The CA Summit 2020: Grow chapter
Ahead of CA Summit 2021, revisit the Grow Chapter of last year’s event which saw experts discuss ways in which business professionals can prepare for the future, build their personal brand and look after their mental wellbeing.
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The CA Summit, held on 8 October, brought together the brightest minds from the worlds of finance, academia and the technology industry to deliver a series of challenging, thought-provoking and truly motivational seminars to inspire ICAS Members around the globe.
Watch the Grow chapter
The unclaimed space for accountants
Giles opened his session by telling the audience that he feels that the professional services industry as a whole is stuck in the past.
He explained: “I don’t feel the relationships between the end client, whether it’s a user client, an individual client or a commercial client, have really evolved dramatically over the last 50 or 60 years.”
The client still maintains six core consumer relationships: accountancy, banking, law, insurance, technology and financial advice. In his opinion, these relationships are not set up in a sustainable manner and will need to evolve.
“As a client, it’s a pain. It is a pain maintaining a series of episodic relationships with whom I may or may not have a personal contact and I probably don’t have enough interface with on a regular basis [for them] to understand the business well enough.”
These multiple professional bolt holes will evolve to a single interface where consumers demand one port of call which will put them in touch with several different providers. He gave Amazon as an example of this: a single marketplace where consumers are shown the products of many different providers.
In the context of the professional services landscape, the single provider interface will liaise with other providers.
“We are not looking at a new breed of super-advisors who understand all parts of the market,” said Giles.
“We are looking at a single interface to bring in product providers as and when they are necessary.”
For Giles, the move towards a single point of contact for customers to sign up to professional services is inevitable. He explained several reasons why he believes this will be the case including:
- the introduction of open banking
- the shift away from the commission-led advice business to a more transparent fee-led structure and
- the progress in technology coupled with Gen Z’s expectations of it.
Describing how this younger generation will operate within the landscape of professional services in the future, Giles said: “They will expect a single interface, they will expect an instant answer and they will expect the ability to move seamlessly from one professional service to another.”
In what Giles sees as a race between the professional services, with the “winner” being bestowed the prize of owning the client, accountancy is currently a front runner. The fact that it is a requirement for a business to have an accountant is a great strength, Giles explained, as this professional relationship is effectively a partnership.
He also pointed to the ability of accountants to see the “whole of the moon” when they complete a client’s tax return as this presents an opportunity to advise them “on many more aspects of the business or the personal financial situation than accountants have traditionally achieved in recent years.” However, Giles believes that accountants aren’t drawing enough of their client’s attention to this and that the profession is still viewed as a single service provider.
On this note, he ended his session with a plea to the accountancy profession not to be shy and seize the opportunity it has over the next 20 years to dominate the client space.
Grow a brand that stands out
Personal Brand Storyteller Carole Pyke began her session by addressing the “so what” questions she thought some of the CAs watching may have had when considering how personal brand pertains to them as finance professionals.
“In a world of balance sheets, cashflow forecasts and numbers, your personal brand and the story it tells is probably the furthest thing from your thinking,” she acknowledged.
She explained that her goal is to “disrupt” accountants thinking when it comes to telling their brand story.
Carole described a personal brand as a combination of an individual’s unique skill sets and personality.
Carole believes that for someone to effectively craft their own brand story it must start with a strong foundation of self-belief.
She explained that “you can’t show up in a way other than how it is you think about yourself” and that building on a foundation of positive self-reflection is vital to building a strong brand story.
Another important part of the brand story is making it attractive to others or, as Carole says, making it “sparkle”.
Carole told a story of when she met Nelson Mandela and the “sparkle” he held was his universal appeal and the gravitas she and others felt when he walked into the room.
To help people understand how they can attain this kind of impact for their own personal brand story, she has come up with the “sparkle equation”. By combining a sense of self, an understanding of one’s unique value and by being yourself, you will have created your own “sparkle”.
