One of the (many) things I love about my job is the variety of opinions that I canvass when speaking with existing and potential new employers. It is clear from conversations that I have with employers from different industries, locations, and who have varying employee demographics that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to employee benefits. Whilst some employers fully embrace not only a full range of benefits and the promotion of them, but other employers also simply see employee benefits as a box ticking and hygiene exercise.

A conversation that is now taking place more often than not is around, ‘What are our competitors doing/offering and how do we compare?’. To my mind this conversation clearly means that employers are looking to ensure that they are competitive from a remuneration package point of view which in turn helps to sell themselves as an employer of choice. Benchmarking is a great exercise to undertake but unless an employer is willing to take steps to create a budget for any potential changes to an employee benefits offering, is the exercise worthwhile?

Without a doubt, yes! The result from any exercise will either demonstrate what an employer has in place already is competitive or that it is not competitive. If it is competitive then this should be something that an employer shouts from the rooftops. Alternatively, if not, at the very least the employer has the information with which to decide on how they bridge any weaknesses.

Regardless of the outcome of any benchmarking exercise, the promotion of benefits and the implementation or review of any employee benefits strategy including health and wellbeing strategies should also be considered. There is absolutely no point investing vast sums of money into insurance related or technology-based solutions unless employees engage with them, embrace them, and value them.

Latest research from Aon’s UK Benefits and Trends 2021 survey, in which there were over 300 participants, show that:

  • 77% of the surveyed companies benchmark their benefits
  • Enhancing communications with employees is a high priority for 86% of employers
  • The top 3 priorities by importance to employers are:
    • Employee Engagement
    • Cost Management
    • Employee Retention
  • The majority of employers mainly use email to communicate their benefit and wellbeing support
  • 44% of employer have a formal health and wellbeing policy with 33% intending to have one within 18 months
  • 50% of employers offer financial education as part of their health and wellbeing programme
  • 35% of employers use face to face briefings to communicate flexibility around the retirement options linked to Pensions but only 13% offer employer paid financial advice
  • A big majority say their healthcare spend will be focussed on education and prevention
  • 48% of the respondents do not feel they are doing enough to support financial wellbeing and pension communications and are planning to do more

This data is then backed up by the Group Risk Development (GRiD) research that was undertaken by Opinium whereby more than 500 HR Decision makers were surveyed. Highlights form this survey are:

  • 69% of respondents think that the Covid 19 pandemic will mean a change in the way that employers support the health and wellbeing of staff
  • 68% of respondents provide financial support in the event of long-term absence (6 months or more) due to ill health, disability, or injury
  • 89% of respondents believe that supporting the health and wellbeing of staff has a significant positive impact for their business
  • 41% of respondents do not measure appreciation of employee benefits
  • 31% of respondents do not measure the impact of sickness absence

Clearly the theme from both sets of research is similar in that it appears that the communication of benefits and employees being aware of what is being provided to them, together with the general health and wellbeing of a workforce are the key factors being considered by employers.

It is very encouraging and refreshing to see that employers are taking these positive steps with the outcome surely being a win-win for both employers and employees alike. However, its vitally important that an employer engages with specialists to help them identify and deliver the health and wellbeing requirements of their specific business and its workforce, and the first step should be to engage with an award winning, client focussed employee benefit consultancy like Wingate Benefit Solutions.

There is something very satisfying about setting out objectives, and never more so than when setting out objectives for your business.

The next step is to make sure that every aspect of running your business is aligned with those objectives. And that includes reward and remuneration packages: one of the biggest costs for any business, and all the more reason to ensure they support your objectives.

Cost control

Controlling costs is important for every organisation, and particularly so this year.

Many companies will be starting their recovery from the pandemic, and as the government job retention scheme and support ceases, ensuring value from all spend is going to be crucial.

Now is the time to review which benefits are highly valued and highly utilised and a priority. But that’s not the end of the job. The next stage is to see if there are any cost-savings to be had. Talk to specialist advisers that have good relationships with providers and know how to broker a good deal for their clients. Products and propositions are enhanced all the time, and what was good value for your business in the past, might not be today.

Get value

Added-value benefits has become the hot topic in the world of employee benefits. Access to employee assistance programmes; support for nutrition, health and fitness; 24/7 access to GPs are all benefits that were historically bought standalone. Today they’re often provided at no extra cost within other employee benefits.

