Majority of Multinationals Lack Access to Timely Financial Benefits Data

By Roy Maurer Jul 30, 2014

Although improving the return on investment from the provision of benefits is a top global HR priority for multinationals, 78 percent of global benefits managers have limited or no access to timely financial information related to employee benefit spending, according to research by Towers Watson.

Nearly 500 HR professionals in pension and benefits roles with global or regional responsibilities across Asia Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and North America were surveyed on benefits trends and priorities between November 2013 and February 2014.

Only 22 percent of respondents said yes when asked, “Are you getting timely financial information about employee benefits?” in Towers Watson’s 2014 Current and Emerging Global Benefit Themes survey.

Fifty-five percent said no, and 23 percent responded that they didn’t know. The region with the lowest percentage of managers who said they do receive timely employee benefits data was Asia Pacific (14 percent), while the largest percentage was in Latin America (34 percent). The largest percentage that responded that they didn’t know was also in Asia Pacific (30 percent).

“It is striking that global and regional benefit managers at many multinationals, which often spend hundreds of millions of dollars on employee benefits annually, do not have this vital piece of information,” said Mark O’Brien, senior consultant at Towers Watson, in the report. The underlying information exists, but needs to be extracted from finance systems, which is often the difficult part, he said. “We see more advanced multinationals allocating the resources necessary to address this so they can use information on benefit spend to help identify risks and opportunities, make decisions, and prioritize their activities to increase the return on investment from their benefit plans.”

The research also found that 42 percent of respondents maintain a structured inventory of the benefits programs they offer to employees on a global basis, while 43 percent do not. The region with the lowest percentage of companies with an inventory was again Asia Pacific (22 percent). An annual inventory can help multinationals understand what benefits programs are provided globally and also help in transactions. However, the process can lead to “significant frustration at both local and global levels if the data set is too broad or the data collected are of poor quality,” said O’Brien.

Fifty-eight percent of companies conduct benefit plan benchmarking; however, most respondents said this is only done when conducting local benefit changes (31 percent), followed by those that said they conduct annual benchmarking of all benefits (29 percent). Benchmarking is a key management technique to ensure value is being derived for both the business and employees, said O’Brien. “However, we observed that many multinationals are less efficient and effective than they could be because they fail to deploy a consistent framework and global approach to benchmarking,” he said.

Multinational HR teams should also take advantage of local information to help them identify risks and accelerate the realization of opportunities, Towers Watson said, but found that 62 percent answered no to the question, “Do you conduct a structured annual reporting process from local benefit managers to aid in the identification of local benefit risks and opportunities?”

Other findings from the survey report include:

  • Half of the participating companies said they have an annual attestation process to ensure compliance with local laws and regulations and adherence to the company’s global policies. An effective annual process presents an opportunity to embed global policies and to help ensure that the company is on top of potential compliance risks.
  • Almost six in 10 companies (59 percent) have a global approval process in place related to setting up new plans or modifying existing plans.
  • Third-party support is broadly used by benefit managers in areas such as benchmarking, benefit financing, governance and managing benefit costs. Organizations should explore different models such as co-sourcing, insourcing and outsourcing to best support their needs, O’Brien said.
  • Multinational companies are continuing to move away from a primary focus on defined benefit pensions to offering a broader range of benefits, specifically defined contribution plans and employee health plans.

“From our experience, continuous review and refinement of the global benefit management organization and its processes, programs and strategies leads to better outcomes for both employees and their organizations,” said O’Brien. He added that multinationals that have timely access to financial management information and have adopted benchmarking as “business-as-usual” have greater potential opportunities to add value.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him at @SHRMRoy

Quick Links:

SHRM Online Global HR page

Keep up with the latest Global HR news

Job Finder

Find an HR Job Near You
Post a Job


Find the Right Vendor for Your HR Needs

SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 10,000 companies

Search & Connect