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GROWTH SLOWS IN SERVICE SECTOR BUT FIRMS REMAIN UPBEAT

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Rich Preece

Strong employment growth in business and professional services sector

The pace of the recovery in the service sector slowed somewhat in the three months to August, but optimism continued to increase, according to the latest CBI Services Sector Survey. Furthermore, there are expectations for a return to growth in the coming quarter.

Growth in business volumes eased compared with recent quarters, and profitability also rose at a slower pace, but this came after multi-year highs in the previous quarter.

Other indicators in the survey painted a healthier picture of activity in the sector. Growth in numbers employed in the business and professional services sector – which includes accountancy, legal and marketing firms – reached its highest rate in nearly seven years, with expectations for the coming three months at a record high since the survey began in 1998. Investment intentions for the year ahead in the consumer services sector – which includes HOTELS , bars, restaurants, travel and leisure firms – are particularly robust, with plans for spending on vehicles, plant and machinery also at a record high.

However, the survey of 215 firms revealed there is increased concern that the availability of professional and clerical or other staff is likely to limit business expansion over the next year.

Katja Hall, CBI Deputy Director-General, said:

Rich Preece

Rich Preece

“The slowing in the pace of growth and profits in the service sector reflects our view that momentum in the economy will ease in the second half of the year.

“But this doesn’t necessarily mean a gear change in the recovery. It’s encouraging that our service sector firms continue to feel upbeat, especially when looking ahead to the next quarter.

“Employing more staff and planning to increase INVESTMENT are positive steps in the quest for sustainable growth. However, skills shortages mean it is increasingly hard for firms to find and hire the right people. It’s important that business and government address this issue together, to put the economy of the future on the right footing.”

Key findings:

Consumer Services

  •  Optimism regarding the business situation rose strongly (a rounded balance of +43%), with 48% of firms saying they were more optimistic than three months ago, and 4% saying they were less optimistic
  •  43% of firms said business volumes were up compared with three months ago, and 17% said they were down, giving a balance of +25%. Whilst remaining well above average (-1%), this was the slowest pace of growth in a year, since August 2013 (+15%). More robust growth is expected next quarter (+39%)
  •  17% of businesses said numbers employed were up on three months ago, 12% said they were down, giving a balance of +5%. A balance of +12% expect numbers employed to go up in the next quarter
  •  INVESTMENT intentions in the year ahead are robust, with a balance of +16% of firms intending to increase investment in land and buildings, the highest since 2010 (+40%), and +29% in vehicles, plant & machinery, a survey record high (since November 1998)
  •  47% of firms expect the rate of business expansion to increase in the year ahead, whilst 52% do not, giving a balance of -5%. The availability of professional and clerical/other staff are cited as factors likely to limit expansion (by 12% and 7% of firms respectively, up from 7% and 1% in the previous survey).
  • Business and Professional Services
  •  Optimism about the business situation rose (+31%), as 44% of firms said they were more optimistic than three months ago, whilst 13% said they were less optimistic.
  •  Business volumes expanded for a fifth consecutive quarter, with 33% of firms reporting they were up compared with the previous quarter, and 17% saying they were down, giving a balance of +16%. This was as expected three months ago (+17%). More robust growth is expected next quarter (+34%)
  •  With 44% of businesses saying numbers employed were up on three months ago, and 11% saying they were down, employment grew at its fastest pace since November 2007 (+33%). Expectations for employment growth in the next quarter reached a record high of +46% (since November 1998)
  •  63% of firms expect the rate of business expansion to increase in the year ahead, and 36% do not, giving a balance of +27%, the lowest since May 2013 (+14%), but well above the average of +3%. The availability of professional staff is cited as a factor likely to limit expansion in the year ahead by 45% of firms, the most since May 2008.
  • The Service Sector Survey was conducted between 25th July and 13th August 2014. 136 Business and Professional Service firms and 79 Consumer Service firms replied.