We find that many companies don’t know the detail of what they have access to within their existing offering. A good employee benefits consultant can tell you what added-value benefits you have, what you should be entitled to and – possibly most importantly – what you may be paying for twice. Now is not the time for superfluous spend.

Grow the business

Many companies will look to grow their business this year. This might be via new product development, building client relationships or finding new routes to market. And they’ll be on the look-out for specialist talent that can deliver on this. That specialist talent might well be used to, and expect, a certain reward and remuneration package.

Gone are the days when a high salary was enough to attract the best. Today, people that have the pick of the jobs are savvy. Your company will be judged on culture, approach and values. The employee benefits you offer are a tangible way to demonstrate your values. Benefits that support financial, physical and mental wellbeing will go a long way to help you get your first-choice hires.

It can be really helpful to benchmark your industry, and others, so you know what benefits you need to offer.

Some of these benefits might be high-ticket, so even more reason to ensure you get specialist advice on the value for money these provide.

Other benefits will cost less than you might think. Group life assurance, cash plans, employee assistance programmes are some of the most valued employee benefits available, and some of the best value too. But they’re not all created equally. Specialist advice will ensure the spend is wise.

Retain your talent

Retaining your staff is equally important to build a solid business. With remote working and disparate workforces, keeping staff engaged has been a challenge. This will result in people looking for grass that’s greener.

The first step is to understand your staff and what benefits they’d value. Look at your employee demographic, consider staff surveys, understand the utilisation of current benefits.

It’s also important to ensure the benefits you offer are appreciated. It can be a great help to make use of providers’ and advisers’ communication programmes to explain the detail of the benefits and how to access them to engage your staff.

Make employee benefits work for you and they can play a key role in helping you achieve your business objectives.

You know you have a problem when the Minister for Pensions and Financial Inclusion, Guy Opperman says:

‘For too long pensions have been shrouded in complexity and technical jargon, limiting people’s understanding of their savings and hampering their retirement planning.’

To be fair, I completely agree with him and make him absolutely correct!

Historically pension statements have been issued on an annual basis, are usually 8-10 pages long and may potentially grab the reader’s attention for the first 2 pages, possibly 3 at a stretch. The reader is likely to simply file this statement into their dusty old pension file where it will sit with the last 5 years’ worth of statements. Most lay people tend to want to know 3 things:

  • How much money is in my pension pot?
  • How much money will this give me when I retire?
  • What can I do to improve these figures?

Recently, pension providers have been taking steps to make their pension statements more engaging such as including colourful pie and bar charts and also issuing them online to make them more accessible but is the message getting across to the consumer?

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has announced proposals that will mean that annual pension statements for workplace pensions will have to be condensed to a maximum of two pages.

The DWP proposals will require pension providers to provide pension statements and structure them in such a way that draws members’ attention to the three key areas mentioned above.

The initial focus will be on defined contribution schemes used for Automatic Enrolment, with a view to later improving consistency across all types of pension schemes.

Simpler statements will include a line on costs and charges and a clear signpost for a more detailed assessment of this information elsewhere to help members see what they have paid for their pension.

Guy Opperman has also said:

‘Simple statements will usher in a new standard for how schemes communicate with their members – vastly improving people’s understanding and engagement with their pensions.’

With more people saving for their retirement than ever before thanks to Automatic Enrolment, it is vital they can understand what’s going on with their hard-earned money and actively plan for their future.

Simpler pension statements support the department’s ambition to make information about pension saving more accessible to consumers, running parallel to the department’s championing of the use of dashboards, an innovation that will allow savers’ pension information to be accessed on digital devices at any time they choose. Further work to encourage and drive the consolidation of small pots will also lead to better outcomes for pension scheme members.’

If any of your employees are having any difficulty in understanding their pension statements in their current form, then please do not hesitate to direct them to our experienced team at Wingate on 01883 332260 or at info@wingatebs.com who will be able to help them make sense of what they have and how it works.

Ref: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/simple-statements-boost-for-pension-planning 19th October 2020

Group Life Assurance benefits will pay a lump sum benefit upon death of an insured employee. However, what many people overlook is that traditionally Group Life schemes are written under registered pension scheme legislation and as such, there are instances where an individual can invalidate their pension protection by joining such a scheme.

