When we set up Benefiz in 2016 we wanted a sustainable business model which gave our staff the flexibility to juggle a busy work day with the needs of their family and to develop a service model that used the latest technology to deliver a quality service to our clients at an affordable price. Moving forward four years we are now reaping the benefits of our foresight. Perhaps winning Corporate Adviser Small Firm of the Year in 2018 was an early indicator of recognition in an industry that has been slow to move with the times.
In the current environment our remote model has worked well. We regularly use video conferencing facilities to communicate with our clients and each other and our client files are held in the cloud and accessed remotely. Good working practices you might argue but actually our business model has evolved with the needs of our clients.
We recently carried out a pension and PMI beauty parade for a client and they insisted on holding these sessions using Zoom and planning a delivery time of 30 minutes. Technology was less of a challenge for the pension providers but “telling their story” in 30 minutes proved interesting! The private medical market however struggled with technology and two of the three providers were unable to use the client’s conference facilities and were unable to share their screen due to compliance reasons!
Embracing new technology and home working changes the relationship we have with our clients. We often see our role as the “outsourced” compensation and benefits manager of a busy HR team. Where we are asked a benefit-related question we are expected to deliver a quick reply often outside of traditional office hours. This does raise a number of challenges.
Firstly, clients come to expect a quick response and secondly working after hours does impact on family time. What we try to do is to recognise and reward this effort both financially but also in the flexibility given to the team for making this investment.
Providers are starting to adopt a similar model. As I write this article on a cloudy Sunday afternoon in lockdown, I have just received an email from Aviva accepting an income protection claim!
Where possible we encourage our clients to set up our externally hosted benefits platform which we implement and use to communicate and administer our clients’ benefits. We have recently set up a platform for a new client with over 250 employees in the UK where we launched a flexible benefits programme and introduced pension salary sacrifice all using Zoom and have had 98 per cent of eligible employees complete their submission. A great result for our client.
As an industry we all have to adapt to change. Providers need to invest more time and resource with adviser firms who are embracing modern practices like ourselves.
We don’t need a consultant who is assigned to us because of our main office location. We need an agile support structure that meets our needs and those of our clients.
Also adviser firms need to embrace technology to reduce their overheads and offer a more flexible service to their clients. The temptation to make that journey to visit a client needs to be resisted, instead of having that difficult conversation with a client asking them how they want to be looked after and what service needs to be provided. A conversation that invariably will result in lower income for the adviser firm but will free up more time to look after existing clients more profitably and allow time to prospect for new clients.