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Success Story

Modernizing benefits: Navigating from strategy to execution in a complex global environment

Health and Benefits|Retirement|Total Rewards
N/A

June 29, 2019

Willis Towers Watson’s Global Benefits Management (GBM) team worked closely with a leading multinational organization to modernize their thinking and benefit approach.

The client is a leading global brand. While externally, its brand guidelines and customer value proposition are strictly upheld and consistent from market to market, it did not always meet these standards internally for its own employees when it came to their benefits. Resource constraints and internal communication snags translated into inefficient administrative practices that varied significantly across territories. Benefit data were hard to come by and often unreliable. This was a costly, time-consuming and risky practice, as well as being a drain on resources. Though elements of the client’s benefit strategy were implied, it was not clearly documented, monitored or consistently followed. As the client eyed expansion into new markets, its leadership knew a change was needed.

The company has a commitment to creating a workplace that is open and empowers employees to make their own decisions as well as enjoy a fair and sustainable future. Modernizing their thinking and benefit approach would help position the company as a responsible employer better able to face future challenges and attract, retain and engage top talent. In tandem with this is the clear goal of automating or outsourcing benefits administration in order to withdraw from the area, wherever practical.

Area of focus

Administrative burden

The primary driver for change was reducing the internal benefits administration burden globally, which could account for as much as 70% of someone’s time, with a goal of “getting out of the business of managing benefits.” With this in mind, there was concern that considering an enhanced benefit proposition would place an additional burden on teams when the company was looking to reduce this.

Employee choice

The client wanted to transition to a flexible benefits system where it was logical to do so. This system would help its employees be independent and more engaged in their benefits, picking those programs that were most relevant to them and essentially building a package tailor-made to their individual needs. But how could flexible benefits be implemented within existing resource constraints?

The challenge

  • Communication: Problems with internal communication and breakdowns in stakeholder management meant that global strategies were not always implemented. The current system posed severe challenges: a high benefit spend coupled with poor and inconsistent administrative practices.
  • Global consistency: Global strategy principles around outsourcing, consolidating design, employee experience and coordination of non-risk benefits such as leave and retirement were not clearly documented and were already not being communicated or adopted consistently at the regional or local level. Moving the dial globally in this environment represented a key challenge.
  • Data availability: For the central team, a large amount of time was being spent gathering benefit spend information globally for management reporting and budgeting each year, and the information gathered was not reliable. This reduced the time left for strategic activities.
  • Coordination: An immediate need existed for a thought partner for “strategic” global support, including implementation, guidance and consulting to articulate and coordinate any solutions that were devised prior to rollout.
GRAPHIC illustrating Strategy Navigator: A framework for linking broad philosophy to tactical solutions across five consistent dimensions

Strategy Navigator: A framework for linking broad philosophy to tactical solutions across five consistent dimensions

The solution

The Global Benefits Management (GBM) team worked with the client to understand, first, the nature of the challenges being faced and, second, how extensive they were across the company’s network. The client already had a functioning global brokerage arrangement in place and so had a good understanding of the principles behind GBM. The decision to move to a captive arrangement and look for more control and flexibility in benefits offered to company employees meant Willis Towers Watson had to offer a rounded solution that would reduce the overall administration burden and enhance visibility on global benefit spend and reporting, while providing employees with a greater degree of control.

Benefits Access, along with local brokerage, was rolled out in a pilot project in several countries, later expanding to several more. In addition, the team used the Benefits Strategy Navigator to develop a detailed global strategy for health and risk benefits, later being extended to retirement and with broader Total Rewards to follow. Following the success of this pilot, the client asked Willis Towers Watson to partner with it on global coordination and local consulting/brokerage across over 50 countries, replacing the existing global broker.

  • Administrative burden reduced: Even as flexibility was increased, administration of these benefits was outsourced, reducing costs and reducing the administrative workload. In addition, this implementation offered more benefit options to employees, without adding complex administration.
  • Employee choice offered: Flexibility was increased using the marketplace functionality of Benefits Access, and automation of benefits was introduced, providing a consistent employee experience and mobile access to employee benefits through the Benefits Access platform. This automated approach included not only employee choice but also local consulting, claims management and onsite support as needed.
  • Globally consistent practice: Globally consistent consulting support, including local teams partnering with a central global team in the U.S., was rolled out across the client’s entire network.
  • A clear global benefit strategy: The newly modern global benefit strategy not only comprehensively documented benefit principles but also put in place a process for assessing alignment to these principles globally.
  • Global data available: Benefits Insights was implemented worldwide, giving the client instant access to complete and reliable benefit information globally, reducing what was previously weeks of work to virtually the push of a button.
  • Better communication and coordination: The client also engaged Willis Towers Watson to provide onsite support at its global headquarters. This onsite support has since led to Willis Towers Watson providing consulting support on a design that will monitor untracked time off, as well as the design and implementation of an international savings plan among other domestic and global initiatives.

First-year results for the client

  • Implementing flexible benefits meant that employees enjoyed more choice, while the client experienced a significant reduction in its administrative burden rather than trying to manage benefits internally.
  • Insurance contracts were successfully transitioned in over 50 countries in 12 months.
  • The client now has timely, reliable cost information readily available for all countries through Benefits Insights, eliminating a previously time-consuming process.
  • Support was scaled to the client’s internal framework so that it was easier to help supplement its global strategy and governance model.
  • Development of a comprehensive yet practical benefit governance framework has been completed for both Health and Risk and DC Retirement benefits. This will be expanded to Total Rewards and rolled out at regional and local levels as part of the development of a corporate HR governance strategy.
  • Through the brokerage framework and implementation of Benefits Access in numerous countries, resource constraints have been alleviated.
  • The client was better able to measure employee reaction and strive for higher satisfaction, with employees in several countries reporting improved access to benefit information, enrollment capabilities and metrics on employee enrollment information. Ongoing support is provided through employee focus groups.
  • Continuity was created across all benefit programs, and the ability to implement any changes to these programs rapidly and efficiently was created.

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