Rich Preece, Vice President and UK Country Manager at Intuit QuickBooks says:

“The headline statistic from the recent CBI results was that the pace of growth and profits in the service sector has slowed in the three months to August. However, professional services companies – including accountancy, legal and marketing firms – reported that business levels were as expected and that volumes were likely to be more robust next quarter. Added to that, optimism across the industry is rising and more accountant professionals are being hired since the financial crisis.

The reality is there is more demand for accountants than ever as the profession moves away from the ‘number crunching’ stigma and is rapidly playing a broader role for businesses. SMB clients in particular are expecting more value-added services such as strategic financial advice from their accountants.

In fact, according to our recent research, 69% of SMB clients now expect their accountants to be financial advisors – a notable increase of 25% from five years ago and nearly two-thirds also look to them for business advice. If this trend continues, accountants will begin to become gatekeepers to overall business growth, playing an even more vital role in business and overall economic growth.

With this in mind, accountants have every right to look ahead positively and focus on delivering great service for their clients and ultimately growth in the sector.”

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Iron Mountain 2021 Outlook

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Iron Mountain 2021 Outlook 1

By Stuart Bernard, VP of Digital Solutions at Iron Mountain

The Covid-19 pandemic is continuing to rewrite the rules governing how we live and work; no crystal ball is needed to identify that general trend. However, what is perhaps less clear is how this reshaping of our traditional work/life patterns will play out in physical, day-to-day terms during 2021.

To fully understand the impact of the virus on employment practices requires an investigation of two evolving challenges: how and where we work. These interlinked issues are already having a profound influence on a wide range of business processes and they are continuing to fundamentally and irrevocably altering the world of employment for people around the world.

Cost reduction will top business priorities

For most businesses, the need to preserve cash will be a major concern over the coming 12 months. Uncertain trading conditions customarily tighten purse strings so we can expect some near-term cost reduction measure. An agile, flexible approach to office space offers an immediate monetary benefit, which in combination with a widespread acceptance of remote working, provides ample opportunities for downsizing real estate holdings. This will enable businesses to divert cash to crucial customer-facing operations, helping protect bottom line performance.

Flexible working will enable greater workforce diversity

However, there is an enduring need for companies to provide offices for their employees, if only to support face-to-face collaborations and ensure that there’s an opportunity for direct learning and training to support career development. For many people, a single place of employment will no longer be the norm – a flexible mix of home, remote and office-based work will be the new reality. However, knitting dispersed employees together into an integrated unit is problematic. Meeting the needs of a hybrid workforce will require the implementation of seamless digital workflows that are responsive and robust enough to ensure that staff can be productive and connected no matter their location.

An unintended benefit of operating a hybrid workforce is the increased level of flexibility it provides when recruiting staff. This has the potential to open up the talent pool beyond conventional geographic areas, boosting access to skills and experience from a wider area. Once again, in order to maximise the opportunities this provides, it will be necessary to assemble a robust digital network in order to bridge physical distances as well as potential cultural ones, depending on how widespread a workforce becomes.

Stuart Bernard

Stuart Bernard

Automated workflows will become critical

For 2021 it’s not just where businesses operate that’s going to change; the requirements of customers are likely to transform, too. This will be especially apparent when it comes to signing contracts and delivering services. Lockdowns and Covid-19 related restrictions on traditional in-person meetings are going to herald the demise of conventionally signed documents in many instances; they are also likely to change how records are shared and stored. An increasing reliance on digital workflows will require the parallel adoption of secure digital storage and handling. Specifically, Iron Mountain’s research reveals that IT support (49%), customer relationship management (36%) and overseeing team resourcing (34%) are the top three processes digitised in response to lockdown.

Nevertheless, efficiently storing existing physical documents or ensuring their safe destruction remain important functions that businesses should not neglect, even if they’re moving to predominantly digital workflows.