The Lifetime Allowance (LTA) was created when pension simplification legislation was implemented in April 2006. Benefits which count towards the LTA include registered pension and lump sum death benefits from registered Group Life Assurance schemes. Historically, the LTA was £1.8m but since April 2012, this has been reduced a number of times. For 2020/21, the LTA is £1,073,100. Benefits which exceed the LTA are subject to a tax charge of up to 55%.

Individuals with benefits above or approaching the LTA can apply for pension protection from the HMRC. Since the introduction of the LTA, there are several different types of pension protection which have become available to enable individuals to protect the value of benefits that they have built up (and future benefits that may accrue) from tax charges. If pension protection is granted, these protections are subject to different conditions and strict rules and if broken, the protection will be withdrawn.

A potential issue with registered group life arrangements is when an employee with Pension Protection joins a ‘new’ registered group life scheme due to the fact that they have joined a new employer, the protection may be voided, depending on the type of protection they have and when this was granted. An employer may not be aware of employees who have pension protection in place, as this is arranged on an individual basis. A Group Life scheme is classed as a ‘new’ arrangement if the Pension Scheme Tax Reference (PSTR) number which applies to the scheme changes or a new trust is arranged for a scheme.

The alternative, an ‘Excepted’ Group Life scheme, provide lump sum death benefits outside of the registered pension scheme environment. Therefore any benefits paid are not currently included in the calculation of the LTA. You may wish to consider setting up an Excepted scheme for a defined section of your membership. There will usually be no difference in cost for this type of arrangement and you would need to execute a trust deed prior to implementing the insurance policy.

There are advantages and disadvantages of the way a scheme can be established and managed over another. There are some differences between Registered and Excepted schemes, which include potential tax charges in certain scenarios on an Excepted scheme. If you would like to discuss the different options available and which may be suitable for your business, please do get in touch.

We are delighted to announce that Wingate Benefit Solutions have been recognised as shortlisted finalists in two categories at the 2020 Health Insurance and Protection awards.

Wingate received this accolade in the highly contested categories of ‘Best Adviser for Group Protection’ and ‘Best Adviser for Group Healthcare’.   These awards are our industry’s ultimate accolade and an unparalleled recognition of excellence.

Commenting on this latest achievement, Ben Clarke; Managing Director of Wingate said; “We are so proud that the hard work and commitment of our team to deliver exceptional standards of advice and service have been recognised”

What seems like a lifetime ago, in 2014 the government announced that it was planning to increase the age at which someone can access their private pension (including their workplace pension) to age 57 from age 55. This is due to be implemented in 2028.

Although things have been quiet on this topic since 2014, in response to a written parliamentary question posed on 3rd September, the Treasury confirmed that it is still intending to push ahead with these changes.

The Treasury have provided some reasoning behind these proposed changes which are three-fold in that they are designed to:

  1. Reflect trends in longevity. i.e. people are living longer
  2. Encourage people to remain in work
  3. Ensure pension savings provide for later life

The cynics amongst us may feel that people remaining in work should mean more taxes being paid and therefore more revenue to HMRC which in the current climate must be a surely be priority to HMRC. Moreover, if people access pension at a later date then this should reduce the chances of people spending their funds more quickly than they should and as a result should be less likely to rely on the government to support them financially in their later years.

The biggest issue that the government needs to deal with is the finer detail around this change and how this message is communicated as the government surely cannot afford a repeat of the mess that was created when the state pension age moved from 60 to 65. The government could look at making the change at say the beginning of a tax year in 2028 or even in the October of 2028 as this is when the state pension age changes to 67. This does come with its own problems due to a hard cliff edge with people winning or losing depending on what side of the line they fall on.

If the government decide to phase in the changes in that same way as they did when they changed to the current state pension age then this also could have problems due to the opaque timing of the changes and their already poor track record of communicating such radical changes to the wider population.

As we sit here today, I am not personally against these changes as I do understand, and to an extent, agree with the reasons for them. This change has not as yet been rubber stamped by government however in my opinion the government need to come forward with more details about their plan as soon as possible so that the adviser community can help in getting the message out to the nation to ensure people can plan properly for their retirement.

