Developing New Member Benefits

The reasons behind why the IEEE Financial Advantage Program offers benefits in specific countries

6 April 2009

The IEEE Financial Advantage Program recently celebrated its 15th year offering insurance, credit cards, and home and office services to IEEE members. Yet FAP’s presence is felt mostly in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico, prompting one of the most frequently asked questions in other regions: “When can we expect to get these products in my country?” In Regions 8, 9 and 10, for example, FAP offers only credit card programs in parts of the UK, Singapore, and Puerto Rico.

However, there is larger question: Why does FAP offer programs in some countries and not in others? Here’s an explanation of why that is so, and what you might be able do about it.

BUYING POWER Perhaps the greatest hindrance is the difficulty in finding distinct services in certain regions at lower prices than members could obtain on their own. Ideally, an organization as large as IEEE could leverage the buying power of its 380 000 members to receive special concessions. That leads to group discounts, custom products, and other perks, as well as an opportunity for IEEE to earn royalties.

The reality, though, is that IEEE’s buying power does not depend on its total membership worldwide. Rather, it hinges on the local situation—on the number of members eligible to buy in a given section or country. And eligibility is further whittled away by members’ age, employment status, and other demographic factors. Vendors typically have little interest in offering attractive terms to IEEE units with only a modest number of eligible members. What’s more, companies with sales in many countries, including ones that sell online, tend to offer discount agreements only according to their business models.

For example, IEEE sponsors Dell’s Employee Purchase Program in Regions 1–7 and FedEx’s shipping discount service in Regions 1–6. Even though both merchants have a global presence, they offer group discounts only in specific countries. Neither vendor will serve IEEE under a single, international discount plan, although FAP’s staff is working with them to offer discounts in more countries.

Group insurance products pose similar difficulties. Again, deciding to develop custom products for any country depends on how many IEEE members would be eligible to buy the insurance. IEEE sections with modest numbers can expect far less customization in group insurance products, if any at all, than sections with many members. Moreover, governments often impose regulations that hinder the ability to develop benefits. For example, local regulations in the United States and Canada prevent some IEEE FAP group insurance products from being offered in every state or province.

ASSISTANCE FOR LOCAL GROUPS Since 2007, FAP has been offering tools to individual sections interested in developing new member products and services. FAP’s Toolkit for Developing Non-Technical Benefits for Regions 7–10 was created by the IEEE’s Individual Benefits & Services Committee (IB&SC) based on recommendations made by delegates to IEEE Sections Congress 2005. The kit promotes a seven-step process. First, local members need to find something in their area that could be worth offering. The kit spotlights other requirements, including suggestions for garnering local section support for a proposed benefit and approval by section officers, and it provides guidelines for developing an agreement with a service provider, obtaining legal and tax review from IEEE, negotiating contracts, and launching the benefit.

The Germany Section, for one, relied on the kit when it sponsored a Web site with hotel.de to offers discounts on hotel rooms. Another success came when Region 7’s representative to IB&SC, John Grefford, last year found a product sold in Canada that would offer attractive auto insurance rates to his members.

Before a section champions a local product, however, IEEE needs assurance that there will be a staff or volunteer coordinator available to establish an ongoing relationship with the vendor. That person would ensure accountability for the vendor’s products and customer service, and check on the company’s continuing financial health and the product’s competitiveness.

Experience has demonstrated that members themselves can best judge the attractiveness of local products. When members spot a valuable program, they should work with their section and regional volunteer leadership to vet their ideas, and follow the guidelines in the kit. Then they should contact their IB&SC representative, who can assist with bringing the program to fruition.

 

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