Importantly, digitising processes offers a range of benefits that will outlast the current global pandemic. According to our research sample there are four key benefits, which all deliver long-term value: increased productivity (the most popular response at 27%), time savings (20%), enhanced data quality (13%) and cost reductions (12%). Irrespective of trading conditions, there are all important developments that any forward-looking business will want to gain.

Protecting bottom line performance

How does all this work in practice? Well, a fully-searchable on-line repository will enable a company to quickly and cost-effectively access and archive documents, thanks to an array of enhanced search functions. During a period of intensified competition and pressure on bottom line performance this level of functionality delivers real-time benefits that not only meets the needs of a transforming business, it also adds value and consistency to customer services. Similarly, once in place, a properly designed digital workflow system will also be able to automate processes, allowing valuable time and budget to be preserved. What at first might look like a costly investment can quickly turn into a business driver by creating a unified and responsive platform for document and contract management with anytime, anywhere access.

Despite the changing employment patterns, 2021 will show that the physical office space will not cease to exist. Having said that, the way we remember it might change as hybrid working becomes more common place. The coming year will also reinforce the importance of enterprises being flexible and agile – those that cling onto outmoded ways of operating will lose their competitive advantage during a period of dramatic change. Importantly, in order to maximise their opportunities businesses will need to invest in the best available digital tools; adopting and adapting to a paper-free workflow aren’t optional: the next 12 months are going to transform how we create, transfer, share, store and action documents thanks to an increasing use of automated workflows.

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Jack Henry shares six areas of focus for financial institutions in 2021

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Jack Henry shares six areas of focus for financial institutions in 2021 2

Reflecting back on 2020, the community banking and credit union industries should be proud of how this unprecedented pandemic and resulting economic crisis was managed. It was a truly remarkable time in which organizations worked together to take care of their employees, serve and support our communities, and operate their businesses efficiently despite significant challenges.

Now in 2021, the financial services industry is focused on moving forward – and is well positioned to do so. The technology demands faced over the last year were tremendous, but they were not a surprise. Jack Henry has been steadily working toward building digital, user centric, and open technologies that allow community banks and credit unions to meet customer and member needs personally and at their time and location of choice. The company is constantly evaluating industry trends and developing the technology necessary to prepare financial institutions for continued success. Below are a few areas of focus in 2021:

  • The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) continues. An additional $284 billion has been approved for PPP lending, including new loan eligibility and the option for qualifying businesses to receive a second loan. Preparing for the dissemination of these funds, all while managing the forgiveness process, is top of mind for many bankers. Community banks and credit unions can continue to benefit from participating in this program by gaining and strengthening small business customers as well as playing a significant role in extending loans to minority- and female-owned businesses. In fact, in addition to facilitating the majority of the small business PPP loans in 2020, community banks originated 72.6% of PPP loans made to non-white small business owners and 71.5% of PPP loans made to female small business owners.
  • Digital banking continues rapid acceleration. Digital banking adoption has reached record highs, and enhancing digital service is a top priority. The area is constantly evolving in speed, personalization and openness. The key to continued success is to stay focused on the needs of people, identify digital solutions that draw people in, engage them, and focus more on providing human-centered service in moments of need. Platforms should offer open infrastructure that makes it easy for institutions to embed their solutions of choice, preparing them for the future.
  • Payments platforms take center stage. It’s critical for financial institutions to broaden their payments options, moving toward an approach that provides end users with robust features combined with an excellent experience. An integrated payments infrastructure that provides frictionless, real-time experiences will be necessary to compete with big banks and fintechs. Financial institutions will partner with vendors that can help to build the right platform for their unique customer and member preferences.
  • Digital transformation in mortgage lending. Mortgages rates have dropped to record lows and the Federal Reserve has expressed no plans to change the rate environment until 2022 or beyond. Bankers must drive efficiency to compete. They need automation and seamless workflows that effectively measure credit risk and streamline previously manual processes. This empowers lenders to focus on building relationships and growing portfolios. Borrowers will benefit also from the added speed and connectivity with their lender.
  • Changes in the new administration. With the pending changes in Washington, a new administration will most likely swing the pendulum back toward an environment of stricter banking regulation. Economic recovery has also been identified as a top priority by the new administration. Banks and credit unions must have agile technology and processes in place to respond; outsourcing will help many with these adjustments.