You’re satisfied with the employee benefits you have in place and are comfortable with the associated costs. But are you confident your employees fully understand the benefits which are available to them? If you have invested time and money into developing your benefits package, it is vital that you have an effective communication strategy in place to make sure your staff are taking full advantage of what is on offer. Below are some examples of aspects you may wish to consider when developing your communications strategy:

Communication

As the saying goes, ‘communication is key’ and often we find that staff are told about employee benefits when they join a company, as part of their induction, but this doesn’t get mentioned again. Regular communications thereafter will ensure everyone remains informed and engaged. This could include specific communications during different lifestyle events e.g. marriage/the birth of a child.

Appoint Employee Benefits ‘Champions’

One way to fully involve employees in the communication plan is to appoint employee benefit champions. Seeing fellow employees being proactive and positive about the benefits schemes will encourage the workforce as a whole to get involved and participate. This is a great way to spread knowledge and enthusiasm.

Put it in writing

All information about the benefits you offer should be in writing. This should be in a format which is easy to read and digest. Every employee should be given a copy of your benefits handbook, and an overview on how to locate commonly sought information.

Use of Online Platforms

If your company uses an intranet site, this can be a great platform to communicate information about your benefits. You could also look to maximise your use of free social media platforms such as Twitter or LinkedIn. An internal group could be created to keep employees up to date on the benefits they have access to.

Staff feedback

Employee opinion surveys are a great way to measure the level of understanding that employees have about the benefits you provide and how engaged they are. These surveys can also provide you with an indication of what benefits your staff value the most. Effective communications don’t need to be costly. You can maximise the use of systems you already have to provide information in a quick and easy way. Wingate can help you to develop your employee benefits strategy, to ensure your staff are making the most of the valuable benefits you provide for them. If you would like to discuss further, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

One of the most common questions that we get asked as advisers is, Can I transfer my old Pension into my current Workplace one?

We find the initial motivation behind wanting to transfer pensions into one arrangement is usually to keep their affairs in good order with everything under ‘one roof’. However, for some people, this very reason is their main reason not to transfer their pension as they do not like to have all their eggs in one basket. This initial choice to potentially transfer a pension or not is purely based on personal preference.

The initial response that we tend to provide to the question of transfers is yes, theoretically you can transfer however you need to understand whether it is in your best interest or not to do so.

We would initially ask what type of pension you are considering to transfer, primarily because if you have an occupational style Pension of a Final Salary Pension, the general rule of thumb is that a transfer is unlikely to be in your best interest.

When reviewing pensions, it’s not uncommon for older style arrangements to have penalties levied as well as a raft of features and benefits lost upon transfer, these are often referred to as ‘safe guarded benefits’ and could be a Guaranteed Annuity Rate, a Guaranteed Minimum Pension or entitlement to more than 25% of the fund as tax-free cash.

The charging structure on your old pension will help clarify if any penalties would be charged on transfer and also helps you see if your old pension is more expensive (higher level of charges such as the Annual Management Charge) to run than your current workplace pension.

If you are reading this blog and are wanting to know whether a transfer of pensions is an option for you to consider, please feel free to email us at info@wingatebs.com or call us in 01883 332260 and one of the team will be able to help. When we have this initial contact with you, we will set out your options which could include general guidance, full transfer advice or directing you to your pension provider, depending on how you would like to proceed.

You’d be forgiven for assuming that income protection is a benefit people need later in life when age-related illnesses and conditions become more common. However, this really is a benefit which should also be valued by younger members of your workforce. More and more people in their 30s are making claims for Income Protection benefits. Cover protects your employees if they are unable to work due to a physical condition but benefit will also be paid for employees who suffer with mental health conditions. Mental health is the second most common cause of income protection claims which may go some way to help explain the increase in claims for those in their 30s.

 

Lifestyle events also often prompt people to think about what cover and protection they have in place. Examples of events which may result in somebody valuing benefits like income protection would be buying a property, having a child or getting married.

Buying a property: When purchasing a property, it is of utmost importance for somebody to protect their home and the ability to make monthly mortgage payments, in the event of being unable to work. Income protection cover provides a replacement monthly income if your employee is unable to work because of long-term illness or injury.

Income protection should by no means be classed as a ‘sick pay’ policy. In addition to the financial benefits, the majority of income protection providers promote early intervention services and rehabilitation support services. This may include access to counselling or physiotherapy to help employees recover and return to work if appropriate.

