What new technology trends will employers see in the benefits world?

Need to know:

  • Employers need benefits technology to be agile enough to quickly respond to market or global changes, such as the focus on remote health and wellbeing support brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Technology needs to serve the needs of the employer, such as financial management tools to provide a base point for a financial wellbeing strategy.
  • The user experience is a critical component; employers need to ensure that benefits technology supports a valuable employee experience.

Benefits technology is an important part of an employer’s benefits proposition: 84% of respondents to the Employee Benefits research 2020, published in May, stated that they use some form of benefits technology, including staff intranets, reward portals, external provider websites and mobile apps. Workplace technology continues to develop at speed, but are there new trends in technology that will be entering the benefits world?

Employer needs

Benefits technology very much has to reflect the needs of the employer. A key issue that continues to rise in popularity is how to support the financial wellbeing of employees. Jeff Fox, principal at Aon, says: “The hot topic around technology for us is around financial education: technology that helps employees see all of their financial products and services, investments and pensions, savings and debt in one place. So the idea of helping employees see everything in one place as being the source of a financial wellbeing journey.”

Financial management tools have been available in the consumer space for some time, but they are now seeping into the workplace as more employers ask for them. “We are often asked how we can help employers and their employees really take advantage of some of the new technology that helps employees quickly and easily see everything in one place, so they can connect their bank account, pension, savings and then present their holistic financial wealth in one place,” adds Fox.

Employers are using this as the starting point for a financial wellbeing strategy, says Fox. This gives employees a baseline view of their overall financial position and how employers can support them going forward.

Employers are looking for agility from technology and for it to deliver valuable data, says Chris Bruce, co-founder of Thomsons Online Benefits. “I think that right now there are real ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ among [employers] that are able to use technology to help them to be able to respond to meeting that people need,” he says. “So those [employers] that have benefits technology in place have the data on what is happening among their employees. They have the administrative capability to implement new things and to communicate new things to their employees.

“The have-nots don’t have the data on what’s really happening among their employees and they don’t have the technology to implement new things, or to communicate new things.”

But that technology will help employers to be able to respond quickly to the changes that are happening globally, and to be able to implement or build on their benefits technology as required, either by the Covid-19 pandemic or other pressures.

Consumer experience

Offering employees access to and communications around benefits in a similar way to the consumer market will be a key issue for employers. Convenience is key, says Jonathan Ward, partnerships manager at Reward Me Now. The voluntary benefits app was originally launched for a business-to-consumer (B2C) audience, but in 2019, the provider saw the value in launching it to the business-to-business (B2B) market. Reward Me Now was launched as an app-only model for employers to offer to staff as an easy way of accessing benefits anywhere. As well as convenience, employers and employees want a personal experience. “The big trend that we’ve seen moving into the corporate market is personalisation,” says Ward. “For us, that means personalising the platform we provide to employers as well as gaining an insight into employee preferences.”

A personalised experience feeds into the content that employees receive and links back to the need for financial wellbeing support tools. For example, a short video about how what an employee invests into their pension now will affect their retirement plans, can have a big impact. “Also that personalised, interactive nature around total reward statements,” says Fox. “Whereas in the past they were paper-based or just a static thing, some of the new technology brings it to life and will actually talk [an employee] through [their] data and tell them what their salary is, what their benefits are and what that looks like from a total reward perspective.”

The focus on providing employees with a valuable experience is a trend that is likely to continue post Covid-19, and in this respect, employers should treat their employees as if they are customers. Jacqueline Benjamin, director at Xexec, says : “We’ve got to remember that we’re all consumers. So the user experience is still going to be critical. And as we use platforms more, and there is less face-to-face [interaction], user experience is going to be heavily demanded by the employee, which is where we are going to see the transition from consumer to corporate needs.”

Technology to support health

Another key facet of benefits technology is how it supports, and will continue to support, the health and wellbeing of employees. During the Covid-19 pandemic, being able to offer support remotely for employees is a vital requirement for employers. Glenn Thompson, customer solutions director at Unum group of companies, which includes voluntary benefits platform, Benni, and the Help@Hand health support app, says: “We are seeing smaller employers being much more conscious about the mental and physical wellbeing of their employees. Take up of [Help@Hand] has been exponential over the last couple of months; we are seeing most employers being far more caring than they were about their employees, especially now, at a time when things are difficult.”

Technology to support the health and wellbeing of employees has been a growing trend over the last few years and looks set to continue to rise in importance. “The biggest change we’ve seen in the last two or three years has been the rise of wellbeing,” says Bruce. “[Employers] rolling out wellbeing technology, particularly mental health technology, and financial health, physical health and also social health, create a sense of belonging. In these last three years, we’ve seen this rise in the provision of these tools, and they are all developed as consumer applications.”

Future trends

While organisations are yet to fully open their physical workplaces, the focus on supporting employee health and wellbeing through technology looks set to continue. Employers have to continue to find effective ways of doing this remotely, which, of course, presents challenges. “Whereas before [an employer] could get a sense of that from an office, [it] could literally see [its] employees, that’s not going to be so much of a possibility going forward,” says Fox. “Employers are going to want to know that their duty of care is still being met, and with people working from home hunched over a laptop on a kitchen table, I think there’s going to be a whole range of health considerations.”

Technology presents a solution to supporting employees’ health and wellbeing because with better data and more agile programmes which enable employers to react quickly to market developments, employers can put in place more effective benefits strategies.