Bert Christiansen (© Emilie Bonje)
In 2018, the Flemish government got its teeth into the reform of child benefit. Of the twelve funds that until then paid the child benefit, only five were allowed to remain. It led to the amalgamation of various funds, including those of Acerta and Securex, which together founded Infino. As soon as Infino saw the light of day, it was clear to the new fund team that they would not be just another payout actor. “We have a heart for families”, says Bert Christianen, Knowledge Coordinator at Infino. “It therefore became our mission to unburden them as much as possible.”
Bert Christianen is a barrel full of experience. He’s worked in the payout industry his entire career – so he’s seen things change. Now that he is about to retire, he can look back with a clear view on the changes in the content of the former child benefit, the origin of the Growth Package and the innovative approach within Infino.
A fascinating evolution, according to Christianen, with obstacles. “Although that seems normal to me,” it sounds. “Every change brings growing pains. One adjustment goes a bit smoother than the other, but in the end we grew up nicely with Infino.”
From the employer to the parents
The former child benefit goes back to just after the First World War — but Christianen does not take us that far in history. The biggest and most important changes happened in 2019, so he wants to talk about that.
We find out the reason for those changes in the Sixth State Reform of 2011: the former child benefit was no longer a federal matter, it was decided, and so the regions had to set up a child benefit system themselves. It took a while, but in 2019 the first changes were finally implemented in Flanders.
“In the past, child benefit was paid through the employer of one of the parents,” says Christianen. “So companies had to join a payer. As a family you had no choice and were tied to the fund your employer had chosen.”
“If you changed jobs, there was a good chance that your child benefit was paid by another fund. After all, every sector had a bit of ‘its payer’. Acerta and Securex were the funds for the self-employed and entrepreneurs. Other payers, for example, specialized in the hospitality or construction sector.”
That changed: parents can now choose their own payer. They have a choice between five payout actors – another change, as there used to be no fewer than twelve. “The government decided that there could only be five payers: four private and one public. Many private payers have therefore started to merge. That is also how Infino was created: from the merger of the child benefit fund of Acerta and Securex.”
From 30 cm paper to digital
In the past, parents always received a larger amount for a second, third, fourth, … child. “By the way, you had to apply for child benefit yourself from your employer’s fund. If you didn’t, you got nothing,” says Bert Christianen. “You had to submit a statement from the employer that you actually worked for him and a statement on honor that you had a child or children and were therefore entitled to the benefit.”
A hassle for parents and employers. And also for the payers, because they had to have a team of inspectors to check the applications. “At Acerta we had a team of seven inspectors who went on the road to check the family situations,” says Christianen. “It sometimes happened that fraud was detected during such a physical check.”
Now it is completely different. Once parents have requested the starting amount from a payer, they will automatically receive the Growth Package afterwards. Digitization has also changed a lot over the years. “When I started working in the mid-1980s, there were 12-inch files on my desk.”
“A decade later, we had a few computers in the office to look up things, but you had to share that computer with a colleague. Then it was sometimes a matter of being the fastest,” laughs the Knowledge Coordinator. “We now each have our own laptop and a connection to the Crossroads Bank, where information about family compositions, wages and the like is collected. So it is a lot easier to check everything.”
From static to continuous growth
That is not to say that everything is going smoothly. “Oh no, it Growth package is literally still growing. From time to time, the law changes in this regard – for example, there will be another update of the package in early 2023. The Growth Package expands, changes, renews and we inform the parents as soon as possible. Many families count on those amounts, a percentage more or less can make a big difference when calculating the monthly budget.”
Many families count on these amounts, a percentage more or less can make a big difference when calculating the monthly budget
Infino wants to guide its customers as well as possible and help them quickly. They are ready for every family.“Every payer must comply with the same rules and laws, every payer spends the same amounts – so we cannot distinguish ourselves from the rest in those areas.”
How does Infino do that? Bert Christianen smiles: “Call all payers, see who answers first and who gives you a clear answer, with a smile. Bet it’s us? We excel in our customer service”, he says proudly.
“Growth package, starting amounts and social allowances are complicated matters. Mainly because it’s still new: many people still think that it goes through their employer and so go knocking there when they have a child. Employers then forward them to us and ask if we can guide their employees in this, because it is all a bit much to figure out yourself sometimes.”
We all want a better world for all children. And we do a lot for that
That’s why we developed the Infino HR toolkit. In addition, we monitor changes in legislation and their application on a daily basis with a team of Knowledge Officers. They make the transition to employees and families. This investment pays off in high customer satisfaction.”
From ‘social secretariat’ to unburdening partner
Infino is happy to guide the families in this. “With pleasure. We wouldn’t be paying if we didn’t have a heart for families,” it sounds. “We give them all the information they need to make the right decision.”
Both companies and families can find a lot of clear information and handy overviews via the website. Also on the website: Infino’s clear vision. One that comes straight from the DNA of the employees. “We all want a better world for all children,” says Bert Christianen. “And we do a lot for that.”
Van fight against child poverty together with the Pelicano Foundation plant trees in a new forest or a cleanup on the beach: Infino is committed to a better world in various areas. “Children have the right to grow up in a good environment and we try to do our part.”
Infino does more than arrange the payments, we are there for the families when they need us
Of all the evolutions that the sector and Infino itself have already experienced, this is perhaps the most beautiful of all: “Infino does more than arrange the payments, we are there for families when they need us,” says Bert Christianen.