Willis Towers Watson Wades Into SMB HR With ‘HR Trove’

Willis Towers Watson is quietly extending its reach into the market for small- and medium-sized HR services with the introduction of The HR Trove, an online store offering turn-key products to organizations with fewer employees than its traditional customers. To our knowledge, the site’s unveiling has not been previously reported.

The site, which soft launched on April 14, represents a new sales channel for the company, Karen Salinaro, HR Trove’s product leader, told HCM Technology Report. “The idea is to provide an online store that delivers a consumer-grade experience at an affordable price point,” she said. Most of the products offered through HR Trove are from WTW, though some are from partners “and more of those are coming.”

Before their merger in 2016, both Willis Group and Towers Watson were known as advisors and consultants to large organizations, overlapping in a number of areas though Willis focused on insurance services while Towers Watson was known for its HR expertise. Since the merger, the newly combined firm “found companies often want an alternative” to advisory and consulting services, but it didn’t have a way to deliver “hard,” prepackaged products–such as benchmark reports or enrollment-guide templates–as opposed to tailored advisory and consulting services. HR Trove provides WTW with a channel to companies with limited resources or “anyone with an in-the-moment need,” she said.

Another Big Vendor Eyeing SMBs

WTW isn’t alone in looking for way to leverage the increasing penetration of cloud-based HCM solutions into the small and medium-sized business market. A number of “traditional” HCM technology vendors have been extending their efforts to serve small companies for at least the last year, and scores of startups are building creative HCM tech solutions. In many ways, they have no choice: The number of enterprise-level customers is limited while SMBs provide a “long tail,” in the words of one observer, that can offer vendors an increasingly stable business.

And it’s not as if SMBs have been slow to take advantage of online products or sales channels. According to Gartner, In 2012, Google Apps held about half of the cloud-office market, causing true pain for Microsoft and its on-premise center approach to office tools. In August 2016, accounting software publisher Intuit said its small business-focused QuickBooks Online had more than 1.5 million paid subscribers, nearly half of whom had set up links to their accountants. In 2015, about 33,000 small companies used the marketing-automation tools of Infusionsoft, up from 6,000 in 2010.

HR Trove Product Leader Karen Salinaro
HR Trove Product Leader Karen Salinaro

Currently, most products on HR Trove come from WTW itself, with additional offerings from its Saville Assessment unit, Health Advocate and Weight Watchers. Products include instructional videos with support materials, research reports on topics such as compensation and employment terms, job description sample kits, and tools to help HR develop benefits packages or competency frameworks. As for prices, they range from $1.75 per month, per employee for a health-advocacy program from Health Advocate to $5,000 for an annual subscription to Willis Towers Watson’s Pulse software, which helps organizations gather employee opinions and feedback.

Salinaro believes HR Trove’s products could appeal to companies with as few as 20 employees, and figures customers at the higher end will have a headcount “In the thousands.” She says the upper end is harder to define, since larger companies tend to want more customization of their products but have different pain levels when it comes to paying for it. She emphasizes that most of HR Trove’s products aren’t meant for Willis Towers Watson’s traditional customers, who want services tailored to their own business needs. Minimizing overlap is one of the main reasons HR Trove has its own identity.

‘This is About Getting the Job Done’

“We’d like to be something like Amazon for HR,” Salinaro said. “Our aim is to satisfy the need for a quick, simple process to help get HR work done. This isn’t about strategic questions, this is about getting the job done.”

After online searches regarding HR Trove found only results that came from the company itself, we asked Salinaro whether Willis Towers Watson was proceeding cautiously into these new waters. She said it wasn’t. The company “is very committed to making The HR Trove a success with the SMB market,” she told us. “We are not moving cautiously. Like all newly launched products, we are learning from the market every day and have a very aggressive digital marketing campaign going on to allow us to do that. [We’re] relying on other ways to get the word out to our target market rather than just issuing a press release on it.”

Among other things, HR Trove will have a presence at SHRM’s annual conference in June. In the meantime, you can have a look for yourself at www.hrtrove.com.