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Can companies really afford to WFH?

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Can companies really afford to WFH? 1

By Carmen Ene, CEO of 3StepIT.

Firms scrambled to enable Working from Home (WFH) at the beginning of the Covid crisis, but ten months on, corporate IT strategies are becoming far more challenging as new work patterns emerge.

Recent research from 3stepIT confirms that technology investment over the next 12 months will be heavily influenced by the changes required to manage the Covid-19 pandemic and support a new-look mobile workforce.

Almost a quarter (24%) of 2019’s annual IT budget is set to be swallowed up by remote working demands. At the same time, with 29% of desktops sitting unused in deserted offices, companies are having to accelerate the retirement of IT equipment, raising serious questions regarding the security and legitimacy of asset disposal strategies.

The implications are stark: in a bid to support the requirement for flexible working, companies risk jeopardising other strategic IT investments that could be key to delivering the agility required to survive the pandemic.

As Carmen Ene, CEO at 3stepIT insists, a more affordable and sustainable technology acquisition model is required.

New Working Environment

Covid-19 has driven an acknowledged shift to WFH, but the new working environment is far more nuanced. Government policy continues to shift. Working in the office was encouraged for a few months in the bid to reinvigorate the urban economy; now we are back to WFH.  The day-to-day experience for the majority of working adults continues to chop and change.

The business implication is also varied, with companies enjoying different levels of employee productivity. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), while around half of companies have seen no difference in productivity, nearly a quarter said it had fallen.

Just 12% have seen an increase in productivity. The Bank of England’s Chief Economist has recently commented that WFH risks stifling creativity and cuts people off from new experiences.

Despite the challenges for businesses and employees alike, the WFH trend is set to continue. A survey from the Institute of Directors confirmed nearly three quarters (74%) of company directors plan to retain increased home-working post-coronavirus – whenever that may be.

This attitude is confirmed by research from 3stepIT which reveals 60% plan to allow employees/more employees to work from home and 56% to offer more flexible working hours.

The question for businesses then is how best to achieve this new flexible employment model, especially given the continued economic uncertainty and the many demands on the corporate budget?

IT Investment

The initial response from many companies to enable WFH was impressive – companies of every shape and size closed the doors and embraced remote interaction. Hastily allocated laptops and video calls addressed the immediate challenge.

As the pandemic rolls into month ten and many nations enter lockdown two, organisations are facing up to the reality of increased investment needed to fuel a mobile workforce for the long-term, as well as an urgent review of the temporary and emergency technology packages that were put in place to enable home working.

For many companies, this will demand a significant and unplanned upfront cost, potentially draining company cash reserves when they can least afford it.

Almost half (47%) of businesses in Europe expect to increase investment in remote working over the next 12 months, with IT strategies becoming increasingly focused on facilitating social distancing (47%) and increased home working (46%) to reflect the changing needs of employees.

Investment Model

The need to allocate investment to support a remote workforce is unquestionable. Yet there are many other immediate priorities facing IT budgets as businesses work hard to adapt to extraordinary change.

From the physical events that have gone virtual to supply chain challenges and the sheer uncertainty of demand in every market, technology has a vital role to play in enabling agile business.

The majority (61%) of IT decision-makers expect IT budgets to rise next year but with the shift to home working demanding nearly a quarter of annual budgets, funds will have to go much further than before.

How can companies support the investment in technology required to enable secure and productive remote working without compromising on short-term capital investment in essential digital transformation projects?

New thinking is required, however the value of financing rather than purchasing IT equipment outright has been proven over the past few months.

89% of companies already using finance to acquire some or all of their assets have been able to make investments in additional IT hardware to enable employees to work from home, and over half (54%) are more likely to use finance to acquire assets over the next two years.

A growing number of companies are starting to realise that access to technology is more important than ownership.

Technology Lifecycle Management

It is important to recognise, however, that finance is just part of this equation. The pandemic may have forced companies to accept flexible working on a scale previously deemed impossible, but there are still significant challenges for IT management to address.

The initial equipment acquisition is, in many ways, the easy bit. What is the strategy for remote support, which is critical if employees are to be productive? How will aged equipment be securely retired and disposed of when employees rarely, if ever, come to the office? How do you keep track of where devices are and if they’re in health?

Effective remote working requires a comprehensive Technology Lifecycle Management model that supports the business from acquisition through support to disposal.

With flexible working here to stay, IT managers have an ever increasing list of demands – and a need to demonstrate the value of every expense. The widespread adoption of WFH is not the only dramatic shift in strategic approach precipitated by Covid-19 – there has also been a change in attitude towards IT device ownership.

Focusing on providing employees with secure, effective access to technology rather than owning it, provides IT managers with a chance to not only release essential capital budget but also manage the IT lifecycle more efficiently and sustainably.

Finance

Sterling gets vaccine boost to hit 8-month high vs euro

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Sterling gets vaccine boost to hit 8-month high vs euro 2

By Joice Alves

(Reuters) – Sterling rose to a fresh eight-month high against the euro on Wednesday as Britain’s faster COVID-19 vaccine rollout than in the European Union offered support to the pound.

Although Britain’s deaths from the coronavirus pandemic passed 100,000 on Tuesday, its faster initial vaccine rollout has fuelled hopes for economic recovery.

