Societe Generale, one of Europe’s largest financial services groups, has turned to cloud software to help it offer employees work secondments overseas, as part of a strategy to attract the best employees.
The group, which has its headquarters in Paris, plans to use the cloud service to offer 500 of its own employees and employees of key suppliers work placements overseas, as it seeks to attract top talent to the company.
“We are giving them a centralised platform to organise their own relocation and settle into London. We can help them find a room-mate, show them where to shop, find a sports club, things they would look for to feel at home,” said Chantel Rowe, international mobility and payroll manager at Societe Generale.
Societe Generale, which employs more than 3,000 people in the UK, claims its cloud relocation service has led to a marked improvement in the efficiency of its human resources (HR) team in the UK, by eliminating the need to fill in forms and reducing phone calls.
The relocation service has allowed the HR team in London to offer a comprehensive support package to the hundreds of employees from Societe Generale and its supplier network who go on secondments from the UK to France, or from France to the UK, or other parts of the world.
“We don’t want them struggling to navigate their way to work on their first day and not knowing what an Oyster card is,” said Rowe.
Employees can access an information hub that contains flat listings, data on different neighbourhoods, crime rates, how to register for health services and how to obtain a driving licence and a TV licence, she revealed.
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Moving relocation services to the cloud
The project is part of a programme by Societe Generale to move its worldwide HR administration work to an offshore shared services centre in Bangalore, India.
“We looked at some of the tasks being undertaken by our global mobility team and it was a prime function to be considered for partial offshoring,” Rowe told Computer Weekly.
“There are a lot of solid policies and guidelines that need to be applied, and many forms that need to be filled in and filed. It is exactly the type of thing that has the structure and consistency to be efficiently offshored.”
The Bangalore centre supports HR services around the world, providing round-the-clock services for employees in Asia, the UK and US.
Societe Generale UK looked at a variety of traditional employee relocation services, before hiring cloud-based startup Move Guides.
Move Guides’ web portal, dubbed Talent Mobility Cloud, allows Societe Generale to offer tailored relocation services to employees, providing them with a level of service that traditional relocation specialists could not match, said Rowe.
The technology also allowed the 60-strong UK HR team to eliminate much of the manual work involved in relocating employees by automating the options in the web portal, used by HR administrators.
The Move Guides web portal makes information easily accessible, so our employees are not having to trawl the internet to find basic information
Chantel Rowe, Societe Generale
“Rather than reviewing each form on a case-by-case basis, using the Move Guides system we can set up configured drop-down menus that allowed us to minimise the validation required and the need for London to check decisions made in our offshoring locations,” she said.
One of the biggest challenges in rolling out the new technology, which went live in February 2015, was persuading people that a web-based relocation service did not mean a lower quality of service.
“There is no less handholding or personalised support – it is now just focused in the right, high-value areas. Information is easily accessible, and our employees and their families are not having to trawl the internet in their first few weeks in London to find basic information, like where is my nearest Tesco,” said Rowe.
The service, which has been used by around 20 people so far, has proved particularly popular with families, said Rowe.
“There is a lot of information relevant to partners and children. For example, teenage children want to know where they can find clubs and events in London to help them settle in. There was nothing previously provided by our relocation service providers that could help them,” she said.
The company has set up three policies for moving staff between its main centres. Junior employees receive the basic online package, while senior executives can benefit from the services of a personal relocation expert who can guide them through the relocation process, help them choose the right company to ship their goods, find temporary accommodation and potentially help them buy a property overseas.
Employees have access to the portal for the duration of their assignment.. This is important, said Rowe, because employees often find they have new questions after they have settled in a country.
“A lot of the support traditionally given to ex-pats is for the four weeks leading up to and following the move. It is not until six months later, they say, ‘Wait, what is council tax? Do I need to register for something?’ Those questions were not easily answered previously,” she said.
London neighbourhoods page on the Talent Mobility Cloud for relocated Societe Generale staff
Benefits for the company
Rowe predicts that the service will pay for itself by helping employees settle in to new locations and roles with Societe Generale more quickly, because they are not having to worry about the move abroad or how their partners and children are adapting.
The service will also act as an important recruiting tool for high-flying graduates, who see a stint in the UK as an attractive reason for joining an employer, she says.
“With our junior international employees we want to demonstrate better support, leading to greater retention and a better overall experience with Societe Generale,” she said.
Societe Generale currently sends 200 people a year on overseas secondments to the UK, but expects numbers to increase to between 500 a 700 a year with this summer’s intake of graduates.
Impact on the business
The project has allowed Societe Generale’s London HR team to cut the time it spends on the phone, filling in forms and paying invoices by a third.
It is also beginning to provide the company with more accurate data on the amount it spends on relocating employees overseas.
Previously, HR staff had to pull information from five or six different locations to estimate relocation costs – a highly manual process.
But it is now able to feed data generated by Move Guides directly into the Societe Generale finance systems, to provide automatic monthly reports.
The company has also linked the platform into its payroll systems, so that it can pay salaries for overseas employees, with the right tax deductions automatically.
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The project has freed up Societe Generale’s HR staff in the UK to work on more productive, higher-value tasks, said Rowe.
Governments, for example, are making it harder for companies to move staff overseas, by restricting visas and tightening immigration laws.
“I am looking forward to spending a lot less time on trying to collate and manipulate payroll and management data, and more time managing the increasing challenges facing internationally mobile staff,” she said.
Return on investment and future plans
It will take at least three years to gather the data to start measuring the return on investment of sending more employees on overseas secondments, said Rowe.
In the meantime, however, the system has won approval from the UK’s tax authority, HMRC, which expects companies to have complete visibility of employees on secondment overseas.
The HR team plans to build analytics capabilities, to answer questions on trends in global mobility. “The more information we can get out to our managers, the more they will be able to make better decisions,” said Rowe.
There are also plans underway to add information on employee diversity to the portal, and to build a site to help working mothers with disabled children who are planning to work overseas.
Rowe said that to get the most from the cloud platform it is important to be clear how you want to set it up in advance.
“In Societe Generale we had defined processes, defined policies and exception rules. We were already working manually in an automated way,” she said.