BMW (GB), UK subsidiary of the giant German carmaker, took a novel aproach to restructuring its employee benefit programme, making full use of the company’s renowned product.

There was a time when every employee in the company could be placed by the model of car they drove. Thanks to BMW’s flexible benefits programme, this rigidity has gone down the exhaust pipe.

Now you can get people in our warehouse driving top-of-the-range models,” says Linda Bradley, human resources adviser at the Berkshire headquarters.

“The most tangible benefit at the company is the car - and it is a very emotive subject too,” she says. That’s not surprising since, under the previous 10-grade system, each time someone moved up a grade, they went up a car model. “There was quite a bit of controversy about that and the job evaluation system.”

Three years ago the whole process was reviewed. “We came up with a new job evaluation system and where the breaks might be, ending up with four benefits bands.” It was decided to do this on a flexible basis, with employees being awarded benefit points according to their bands.

But the BMW is the centrepiece of the new “Choices” programme. “In fact, the only real difference between the four bands is the car points,” says Bradley. Irrespective of their band, staff are allocated the same number of points for the other core benefits.

Nearly every model BMW car and motorbike available in the UK is on the menu of “Choices”, with its monthly cost in points. Again that’s no surprise given that the corporate culture is designed to identify the 400-strong workforce closely with the product - and it’s a product all are delighted to be identified with. BMW is practically the only car driven throughout the company.

While the other benefits may pale in comparison with a new BMW, the core is private medical insurance, permanent health insurance, personal accident cover, and health screening for those aged 35 and over. All can be traded.

The pension scheme is off the flex menu. Most employees join the scheme, which has its own flexibility as it is on a matching contributions basis. But it also plays a part in the benefits “trading”.

Each benefit point equates to a pound sterling. “People can trade benefits and pay cash to buy more benefit points,” says Bradley. “We have a lot of couples on our staff and since the PMI gives family cover, we find one partner might forgo this and use the points to increase the specification or BMW model they drive.”

The scheme does not allow points to be encashed, so surplus points from trading benefits can only be converted to improved pension benefits.

Non-core benefits available show how “flex” can be tailored to a company’s circumstances. For traded points or additional cash, extra drivers can be included, or those wanting high performance cars can take advanced driver training. More traditional flex fare such as dental cover, health screening for partners or those under 35, and critical illness cover can be bought with points or cash.

The value of the points granted is roughly equivalent to the cost of the particular benefit to BMW, says Bradley.

“We tried to make the system as simple as we can,” she says. The administration is handled internally by payroll. No consultants were involved in designing or installing it.