Employee benefits industry is non-inclusive - Alexander Forbes

By Dawie de Villiers Time of article published Aug 6, 2019

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The employee benefit industry is fragmented and non-inclusive, with advice being more accessible for high-income earners and benefits not integrated into our overall financial well-being. 

Therefore, we need to adopt a collaborative approach, as Isaac Ramputa, chief executive at the Financial Sector Charter Council, articulates: “A one-size-fits-all solution is not the right approach to structuring employee benefits; we need to consider the unique characteristics of the South African demographic profile. From (Alexander Forbes’s) Benefits Barometer we have learnt that our focus needs to be on the financial well-being journey of employees, with the end-goal of saving for retirement.”

Against this background, I believe the true impact of our Benefits Barometer publications is in the changes they have sparked in defining both the narrative of the South African financial services industry and in advice and solutions. However, it is now time for action to embed this fully and deliver the desired outcomes.

The following six catalysts of change have driven significant shifts in advice frameworks, services and solutions:

1. Shifting from one size fits all to personalisation

This takes place not only in the solutions, but also in how advice frameworks are designed. Take, for example, retirement investment strategies. There has been a significant enhancement on the traditional approach where only an individual’s age was considered as an input, to an approach where strategies are tailored to individuals based on multiple inputs. In general, a more personalised, data-driven approach focusing on individuals’ income goals and their behaviours needs to be followed in designing an employee benefit programme; this better supports the outcomes envisaged by regulations with an advice-led approach. To comprehensively structure an employee benefit programme, we have recommended an approach that analyses retirement, health-care and indebtedness profiles to aid employers in putting proactive measures in place to address the specific issues relating to their employees.

2. Leveraging workplace employee benefit schemes

Employers have vested interests in improving the financial well-being of their employees. Some benefits include the ability to provide employees with group pricing on insurance and savings options, as well as workplace benefit counselling to assist individuals on, for example, joining, leaving or retiring. We believe that the most important way to change the saving and financial planning behaviours of South Africans is to work with them the moment they start earning an income.

It is better to start an advice framework before an employee even signs a contract and then use ongoing engagement to help them with their financial decisions both throughout their employment history and beyond.

3. Embracing goals-based frameworks and solutions

For example, to achieve a good retirement outcome, our advisory framework needs to be goals-based, by reviewing individuals’ needs and goals and evaluating how shortfalls can be addressed both in programme design and implementation. Measurement tools need to determine the success of strategies, and retirement and non-retirement savings need to take place side by side.

4. Understandable, relatable and actionable information

A key requirement is that information must be understandable, relatable and actionable. Easily understood and easily accessible information provided and presented in a relatable way results in more individuals making more informed choices. To deliver this, we have initiated an innovative digital engagement programme, to provide human resources practitioners with support during individuals’ life journey with the company.

5. Integrated advice and solutions

The single biggest impact we have is to shape how the industry operates and how we deliver advice and solutions to ensure that we help South Africans to make trade-offs between their individual needs.

We need to ensure that we recognise the links between mental, physical and financial well-being across an individual’s journey, recognising that each component has a knock-on effect.

We believe that a more integrated approach in delivering information, counselling, advice and the right solutions at the right time improves financial well-being, which has a demonstrable impact on savings and retirement outcomes. As an example, early indications across a pilot sample of funds show members preserved significantly more in funds that had adopted the Alexander Forbes default retirement income solutions than in those that did not.

Employers have a responsibility to the broader South African society of ensuring that employees who leave their protection will either go on to continue to be productive contributors to South African society or be well insulated from social and economic implosion. An integrated and holistic focus on well-being may well hold the key to addressing South Africa’s serious demands for entrepreneurship, economic growth and more inclusive employment.

6. Collaboration

Collaboration is key to fulfilling the objectives outlined, with the ultimate aim of achieving a lifetime of financial well-being for the individuals we serve. We know that not one institution can get all this right on its own. It must be a collaborative issue. We must come together - providers, employers, government, regulators and individuals.

We want to put the research into practice so that individuals can see the benefits at the end of the day. If we can get this right, that’s the way to uplift South Africa.

Alexander Forbes’s Benefit Barometer publications are available at HERE!

Dawie de Villiers is the chief executive of Alexander Forbes.


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