Benefit Leaders Are Thinking Globally

Despite strained resources, corporations are devising global benefit strategies

Stephen Miller, CEBS By Stephen Miller, CEBS March 18, 2016

HR benefit directors at multinational companies have complaints that sound similar to those of benefits managers at organizations of any size: They say they’re stymied by strained resources and the need to deal with immediate rather than long-term matters.

But despite these hurdles, corporate benefit leaders are putting into place global policies that add strategic value to their organizations.

Current and Emerging Global Benefit Themes: Priorities for 2016, a report from consultancy Willis Towers Watson, draws on responses from benefit directors at 316 multinational companies. Among the findings, 58 percent of benefit leaders felt their day-to-day activities limit their ability to make strategic contributions to their company’s global employee benefit program. Meanwhile, 75 percent believe that with added resources or improved procedures, their benefit programs could be more strategic and efficient across four staple foundations:

  • Making sustained business contributions.
  • Improving the company’s financial and operational basis, both globally and regionally.
  • Monitoring and managing the financial risks around defined benefit pensions.
  • Driving corporate transactions to create added value.

“It’s clear the purse strings are not getting any looser within multinational companies, yet somehow global benefit directors are finding a way to continue the development of their programs,” said Brian Makuck, North America intellectual capital and integration leader at Willis Towers Watson in Atlanta. “Multinationals that make resource management a priority may be better equipped to balance the realities of day-to-day management with long-term essential business needs.”

As an example of how benefit directors can add strategic value, Makuck pointed to HR’s role in integrating employee benefits and rewards following mergers and acquisitions, and in developing a medium- to long-term road map for corporate pensions.

“Financial risks associated with defined benefit liabilities are a major exposure, so identifying longevity risks and appropriately managing them is important,” said Makuck. In addition, “benefits must be financially accountable on a global, or at least regional, level to gain control of costs.”

Making Progress

Despite the difficulties, the research suggests there is cause for some optimism over how multinationals are developing their approaches to global benefits:

  • Three-quarters of benefit directors claim that involvement of global or regional headquarters in pensions and other employee benefits is increasing.
  • Over half believe there is now a meaningful link between the role of employee benefits and the company’s values.

In another sign of progress, almost half (47 percent) of global benefit directors say they are into the later stages of developing global benefit strategies—such as by creating a global center of expertise to integrate and derive better value from benefit investments worldwide—an increase of 12 percentage points from two years ago.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow me on Twitter.

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