If you follow our news updates you know that we have recently launched our Spending Accounts Manager mobile app, which is a major milestone for Darwin™ and our product team.

However, this is just the first step in our bigger vision for Darwin™ and product strategy. With that in mind, I am pleased to share some thoughts and opinions from the people driving some of these changes – our UX team.

Changing workforce and “job-hopping” trend

Things are changing faster than ever in the job market: employees are no longer looking for a steady career within a single company. According to the latest research, this trend of “job-hopping” will intensify rather than decline: the challenge of finding the right talent will increase the number of part-timers and contractors. 

Competitive salaries will still play a major role in recruiting, but supplementary benefits (from healthcare and lifestyle benefits to office culture) will become more important. Employees’ needs and expectations have changed and employers have to become better at meeting them in order to keep their multigenerational workforce engaged.

Bringing “user-friendly” and “mobile-friendly” to employee benefits technology

For Thomsons, these changes in employee expectations mean focusing on easy of use. We need to create products that match consumer market trends and treat employees as “people” first, who are part of a wider consumer culture, not just part of a company. This also means making sure that employee benefits technology covers all the main channels employees are already familiar with: from desktop to tablet and mobile. 

Modern consumer technology – especially mobile phones – is geared towards making every experience more personal - everyone takes their online presence with them, wherever they go. We expect to have all the information we need or want at our fingertips and to be able to complete almost any task on the go. It is no surprise that mobile phones are so central in our lives. 

For us on the Thomsons UX team, we wanted to understand key differences between a mobile experience and a desktop experience in an employee benefits context. Mobiles are perfect for contextual use allowing us to support user’s offline activities with a quick and focused online experience.  

HR and benefits technology is becoming more and more mobile friendly, but it is still lagging behind consumer software. Although not central yet, mobile is already supporting the main desktop experience. Mobile access gives employees the information they want, when they need it, and lets them make decisions on the go.

As the first stage in our journey for offering better experience for mobile users we decided to start with a mobile web-app that would allow us to quickly build something for the (as yet) uncharted mobile HR space. We looked at the use cases where employees interact with their benefits most often or where employees want to complete tasks and make benefits decisions when they are out of the office. Importantly, we did not want to duplicate the desktop experience on a smaller screen - instead we wanted to “re-model” the whole experience to maximise mobile engagement.Spending Account Manager was the obvious choice. Spending Account Manager allows employees to make claims on an existing benefits allowance, sometimes known as ‘flexible benefits allowance.’ It is particularly popular in the Asian market, but rapidly growing in Europe and everywhere else for reimbursement benefits. The principle is that users are given an allowance, an allocated “pot of money” against which they can make specific types of claims. 

As the options Spending Account Manager allows are so broad – from gym sessions to cooking classes, from travel to safety gear – and the benefit can be taken up as often as there is money left in the pot, we made sure the design would support quick and easy claim submission. Employees need to be able to make their claim as soon as they make a purchase. This helps them avoid losing those ever-elusive receipts, and engage with their benefits while they are using them. 

Specific mobile device capabilities, such as taking a photo of a receipt, make it even easier to submit these claims. Claiming reimbursements moves from being a planned task that requires preparation (like the employee having to save receipts and then scan them into their PC) to a simple on-the-go activity. As the first mobile app, this project brought both technical and design related challenges. We wanted to make a small clever app, with a lean development strategy, which would allow us to release, test, learn, and iterate quickly to make it available sooner to employers and to give employees the best experience. But we also needed to create a solid, future-proof structure that upcoming products and use cases can easily tap into. 

What Comes Next? 

Our team is bursting with ideas on how to support employees on a daily basis and engage them with their benefits. We are looking at expanding the Spending Account Manager proposition to cater for other supplementary needs, like team expenses and employee recognition. We are also challenging all our existing products to be better through contextual mobile use.
We are entering exciting times - and challenging - times. Employers and HR teams are confronted with an increasingly 24/7 working environment, a multigenerational workforce and a heated war for talent. The stress on employees is increasing, and employers need to be ready. That’s why we’re building the next generation of benefits allowing employers to tailor their rewards packages, and engage and enable their employees to make the most of their benefits.