are we all waiting for?

Click on the links below for more sections:

Flexible benefits: Interview with Marianne Hugget of The Work Foundation

Flexible benefits: Structuring flexible benefits plans

Flexible benefits employer profile: White and Case

Flexible benefits: Selecting the right perks

Flexible benefits: Measuring return on investment

Sponsor’s comment by Lorica: What are we waiting for?