Carole ended her session by sharing the story of how she found herself in her current role. While in hospital having suffered a stroke, Carole was invited to attend a reading group. It was during her session with the group that three people commented on the positivity that she exuded, so much so that the group agreed she should pursue a career in motivational speaking. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Building a better business
Claire Mason, CEO of Man Bites Dog, began her session with Chairman of Revolut, Martin Gilbert CA, by acknowledging his 40 years of leadership experience.
Martin has spent most of those four decades operating in the asset management industry, and during that time he has seen it grow from “a cottage industry” where “there were three of us in a room” to a global industry handling vast sums of money for a diverse range of clients.
More recently, there has been a surge in the focus on ESG and green bonds within the market, with many organisations coming to the realisation that the impact they have on the environment around them features on investors’ radars like never before.
Martin predicted that this mindset will move a step further to a focus on impact investing as a new cohort of socially and environmentally conscious investors begin to expect companies they invest in to not only minimise any damage they do to the environment around them but to actively improve it.
“If ever a business thinks that it should be sustainable, the evidence is there now,” said Martin.
He also observed that it is becoming increasingly difficult for companies which are not acting in a sustainable manner to secure capital.
In Martin’s view, CAs are perfectly positioned to act as trusted advisors to companies looking to focus on improving their focus on sustainability.
“I’ve always thought the CA is the best qualification you can get,” said Martin.
“CAs will see the value of acting in a sustainable manner.”
This shift towards a new way of investing will require innovative thinking. This creative and inventive mindset is something which Martin sees as being crucial for businesses to weather the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re seeing a huge amount of investment in technology [and] innovation,” said Martin.
“I think this is going to require businesses to look at costs and really use technology wisely to help bring their unit costs down in whatever industry they are [in].
“I think technology is where I would be focusing a lot of effort. Using that technology, you can make your business efficient, because there is no question that this is going to be a really tough time over the next year to two years.”
Adapting to this new way of working and taking risks to keep businesses running can be a daunting pursuit, but fear of the unknown is something that Martin has never struggled with.
“Too many of us fear failure,” he said.
“I always advise people ‘Don’t look back in ten, twenty years and regret not having taken that risk that you almost took because you feared failure’.
“My mantra is ‘it’s better to try and fail than never to try at all’.”
Evolving your workplace with wellbeing
Fostering innovation in the workplace by focusing on the wellbeing of employees was a key theme of psychologist and award-winning author Gethin Nadin’s session.
The effects of the global pandemic have in some way touched almost every worker across the globe. Whether that has been a move to working from home, being furloughed or having been made redundant, employers now more than ever have a responsibility to prioritise the physical and mental wellbeing of their employees.
Putting aside the ethical argument for employers to look after their workers’ wellbeing, there is a strong financial argument for this too.
Gethin said: “Thriving employees have 53% fewer days off work due to ill health. The estimated cost of poor employee wellbeing in the UK is between £42 and £45bn every year. This is made up of absence costs, presenteeism, turnover costs and it is now universally agreed that for every £1 invested in employee wellbeing, employers can see a return of £5.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed employees’ perceptions when it comes to choosing who they work for and their expectations of their employer.
Gethin said: “Over the last seven months or so, this has been a significant shift in expectations of employment in such a short space of time.
“I think this has created a new benchmark for employees now expecting to know how you as their employer are going to look after them when their lives get challenging.”
A proactive focus on wellbeing in the workplace is no longer an afterthought or added extra, Gethin believes that it has become an “expected minimum”.
Gethin explained how important this focus will be following the discovery of a successful vaccine and an end to lockdown restrictions. There is a strong likelihood that we will enter what has been coined the “echo pandemic”.
The symptoms of this next wave will stem from the impact this time in our history has had on people’s mental health.
Gethin implored employers to make an open and honest commitment to giving the mental wellbeing of their employees a top tier focus. Some of his suggestions for creating a culture of wellbeing included talking to staff to gain insights into their own thoughts on what can be done, make an effort to celebrate successes, design an open and connected workspace and involve everyone in the wider process of change.