How to select benefits technology that is right for a business

Need to know

  • Benefits technology can play a vital role in engaging employees and ensuring take up of benefits.
  • Employers should start by working out what they want to end up with, and then work out how to get there.
  • They should remember to ask questions of providers and seek out the opinions of peers.

Technology has become a vital part of how we operate, and this is certainly the case in the world of benefits. With 42% of employees saying the benefits package is their most important consideration when it comes to selecting an employer, according to research conducted by Zest in July 2023, it is essential that organisations offer staff an attractive proposition that can be accessed through an effective technology package.

There are a number of steps which employers should take to arrive at the solution that works best for them. It is a good idea to start at the end and work backwards, says David Kirk, growth leader, technology, at Aon. “In this way, [they] can look back 12 months from implementation, and think about what success would look like to [them] and other stakeholders, including employees,” he says. “This information will help so [they] can better align to the providers [they] engage with.”

Access to perks

Thinking about how employees will access benefits is essential. Glenn Thompson, chief distribution officer at Unum UK, says: “Benefits technology that consolidates a swathe of benefits under one roof, the one-stop-shop approach, can be beneficial. It streamlines access to services, creating positive user experiences along with simple, easy customer journeys. This is critical to driving employee engagement.”

As for the benefits themselves, a starting point should be to talk to employees to find out what they value, says Matt Russell, chief executive officer (CEO) of Zest. “Higher-cost benefits that have little relevance to an employee are likely to be redundant and sit unused,” he says. “Similarly, if lower-cost benefits can better fulfil an individual employee’s needs, they are more likely to engage with it, improving their overall experience and constituting a more successful benefits strategy. But without engaging employees on this topic it’s impossible for organisations to evaluate this need.”

Provider choice

When it comes to selecting providers, there are different things to consider and questions to ask. Sarah Gilchriest, chief people officer at Workforce Learning, says: “Many [providers] offer similar solutions, but they will not always be of the same quality. It’s worth exploring the user interface to make sure that it is intuitive and easy to navigate for both employees and HR professionals. Look for tools that facilitate clear and effective communication of benefits information to employees, such as personalised dashboards, notifications and educational resources. Training requirements should be minimal but on hand when required.”

There are essentially two types of provider, says Kirk. “One offers technology and potentially a level of consulting and the other offers full service and support, including technology, consulting, pensions and broking,” he says. “The plug-and-play approach with technology will work well for an [organisation] that has fixed benefits and potentially a smaller population size, whereas a company that is more mature in its flex journey and is looking for a managed service will choose the latter.”

Data insights

Increasingly, data capabilities is an important consideration, as it can provide vital insight based on aggregated information into wider workforce trends, such as around health. “Employers can use this to inform their wellbeing strategies,” says Thompson. “For example, if the trend is towards greater use of mental health support, an employer can consider adapting its offering accordingly to improve workplace wellbeing. This means the employer can put preventative measures in place early and pre-empt upcoming concerns.”

It is also important to think about how systems integrate with other packages, such as HR software, and to ensure it is able to accommodate future changes as employee and business needs evolve. Sarah Hayles, HR manager UK&I, at Alight Solutions, says: “Any system needs to support those changes. Having these in mind from the get-go ensures you find a technology platform that can grow and change with these needs.”

Finally, anyone thinking about investing in benefits technology needs to ensure they source the opinion of others, not just providers. “Employers should talk to those that already have a benefits platform and not just those [organisations] that are similar to [themselves],” suggests Russell. “Events and forums will allow [them] to put the feelers out. By discussing the good, the bad and the ugly with peers and advisers, [employers] can get to know the key players and their relative strengths but also which platform is the best cultural fit for [theirs].”