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As is the case in other industries, the employee benefits market is facing increasing competition from non-traditional start-ups with innovative ideas, ground-breaking digital systems, and new ways of defining the market and engaging with clients. The retail, private taxi and hotel industries are already starting to feel the pinch in this regard, and it won’t be long before players similar to Uber or SnapScan start to create ripples in our own industry.

Innovative, game-changing companies such as Uber came into being in response to changing customer needs in the digital era, and retirement savings products currently don’t offer the simplicity and ‘ease of use’ that these technology-driven companies can. Yet this is the space that our industry will have to occupy if we wish to assist the so-called millennial generation that will be our clients in the decades to come.

It means providing clients with easy access to clear and complete information and offering them highly relevant products, but above all, interacting with them in ways they have become used to in other industries. But it is not just about adding a few nice-to-haves to a website, sending more SMSs or creating a new app. It is about changing and individualising each member’s unique experience with their retirement fund.

The most effective way of engaging with fund members is when certain ‘events’ take place in their lives – such as day one of a new job, changing investments, getting married, changing jobs, death or disability in the family and eventually, retirement. Each of these events presents an opportunity for innovative touchpoints. For example, instead of reading through reams of paperwork on day one of employment, a new fund member could be watching a short video containing the necessary information.

Monthly contributions also provide opportunities for enhanced client engagement. Members could receive an SMS each month stating where the month’s contribution has been invested, which may encourage them to visit the fund website and use retirement calculators and other technology-driven functions to assist them in making the right choice to ensure a good retirement outcome.

The annual benefit statement is another example. Imagine if instead of a page littered with numbers, the statement provided an answer to one simple question: will I have enough money to fund my preferred lifestyle in my later years? With a bit of planning, the industry could enable savers to benchmark their savings against a lifestyle dream by informing them of the type of lifestyle they are on track for.

The crucial point of these and other innovative client touchpoints is their client-centricity. They are not about pushing or selling product – they are solely about enhancing the experience the individual member has with the retirement fund. And this is not limited to fund members – the major players in the employee benefits industry are also looking at game-changing touchpoints to engage with fund trustees as well as intermediaries.

Sanlam Employee Benefits, for example, is rolling out a number of creative new stakeholder touchpoints throughout the course of 2016. There will be a mobile app offering a full range of retirement services for members, a powerful app for intermediaries, ‘robo-advice’ online programmes with calculators and tools, and innovative digital enhancements for trustees.

It is important to note that none of these new ways of interacting will supplant the need for fund members to obtain professional financial advice. The world of retirement savings remains complex. In the end, these touchpoints can only provide very limited information in terms of basic and default choices to be made. For more complicated decisions involving comparisons, the in-depth industry knowledge of an expert adviser will remain indispensable. In the main, the digital enhancements in the pipeline across the industry can only enhance the client-intermediary relationship. They will not only attract more clients seeking expert advice, but will also enable intermediaries to offer a much more rewarding experience to their existing clients.

Sanlam Life Insurance is a licensed financial service provider.
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