It’s not only house buyers who need protection. If you’re renting and unable to work through illness or injury, bills still need to be paid if a tenant wants to remain in their property.

Having a child: Starting a family, or extending an existing one, is a very exciting time. However, this means your employees will have dependants relying on their income for them to be looked after. What would happen if an employee’s life was turned upside down by illness or injury? Income protection can help to provide financial support for those affected by illness or injury.

Getting married: Marriage is another event which can urge employees to consider income protection cover. Consider when partners are dependent on each other for splitting financial commitments such as mortgage payments. If one were to be hit by unexpected illness or injury, having protection in place could mean the difference between keeping their home or having to sell up and move.

 

Your younger staff may not fully recognise the benefit of employee protection benefits until they reach some of these milestones in their lives.

 

What should companies do to help all employees recognise the full benefit of a group Income Protection scheme?

  • Identify all additional benefits: Most income protection schemes will include additional ancillary benefits which are included free of charge. These may include an Employee Assistance Programme and Early Intervention and Rehabilitation services.
  • Promote these benefits to your staff: Regularly remind your staff of the additional benefits they have access to. Counselling services are available through an Employee Assistance Programme and promotion of these services is key to driving engagement
  • Review your employee benefits package: If you don’t have cover in place already, introducing policies such as income protection will provide your employees with vital support when they need it the most

 

We can carry out a free no obligation review of your employee benefits package. If you would like to find out more, please do not hesitate to get in touch with your usual contact or at:

@: info@wingatebs.com

T: 01883 332260

They say any business is only as good as the people it employs – and whilst most employees seek job security in difficult economic times, an improvement in these conditions can lead to those same people looking for something bigger, better, or different.

Recruitment used to focus on salary, but as the makeup of the UK workforce has changed, so has what attracts people to a job and also, what makes them stay. Don’t get me wrong –salary is still important, but flexible working and a decent employee benefit package will be more important to more than you might think. According to a study by OnePoll.com earlier this year, less than 20% of employees surveyed were satisfied with the benefits package provided by their employer and 50% would leave their current employer if they thought they could get a position elsewhere with better benefits. Just 22% preferred extra pay over comprehensive benefits.

So, what can you do about your benefits package to ensure not only that you attract the right people to your company, but also retain them?

Be Competitive
Both salaries and employee benefits should be benchmarked against competitors in your industry AND regularly reviewed. It may be higher pension contribution, provision of income protection or company funded medical insurance that give you the greater choice over who wants to work for you. Conversely, your employees may be more likely to leave if they could get better benefits elsewhere.

By focussing not just on providing financial incentives but also your employees’ (and their family’s) wellbeing, you’ll ensure staff feel cared for and so closer to you, as their employer.

Provide things staff actually value
You may think you’re providing employees with a competitive benefits package, but do they appreciate it? In my experience, an employee’s age, earnings or personal circumstances may vary what appeals to them greatly. Employee surveys are a good way of understanding what your staff want and ensuring the benefits you pay for meet their needs.

Companies that match their benefits package to the actual wants and needs of their workforce, will find that employees are much more likely to engage with what is being offered to them.

Say “Thank You”
Often employees are recognised for their good work by way of financial rewards in the form of bonuses, but these can become ‘expected’ and so possibly not fully valued. Various benefits can be used as a way of thanking staff, in the form of a higher pension contribution, additional company funded benefits, retail vouchers or even an extra day’s leave, an example could be for rewarding staff for long service and loyalty to your company,

If your employees feel valued and cared for, they will feel a greater sense of loyalty to you as their employer – leading to increased productivity and so benefitting the business.

 

As mentioned, the working demographic has changed and will continue to do so in the future; so regularly reviewing your workforce will help you understand what motivates them and ensure your benefits package is fit for purpose. Whilst it’s not possible to prescribe exactly what will work for your company, it’s likely that a good mix of benefits will help promote a culture of health and wellbeing for your employees.

Wingate Benefit Solutions is experienced not only in designing employee benefit packages, but also reviewing and ensuring what a company has is fit for purpose. If you are looking to understand how your benefits package can aid with staff retention and recruitment, the please feel free to contact us to discuss this in more detail.

T: 01883 332260

@: info@wingatebs.com