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Why Lump Sum is a Long Term “Slump”

Lump Sum Relocation PoliciesWith today’s new tax laws, the notion of cutting a check to a relocating employee to cover the relocation costs and reducing the amount of administrative work sounds like a reasonable plan. After all, now that just about every relocation expense is considered taxable income to an employee, you might as well cut a check and “gross it up” to help offset the employee’s tax liability.

However, there are three key reasons why lump sum programs will jeopardize your relocation program’s objectives.

Ongoing Administrative Adjustments

Once you figure out the amount that’s needed to move the employee, you just need to cut the check. Oh, wait a minute! That’s right, you need to figure out how to budget for specific transferee’s move. Then you need to research costs for the next regional move which is to a different location. OOPS! Don’t’ forget about the next move which is the same location as the first move, except now you are moving a family, and then the 4th move…. Ok, I think I made my point. If a company is using Lump Sum approaches, there needs to be ongoing research and adjustments to keep up to date on relocation costs so the company can distribute fair and reasonable amounts. Even if the corporation uses 3rd party services to provide the regional data, there is a significant amount of administrative work involved to update policies, manage the supplier relationships and consult with the transferees on the recommended use of their lump sum budget.

Loss of all Relocation Costs Data

Although Lump Sum programs give transferees full control of their funds and the flexibility to choose the benefits that are most needed, there is a price to be paid for not knowing how the funds are spent. As mentioned previously, understanding current relocation costs and trends help a company make future program adjustments. Without tracking systems or management of the lump sum spend, all knowledge about actual program costs will be lost.

In addition, as relocation programs continue to be evaluated in terms of performance, productivity and efficiency, there will not be enough adequate data available about how certain benefits may perform for different demographics of relocating employees. For example, did a certain benefit for relocating homeowners help make their transition easier than a renter population?  Understanding a deeper sense of how each benefit in a policy can impact a program will certainly give corporations the knowledge to make strategic decisions on policy development and cost containment. With a Lump Sum program, the ability to evaluate specific benefits across various move types is simply lost.

Lack of Support Equals Lack of Control

Now, for those who will argue with me that online Lump Sum services can help companies track costs, I will completely agree that this holds true. The use of online resources that may provide transferees with self-service options and a network of pre-selected supplier partners can certainly provide companies with accurate reporting on what services are being ordered and how funds are being spent.

However, as a long-time rule, the industry knows that just providing money to Transferees, and in some cases, Expatriates, is not going to make the relocation a success. Whether the transferee is a recent college graduate, middle management 1st time transferee or the current, typical industry profile (male, age 36-40, married, not a first-time transferee and moving for a lateral position), the use of relocation counseling is inherently the key to proving a full level of support for your employee.

As relocation administrators, we must all remember that the Lump Sum funds are still the “corporate dollar,” and as such, have a responsibility to make sure the funds are being used wisely and efficiently. The value of professional resources assisting them in understanding the relocation process, selecting service provider, raising financial considerations and simply offering best practices cannot be underestimated.

Taking a Higher Road

Although at first glance, the use of Lump Sum may offer both the employee and company  an easy solution for covering anticipated benefits, we have seen how “the grass isn’t always greener.” For companies who use Lump Sum or are considering the increase in this policy type, there is no opportunity to cut costs when projected need exceeds actual need.  Before going down this path, an employer might want to consider a managed cap approach.  While this type program is still flawed in determining an effective and equitable cap (typically by salary, job level, own/rent status or family size), it offers more structure and captures the actual expenses, which can be used for future projections.

 

So, if you are currently using or contemplating a Lump Sum approach, remember that it’s not a silver bullet. Don’t forget about the cost containment and efficiency that is realized through the utilization of a partner providing a vetted supply chain, real time reporting and best practices benefit auditing.  In the long run, through efficiency and reduced exceptions, their assistance will result in cost savings beyond that of simply writing a check!

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MIKE CANNING
VP, Client Services

RICK CALANNI
VP of Business Development Northeast Region

 

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