Flexibility and adaptability in the digital era – can the employee benefits industry make it pay?
The world of employee benefits is going through some fairly seismic changes – albeit it at the speed of tanker as opposed to racing yacht. But despite the relatively slow pace of change, we all need to be prepared for what’s coming because the need to provide a greater variety of benefits, at lower cost, via a raft of digital channels is inevitable.
In response to this, we decided to do some research and try to discover whether the views of employee benefits (EB) professionals based around the world were similar to those of our clients operating at a global level with whom we talk often.
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We commissioned research among over 200 employee benefits professionals across the world (primarily in Europe and the US but also in Asia, Oceania and the Middle East), looking at industry drivers such as cost management, the use of new digital tools, and the flexibility of schemes. Many of the survey respondents operate for large companies at a local level, giving us a real idea of local views, globally.
We found that the results fell into four overarching themes:
1. A growing focus on flexibility
Almost three quarters (72%) of respondents said their current employee benefits arrangements are based around a ‘one-size-fitsall’strategy. Yet more than four in 10 (44%) noted that a one-size fits-all strategy is now inappropriate for the changing needs of their staff.
Respondents highlighted the need for highly flexible schemes designed around individual needs (cited by 46%) and even employee ‘build your own’ schemes (42%). Tailoring benefits to specific market segments will become more important too: two thirds (65%) said they believe that the so called ‘Millennial’ generation of employees requires new and more specific employee benefits packages; a similar number (66%) cited social developments such as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender rights as an emerging trend that will shape future product and service offerings.
2. The need for a global perspective but a local approach
Three fifths of our respondents said that employee benefits at their organisation are managed locally or independently in each jurisdiction, but some 38% said that theirs are managed on a global or regional basis. So getting the balance right between global and local requirements will be crucial, especially given that 31% said that, over the next two years, multinationals will increase demand for bespoke programmes that can be tailored to individuals, wherever they are.
3. Managing costs remains fundamental
It will come as little surprise that cost was the biggest concern for respondents (cited by 79%) when discussing the management of employee benefits. Only 2% said costs were of no concern. More than half (54%) said that, looking ahead over the next two years, better cost control and cost modelling should be the number one priority for the global employee benefits industry.
4. Data and digital technologies: underpinning the future of employee benefits
It was very clear from the research that the focus on data excellence is accelerating. This appreciation of the power of technology was stark – and something that MAXIS GBN is acutely aware of from our work with our member insurers and clients. One of the most significant findings of our research was that for three quarters (75%) of respondents the use of data and new technologies to improve the employee experience is the number one growth opportunity for the employee benefit sector over the next two years.
“One of the most significant findings of our research was that for three quarters (75%) of respondents the use of data and new technologies to improve the employee experience is the number one growth opportunity for the employee benefit sector over the next two years.”
Our Viewpoint of the findings
Our study reinforced many of the views and discussions that we, at MAXIS GBN, our member insurance firms and other stakeholders such as EB consultancies have been having with multinationals recently – and vice versa. The world of employee benefits has become truly global. It has also become more sophisticated and complex – catalysed by digital technologies, smart processes, a better understanding of the needs of different
demographics, and ever deeper levels of data driving our business and social lives. Significant variations between countries and jurisdictions in ‘standard’ employee benefits provision, as well as widely differing regulatory environments, have added to this complexity. Simplifying this complexity is key.
While it is clear that many multinationals are looking at − and increasingly implementing − global solutions to cut costs and manage risks more effectively, the pull towards more localised, tailored programmes is a significant trend. The challenge and opportunity will be for businesses to build programmes that capitalise on global solutions where applicable but also offer the range of local benefits that employees are looking for and value the most.
We believe that this need for global and local solutions has a common denominator: better management of the underlying data and translating it through powerful digital processes in ways that improve transparency, help deliver tangible cost benefits and allow all stakeholders in the employee benefits chain to manage and price risks much more diligently. One way to manage the demand for personalisation and flexibility, while at the same time addressing insurance premium control, is to understand exactly what insurance claims are being claimed for and where, when and why. The central role of technology in the development of global employee benefits cannot be overstated – it is one of the core themes running throughout our first MAXIS Global Perspectives study. It is impossible to undertake the analysis required to predict and manage employee benefits risk – on any scale – and also administer programmes and plans without the requisite tools and platforms. Employers recognise that offering flexible and appropriate benefits will be a key tool in attracting and retaining the best people. Three quarters of respondents to our survey agreed that the use of data and new technologies will improve the employee experience, while the use of data and new technologies is also seen as the trend most likely to shape product and
service offerings in the future by more than eight in 10 (81%) of respondents.
“There are two fundamental things that are happening in the market. First, on the financing side we’re seeing the role of deciding how to finance the benefits most effectively is being placed more at the global level. Secondly, we’re still seeing benefits very much locally driven. There are different laws locally, different state systems. The benefits will still be very different in their design from country to country. “[But] HR is also changing the way in which benefits are structured in many large organisations. How companies are looking to go around actually providing the right benefits to the right people, that’s been managed increasingly in regional or global centres… And in order to actually prioritise actions and look at what you really should be focusing on to make a difference, you need good data.”
Graham Pearce, Global Consulting Group Leader, Mercer
“Given the complexity and diversity of benefits around the world, they have traditionally been considered difficult, if not impossible, to manage globally. As a result, they have been left behind and are now the last wave of the HR digital revolution."
Thomsons Online 2017/2018 Global Employee Benefits Watch Report
To download the full MAXIS Global Perspectives report please visit
*Unless otherwise stated all data is taken from MAXIS GBN 2018 Global Employee Benefits Study
The MAXIS Global Benefits Network (“Network”) is a network of locally licensed MAXIS member insurance companies (“Members”) founded by AXA France Vie, Paris, France (AXA) and Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, New York, NY (MLIC). MAXIS GBN, registered with ORIAS under number 16000513, and with its registered office at 313, Terrasses de l’Arche – 92 727 Nanterre Cedex, France, is an insurance and reinsurance intermediary that promotes the Network. MAXIS GBN is jointly owned by affiliates of AXA and MLIC and does not issue policies or provide insurance; such activities are carried out by the Members. MAXIS GBN operates in the UK through UK establishment with its registered address at 1st Floor, The Monument Building, 11 Monument Street, London EC3R 8AF, Establishment Number BR018216 and in other European countries on a services basis. MAXIS GBN operates in the U.S. through MetLife Insurance Brokerage, Inc., with its address at 200 Park Avenue, NY, NY, 10166, a NY licensed insurance broker. MLIC is the only Member licensed to transact insurance business in NY. The other Members are not licensed or authorised to do business in NY and the policies and contracts they issue have not been approved by the NY Superintendent of Financial Services, are not protected by the NY state guaranty fund, and are not subject to all of the laws of NY. MAR00235/0518