Paul Andrews

Paul Andrews

Global Benefits Director

For organisations launching a unified employee benefits experience across multiple countries, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (part of the United Kingdom) can sometimes get categorised together as one region – and while, geographically, this may be correct, in terms of benefits there are a lot of nuances between the countries.

The Republic of Ireland (RoI) is a location we are frequently asked about – coming up in one-in-four conversations from a new business perspective – so to clear up some questions and reflect on some considerations, we thought it was time to put the spotlight on the Republic of Ireland.

Considerations for benefits design

While benefits in the RoI continue to develop, they’re akin to the UK more so than other countries in Europe and the rest of the world – in terms of number of benefits that we see, the RoI comes in at second across Europe (the UK is first) for its range of benefits choices. This of course lends itself to a lot of complex administration and an often-confusing benefits market.

If we were to place the RoI on the Benefex Simple-to-Complex scale, it would sit firmly at the ‘complex’ end – this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a complicated country to launch a platform – more that the benefits themselves are complex when compared to other locations. This may be in terms of the transactional features, options to customise benefits, pick and choose bonuses, add dependents etc. In the RoI specifically, we are seeing a growing number of voluntary employee-funded benefits, such as cycle-to-work and experience-based benefits being especially popular. With such a variety to choose from and an increasing headcount (more on this later) across most Irish businesses, it does leave a desire for streamlining benefits processes and reducing that administrative burden.

The complexity of individual benefits

Focussing in on pensions, the majority of customers we see in the RoI have pension schemes in place, and with auto-enrolment coming into place (proposed for 2022 launch) this will be an easier management task for companies across the country. There is scope for introducing tailored contributions, with many employees expecting this to be available even after auto-enrolment. Considering this, pensions are definitely on the complex side and could be even more so if anytime contributions are also available to employees.

Discount and cashback portals are another benefit which is very prevalent in the RoI, offered by 70% of Benefex customers. For organisations just starting out or with limited capacity for a wide range of benefits, this is a great option to bridge the gap between offering money-back discounts, cashback benefits or even wellbeing-specific benefits.

We’ve previously touched on the flexibility and popularity of spending accounts, and these are also increasing in prevalence – also sometimes offered as wellbeing-specific funds or ‘Festive Funds’ to allow employees save money towards Christmas.  

A final benefit to touch on in terms of the RoI is medical care, as this is very varied around the country. The Irish market is quite different to many in Europe, being influenced by local health authorities and government bodies, with mid-year rate increases and lifetime community rating. This leads to a complex situation regarding premium rates, meaning that, more than ever, if you’re doing this administration manually, there’s a lot of room for mistakes – and a lot of time wasted that could be spent elsewhere. Not only that, but it can be very complex for the employee, too.

At Benefex, what we’ve done is built a rate calculator into customers’ platforms, so the right premium rates are clickable and available to specific individuals and the options they choose, making the user journey clear and simple. This functionality can then also be pulled across to gross and net premiums, and even other benefits where it gets very complicated in terms of benefit funding – and that’s not even getting into the tax side of things!

A need for technology

Since the EU Referendum in the UK, there’s been an influx of interest in the RoI, both in terms of organisations looking to open offices and build teams there, and employees considering a move. We also know from data that the workforce in the RoI is typically fairly young, so it’s an even more competitive market to hire and retain employees – this generation is very tech-savvy, so they’re happy to move organisations for new career opportunities or the right benefits package and technology.

The majority of customers we talk to in the RoI don’t currently have a platform in place, so they’re managing benefits manually and – now seeing this growth in headcount and demand for new benefits – are trying to tackle all the admin and complexity that comes with this growth. Of course, it’s great for employees to have more options, but that’s really increasing HR, reward and benefit teams’ workload, to a point where it’s become unsustainable.

It may be that your presence in the RoI is a small hub to begin with, it may be that you’re considering branching out or witnessing the start of some green shoots, so putting an online benefits platform in place is really future-proofing for that growth further down the line. One thing we’ve seen with customers is that engagement certainly skyrockets (85%) when there’s a technology solution in place, and it also allows for that educational piece – so you can help employees understand and be guided through the benefits process.

Return on investment in the Emerald Isle

From the complexities of post-Brexit growth to changing tax rates, the Republic of Ireland may be a complicated location to launch benefits, but it’s also a hugely successful location. While the benefits landscape is complex, there’s a significant amount of work that can be simplified by the use of technology to mitigate some of that complexity and make a complex framework function (and feel) simple and user-friendly.

The key here is to act quickly, and implement a solution to not only today’s problems but your organisation’s future challenges. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking a small headcount doesn’t need a platform, but this will only hold you up later down the line – so start early, you don’t have to tackle it all from day one; start simple and put the foundations in place to grow. Plus, who’s to say employees who are one of 20 deserve any less of an exceptional experience than those of 200.

Want more info on benefits in the Republic of Ireland?

Listen in to our webinar, where our global experts break down individual benefits in the RoI.

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Paul Andrews

Paul Andrews

Global Benefits Director

Paul joined Benefex from Mercer in 2019 with a wealth of international benefits experience, having worked with a large number of high-profile, multinational clients to review their approach to global talent and reward. He leads Benefex’s global benefits delivery team and he’s doing an excellent job of it, if we may say so ourselves. He is skilled in international risk assessment and management, legislative compliance, trend research, cross-border claims, and customer relationship management. AND, he can speak fluent French, mais oui!