Transparency and fairness in lending. Given the social environment in our country today, Jack Henry expects a real focus this year on diversity and inclusion in banking, especially around access to fair credit and lending costs. Many organizations, Jack Henry included, have taken a formal stance in supporting racial justice and equality. Working together to ensure that lending clients are treated equitably.

This year will continue to be about partnerships that are committed to doing the right thing and providing for local communities. Together, fintechs and financial institutions can develop joint strategies and modern technology that drive success, both today and tomorrow.

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Seven lessons from 2020

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Seven lessons from 2020 3

Rebeca Ehrnrooth, Equilibrium Capital and CEMS Alumni Association President

 

Attending a New Year’s luncheon on 31 December 2019, we played a game that involved predicting the world in 2020. Some of the questions included: would Uber become profitable? Would the three-decade bond rally finally come to an end? Would the US hit a recession?

Unlike any of our predictions based on a traditional approach to business and predicting, we now know that 2020 became the year where business, professional and personal plans were turned upside down, reshaped and put-on hold. The proverbial black swan had arrived.

As revealed in a new CEMS Guide to Leadership in a Post-COVID-19 World, to which I contributed, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed deficiencies in the 20th Century vision of leadership, giving a rare opportunity to question the status quo.

So, what are the main lessons from 2020?

  1. Humans are enormously adaptive.  This is not an extinction scenario. The world is getting used to dealing with global human disaster which may become a recurring event. Life continues guided by new parameters.

  1. No sector or country is immune to rapid change. Just as the leveraged finance and equity markets ground to a halt during the Global Financial Crisis, we have seen a disruption in the financial markets (including M&A) in 2020, including a significant redistribution of wealth between sectors; think tech vs airlines and the hospitality industry. When a market is disrupted it has secondary and tertiary effects such as less work for accountants, lawyers, financiers etc.

 

  1. Location is not as important anymore. The belief that finance staff need to be based in one of the financial capitals to be effective has been forever altered. Pursuing a career in finance from anywhere is becoming possible. However, it’s likely that over time, financial controls and human interaction will move the work model back towards the traditional office approach, as work is a critical sanctuary for people. While working from home may allow more time for family, chores and sports, it is mainly effective for people who already have their internal and external networks. For junior employees it presents a notable challenge as they may be forced to spend their formative years without a chance to really build their networks.

 

  1. Change is likely to be lasting. The opportunity for alternative finance and tech focused providers is enormous and 2020 will accelerate this shift. For example, many retail banks are providing rather poor customer service, blaming the pandemic. Even the most loyal customers will be heading elsewhere. For recent graduates and current students this is a major shift; future winners and key employers may not be names we are used to seeing in the headlines.

 

  1. There will be a spotlight on leaders with visionary strategy and understanding of the operations. 2020 showed many politicians and business leaders behaving like they were playing a game of snakes and ladders, rather than executing a thought-out strategy. The next wave of thoughtful leadership is urgently required.

 

  1. Collaboration leads to success. The definition of a pandemic is an infectious disease prevalent worldwide. A global problem requires a collaborative solution rather than each country and industry on their own. Quoting Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London: “Once you have the knowledge and you share the knowledge, then you are able to take measures to push transmission much lower”. This principle is transferable to management education. In a world more complex than ever, investing in a degree is hard currency. Combined with the full global alumni network, corporate partners and schools, CEMS is capital that doesn’t depreciate.

  1. Resilience has become a watch word. Saint-Exupéry’s quote resonates with me: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” We are in a new paradigm – so prepare for the next change. For COVID-19, while we hope that the vaccine will soon upon us, the broader long-term positive challenge remains.
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