By Bhavin Turakhia
Meal vouchers are synonymous with employee tax benefits and most would imagine they are a handiwork of some tax agency. However, their origin and journey through times hold a rather interesting story around why and how they became such a popular tax-saving tool.
A good 60 years ago, employee meal vouchers first appeared in England. Being merely ‘paper chits’ back then, they were accepted only at some restaurants at the request of factories around, which did not have canteens and still wanted to offer subsidised meals to employees. Showing these chits at the restaurants would allow the employees get food cheaper than regular prices. From then to now, it has been a roller coaster ride for this ‘paper chit’.
From England to a worldwide presence and from being a paper chit to becoming a legally-compliant transaction document, employee meal vouchers have covered a long journey. The interesting aspect is their most recent transformation to electronic meal vouchers, a version more suitable and compliant with the changing times. The electronic version of meal vouchers is, in fact, a great tax-saving option any modern-day company should offer to its millennial workforce, not only to help them save money, but also to appeal to them as a workplace at par with their generation.
The age of electronic meal vouchers:
Letters changed to e-mails, banking became digital and shopping is now done at the click of a few buttons. Millennials manage every aspect of their lives online, whether on smartphones or laptops. It’s a way of life that is so normal that every other aspect of life now need to adapt to this. Employee meal vouchers are no exceptions, which is why in recent times, electronic meal vouchers have risen in popularity.
Millennials who now, on an average, get a higher salary than the generations before them have become more aware of tax savings. They are very queued in to how they can save money and it is but obvious employee benefits for them have to be designed and offered in ways familiar to them. Struggles with paper-based vouchers are a thing of the past with a mobile generation, and by mobile, we mean a generation ‘on the move’ as well as ‘on their phones’.
Moreover, according to the Smartphones and Feature Phones Usage and Behaviour 2016-17 report by the Mobile Marketing Association and IMRB, an average consumer spends three hours each day on their smartphones. Such data speaks a lot about how important it is to move paper vouchers to an electronic platform. Also, a recent draft document released by the Reserve Bank of India proposed to dissolve paper meal vouchers completely by 31 December 2017 and to only recognise meal vouchers in an electronic form in India. This clearly draws the curtain on the future of paper vouchers in the country. The age of electronic meal vouchers is here.
Why millennials prefer electronic meal vouchers:
The millennials’ hunger for electronic meal vouchers is growing solely due to the plethora of conveniences this kind of solution offers. The vouchers are always available to them on their phones, just like money in their favourite mobile-wallets. Again, there is no scare of losing them, which was always a huge problem when it came to paper vouchers. The problem of acceptance is also resolved with the growing acceptance of electronic meal vouchers in most stores, the same way electronic cash transactions are done. Again, just like a millennial-friendly e-banking system, users can enjoy easy access to voucher usage spends via sms-es and email statements.
Also, e-meal vouchers mean no haggling for change and counting paper vouchers as the queue at the payments counter keeps growing. Also, since most of these solutions are linked with third party food delivery apps, those in the habit of ordering food from outside can spend meal vouchers to place orders instead of dispensing cash. Moreover, in a rapidly-changing cash transactions scenario in India, e-meal vouchers reinforce a Digital India initiative, which most millennials are supportive of.
The relevance of electronic meal vouchers to millennials is undeniable and how apt they are for our times can hardly be debated. However, let’s not limit the scope of electronic employee benefits to just meal vouchers. The horizons of e-employee benefits actually extend far and wide. Medical reimbursements, fuel benefits, phone and internet bill claims, LTA and more must be offered to millennials the way they want it – electronic, convenient and hassle-free. The times are changing, let’s change our employee benefits too.
(The author is CEO and co-founder of Zeta)