We’ve all read articles around the differing needs of millennials (also known as Generation Y) in the context of international assignments.
One of the key debates in the mobility industry today is about how technology can be leveraged to support millennials, but also around the benefits of the full service model versus self-service. With improved technology products, will millennials need the full service offered by a relocation company, or will they be able to manage their move themselves?
An assignee relocating today can already benefit from a variety of technology products and online resources; country guides have been available for some time and property websites offer an excellent resource for families to research housing remotely, with detailed listings including floorplans and virtual tours available in many countries.
In addition, assignees can benefit from destination specific health advice and security alerts, and online cultural training assessments to help families understand some of the cultural differences they will encounter when moving to a new destination (and how their home country behavioral norms will differ).
Recently, mobility management companies have introduced smart phone Apps aimed at the relocating family, which combine real-time access to the status of their case with a variety of other relevant information and functionality to keep the assignee updated while on the move.
All of these products are designed to complement the services of a relocation management company or destination service provider; they are not intended to be standalone alternatives to the full destination service programme usually provided to a relocating family to help them transition smoothly to life in the new location.
Disrupting or Complementing?
New market entrants– regarded as “disruptors” - have introduced their own industry-specific technology platforms over the last couple of years with increasing success, as an alternative to the traditional relocation management company.
While their technology offers support to the in-house mobility user, which I’ll move on to later in this article, it also offers a single platform for assignees to interact with all the vendors and stakeholders involved in the move process under the lump-sum / self-service model; it provides the relocating employee with the ability to manage their move and gain information and support in their new destination while providing control of costs and visibility from a mobility perspective.
These platforms tick all the boxes when considered against the continual focus on cost cutting and improving ROI within Global Mobility, to which an increased reliance on technology is seen as one of the solutions. They also seem to be targeted at the millennial customer who requires minimal hand-holding, and is able to make informed decisions about their move with the support of on-demand technology.
In my experience, a proportion of assignees have always been prepared to conduct their move with minimal support from a relocation management company – typically these are younger, single assignees with an “explorer” nature – but more often than not on shorter-term assignments where accommodation is usually provided. In these situations, social media and local networks help the assignee to get settled into life in the new destination with informal lifestyle advice and support.
While some of these informal networks are equally useful when relocating permanently or on a longer-term basis, the level of support required also increases: a permanent home needs to be identified and a rental agreement reviewed and signed; for a family, identifying suitable school places will always be the key priority in planning a move, as well as a myriad of other legal and administrative tasks that need to be completed wherever in the world the assignee is moving to. Can the lump-sum/self-service model support these type of moves effectively?
Full Service vs. Self-Service
One of the unknowns in our sector, is how millennials needs will change as they get older. While they may favour the self-service approach today, will they be looking for the full service from a traditional relocation management company when they have a family and need help finding a school?
In my view both the new technology-driven model, and the traditional relocation management company approach supported by increasingly useful and intuitive technology, have a role to play in our vibrant sector (which continues to expand year on year according to indices such as the Global Mobility Survey, with 25% of respondents expecting growth in their assignee activity in 2016).
The new market entrants’ technology offerings are undoubtedly matching a specific need in the sector, with the increasing use of lump-sum policies. However, one size rarely fits all; for every millennial who is happy to navigate the myriad of cultural and compliance challenges presented by relocating to another country using only their smart phone, there is another who relies on the friendly support and expert advice offered by a Relocation Consultant acting as their advocate, offering local knowledge (for instance when negotiating a lease, or opening a bank account) and providing creative solutions when problems are encountered.
Raising the bar...
My view is that enhancements in technology are welcome, and the influence of the disruptors will raise the bar across the board with traditional relocation management companies revisiting their approach to, and investment in, technology. Ultimately this will only benefit the assignee and corporate customer.
At the same time, we should recognise that the mobility sector is about people, helping people. No matter how useful an App or a new technology offering is to support the mobility process, today there is no substitute for experienced professionals who can empathise with a relocating family, offer expert advise in the appropriate context and provide creative solutions to problems as they occur.