Sterling was up 0.3% at 88.28 pence at 1049 GMT, after hitting a fresh eight-month high of against the single market currency.

Graphic: Sterling 27 Jan, https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/jbyvrnbbbve/Sterling%2027%20Jan.png

Geoffrey Yu, senior EMEA market strategist at BNY Mellon, said “the general theme of UK doing well with vaccinations is playing a role” in lifting the pound, which is “not expensive and not over-owned yet”.

On the other hand, “the euro is clearly being undermined by ongoing concerns over vaccine rollout speed and supply,” Yu added.

Versus the greenback, sterling was flat at $1.3736, not far off a May 2018 high of $1.3759 touched earlier.

Hopes for a large U.S. fiscal stimulus package has fuelled risk sentiment in markets in recent weeks, benefiting sterling. Market participants are expecting Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell to renew a commitment to ultra-easy policy.

“It’s FOMC today so the adjustment in dollar positions may be playing a role as well,” Yu said.

As Britain left the bloc in December, the City of London said the capital’s loss of some financial business due to Brexit has not been catastrophic and it will thrive even if the European Union “irrationally” blocks access.

“For now Sterling continues to trade more on hope, vaccines, than current reality,” said Jeremy Stretch, head of G10 FX Strategy at CIBC Capital Markets.

(Reporting by Joice Alves in VARESE, Italy. Editing by Alexander Smith and Andrew Cawthorne)

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Dollar advances as investors shy away from risk

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Dollar advances as investors shy away from risk 3

By Saqib Iqbal Ahmed

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The dollar edged higher against a basket of currencies on Monday, as a burst of volatility in stock markets around the globe sapped investors’ appetite for riskier currencies.

Concerns over the timing and size of additional U.S. fiscal stimulus sent major U.S. stock indexes briefly more than 1% lower before they recovered to trade little changed on the day.

The sharp move in stock markets soured FX traders’ appetite for risk, Karl Schamotta, chief market strategist at Cambridge Global Payments in Toronto, said.

“Your high beta currencies – currencies that are highly correlated with equity markets and global risk appetites – are tumbling in synchrony with equity indexes,” Schamotta said.

Market sentiment turned more cautious at the end of last week as European economic data showed that lockdown restrictions to limit the spread of the coronavirus hurt business activity.

The U.S. Dollar Currency Index was 0.19% higher at 90.396, after rising as high as 90.523, its strongest since Jan. 20.

The euro was down around 0.28% against the dollar. German business morale slumped to a six-month low in January as a second wave of COVID-19 halted a recovery in Europe’s largest economy, which will stagnate in the first quarter, the Ifo economic institute said on Monday.

The Australian dollar – seen as a liquid proxy for risk – was 0.16% lower against the dollar.

U.S. stocks have scaled new highs in recent sessions even as concerns about the pandemic-hit economy remain. Investors are trying to gauge whether officials in U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration could head off Republican concerns that his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief proposal was too expensive.

Despite the dollar’s recent rebound – the dollar index is up about 1.3% since early January – analysts expect a broad dollar decline during 2021. The net speculative short position on the dollar grew to its largest in 10 years in the week to Jan. 19, according to weekly futures data from CFTC released on Friday.

The U.S. Federal Reserve meets on Wednesday and Chair Jerome Powell is expected to signal that he has no plans to wind back the Fed’s massive stimulus any time soon – news which could push the dollar down further.

Sterling strengthened on Monday against the weaker euro as Britain’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout over the weekend offered support to the British currency.

(Reporting by Saqib Iqbal Ahmed; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Sonya Hepinstall)

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London and New York financial services treated the same, EU says

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London and New York financial services treated the same, EU says 4

By Huw Jones

LONDON (Reuters) – An EU forum for discussing financial services with Britain will be similar to what the United States has, and it must be in place before market access will be considered, the bloc’s financial services chief said on Monday.

Britain’s Brexit trade deal with the EU from Jan. 1 does not cover financial services, leaving its City of London financial center largely cut off from the EU.

Both sides are committed to creating a forum for financial regulatory cooperation by March, but talks have not started yet, the EU financial services commissioner told the European Parliament.

“What we envisage for this framework is similar to what we have with the United States, a voluntary structure to compare regulatory initiatives, exchange views on international developments and discuss equivalence related issues,” Mairead McGuinness told the European Parliament.

U.S. and EU regulators took about four years just to agree on rules on cross-border derivatives.

Trading in euro shares has already left London, along with a chunk in swaps trading. That questions the value of any future EU access given that many banks and trading platforms from the UK have opened units in the bloc.

McGuinness said regulatory cooperation will not be about restoring market access that Britain has lost, nor will it constrain the EU’s unilateral equivalence process.

Equivalence refers to EU access when Brussels deems a non-EU country’s rules are similar enough to the bloc’s.

“Once we agree on our working arrangements, we can turn to resuming our unilateral equivalence assessments… using the same criteria as with all third countries, including anti-money laundering and taxation cooperation,” she said.

Britain plans to amend some EU rules.

“The United Kingdom intention to diverge requires a case-by-case discussion in each area. Equivalence and divergence are polar opposites,” McGuinness said.

“I am optimistic that over time, through cooperation and trust, we will build a stable and balanced relationship with our UK friends.”

(Reporting by Huw Jones; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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