Cobee: On-demand staff payroll and benefits in an app and card

© Cobee

Backed by Speedinvest, Target Global and Encomenda, Cobee’s employee-focused HR SaaS is redefining staff benefits management and beyond

Can you redeem your staff benefits with a Visa card? The answer is yes, thanks to Madrid-based startup Cobee, whose HR-focused SaaS won the BBVA's Open Talent fintech startup competition last year.

Forget lunch vouchers and complicated compensation plans. Cobee works with companies to give employees the freedom to choose when and how they want to utilize their staff benefits. Concurrently, Cobee helps reduce the administrative tasks required to manage such benefits, easing the burden on HR departments that, in turn, affect their companies' economic performance. 

Cobee launched its product at the start of 2019, and has since gained rapid traction: Booking.com, Avis and Petronas are some of the clients it has attracted.

Managing employee benefits usually involves multiple parties – HR departments, employees and service providers – and is an inefficient process as much of it is still carried out offline via paper documents. Fragmented, time-consuming and unclear procedures affect the way that employees perceive the value of their benefits, especially when it's troublesome to redeem them. 

Even worse, employees might not even use their benefits if their HR departments have an inefficient benefits management process and communication to staff is poor. Cobee estimates that 30% of employees are not satisfied with the benefit packages that their companies offer.

“All our efforts are focused on making employees happy with their benefits, trying to unify the value proposition in an understandable and easy-to-use formula,” said Cobee CEO and co-founder Borja Aranguren.

In a highly competitive working environment, employees find it easy to switch jobs, moving from one company to its competitors. Employee retention rates and talent acquisition have therefore become critical to the health of a business and the company’s competitiveness in the market. Well-structured and intelligible compensation and benefit plans help companies to attract and retain existing employees. As a result, companies attain higher productivity levels and reduce their administrative burden.

"The digitization and automation of staff benefits management is something the market has been waiting for,” said Stefan Klestil of Speedinvest, an early investor in European fintech/insurtech unicorns N26 and WeFox. The Austrian VC co-led Cobee’s €2.1m pre-Series A funding round in February 2020, along with Target Global, a Berlin-based fund focused on investment in trillion-euro markets, and had previously backed companies like Badi, Blue Apron, Delivery Hero and TravelPerk.

Higher salary, at reduced cost  

The employee benefits sector, which has traditionally been dominated by a few players, has not evolved much over the last 50 years. “Many companies offer food vouchers, childcare service vouchers or transport cards that have to be managed independently, creating a significant administrative burden for the finance or human resources departments,” said Aranguren

Cobee's SaaS business model charges fees per employee active user. Users access Cobee via its app and Visa card that grant employees access to a spectrum of services. "This is a card that offers a direct discount of 37% every time you use it to buy food or a subway or train ticket; there is no one who would not want it," said Aranguren. 

These services are negotiated directly by HR departments and automatically integrated onto Cobee’s platform, preventing unnecessary intermediaries fees that raise management costs. The financial transactions are regulated by the Spanish central bank.

Companies that integrated Cobee's solutions into their HR departments have seen a sharp increase in the use of benefits by their employees. The benefits usage rate is now 70% on average, compared with 30% previously. 

“With Cobee's system, you can achieve the equivalent of raising an employee's salary by up to 15%” said Aranguren, adding that in actual monetary terms, the increase would translate into cost of 1% to 3% of the salary for companies.

Bold ambitions 

Cobee's initial funding of €375,000 came from local investors like Encomenda Smart Capital, BStartup (the CVC arm of Banco Sabadell), Lanai Partners and Abac Nest. With international investors onboard since its pre-Series A round, Cobee wants to become the leading benefits management solution in Europe. 

To support this ambitious plan and scale the business internationally, the co-founders, which included CTO Daniel Olea, expanded the team with key hires: Ignacio Travesí, the former commercial director of Gympass, one of the world’s largest corporate fitness platform, and Joaquín Martín-Calero, also a former Gympass employee and expert in international business expansion.

In October last year, Cobee joined the Insurtech Europe acceleration program by Plug and Play. Based in Munich, the accelerator facilitates startup and corporate collaboration and commercial growth within the insurance sector. Insurance groups participating in the program include Swiss Re, Munich Re, Generali and Versicherungskammer Bayern.

The integration of new financial and insurance products will determine the company’s growth for the rest of 2020. “We cannot continue riding in a horse carriage when the future is already that of autonomous driving, and digitization allows us to achieve the challenge of improving flexible compensation for the worker while simplifying the HR management processes for the company,” said Martín- Calero. 

Edited by Celine Lim, Bernice Tang

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