Happy New Year
06 Jan 2022
Happy New Year everyone… it feels almost like a heartfelt plea this year after some of the challenges of 2021! That aside, I hope you all managed to have a good break over Christmas and New Year, had a chance to enjoy it with family this year and avoid the dreaded isolation. I got “lucky” and had to isolate early and it was great to be able to spend time with the folks over the festive period; although I’m sure everyone, like me, is getting a bit tired of sticking cotton buds up your noses!
As I put pen to digital paper this new year, it’s easy to get lulled into a sense of déjà vu – it certainly would be easy to roll out the same messages about being “a difficult year, but with light at the end of the tunnel” as last year; it’s difficult not to. Instead, I find myself resorting to the five most dangerous words in an investor’s vocabulary – it is different this time.
Some of the data is eye-watering, we still have some restrictions in place and businesses are suffering significant disruptions. But I believe, more than hope, that it is different this time round. After last year’s prediction of a return to some kind of normal in 2021, I’m not sure my crystal ball is the most reliable – but after no prospect of snowboarding last year, I’ve backed the courage of my convictions this year by organising some winter trips to France and Norway.
We’ve gone from the early stages of vaccine roll out to a widespread booster programme – the level of overall immunity or protection across the country feels like it’s beyond expectations. This hopefully paves the way for 2022 being the year the scientists will refer to us moving from Covid being pandemic to endemic – code for learning to live with the virus or returning to a life where our day to day decisions are not driven by it. Where, as a whole, we’re not just resilient in spirit, but also in body.
It’s that resilience of spirit that stands out in 2021 – a whole year of uncertainty on top of what had gone before in 2020. I’ve been amazed, even humbled by the efforts everyone in our firm has made to work through this, to support each other and our clients, to stay connected in what, but for a few weeks here and there, has been a predominantly virtual world. We’ve ensured that the wellbeing of colleagues and clients has been our priority despite the challenges – it’s been a terrific effort.
We started the year hoping to celebrate our 100th birthday as a firm in person, which proved beyond us (for now!); but we celebrated in many different and creative ways instead, including exploring 4 key themes we see as fundamental to building better futures for our clients and indeed our broader society. Tackling climate change, building financial security, improving diversity and inclusion and, finally, exploring the increasingly important role of technology and a digital approach in building better financial futures.
As we explored these themes, it became increasingly clear how interconnected they are and that they represent key areas that our industry (and others) need to tackle collectively to make things better for future generations. Whilst individually we can all play our part, and we certainly will as a firm, it’s in collectively working together that we’ll make the most impact.
At the highest level, climate change is unarguably the issue of our generation. The backdrop of COP26 in Glasgow brought focus right onto home territory and there was mixed sentiment about whether enough countries across the world are committing to do enough, soon enough. Surveying delegates to our own COP26 virtual event, there was an air of pessimism about whether they believe global leaders and corporates will deliver on the commitments made during November, with almost half saying no and 45% saying “only if pressured to do so”.
Despite this rather gloomy outlook, the difference in Glasgow was that the argument wasn’t about the extent of the problem, but what the nature of the solution should be (and a recognition of the need for innovation across all industries and economies to contribute to that solution). There’s no question that the time for action has to be now. It needs commitment from all governments and organisations, and clear action to back that commitment up. For our part, we’re committed to being net zero since our birth as a firm by 2025 and significantly reducing our overall footprint; but, more importantly, we want to work with all our clients on how they can influence and push for change.
One of the big fall outs of Covid has been the financial pressure that it’s put on many people and families. There was already an advice gap, and this has only got wider. We’re on a mission to make financial advice more inclusive through our Personal Wealth business, helping more people better manage their finances and be more financially secure. As is the case with many services, seamless technology solutions will play a key part in this. Our team want to help as many people as possible, from the outset of their careers all the way through to retirement. And in serving a diverse population, we want our team to be as diverse as possible too.
Diversity and inclusion is really important to all of us in the firm, and something I’m personally passionate about. There’s a risk that actions some take to improve diversity and inclusion could almost be described as if they are some kind of outreach programme. But I much prefer to flip that thinking on its head. Anything other than striving for a fully inclusive approach is to exclude large parts of society, to prevent them having the opportunities others have, to overlook them – and that’s just unacceptable to me!
One of our responsibilities as an employer is to do what we can to remove inequities in the workplace and wider society; to create an environment that provides rewarding careers where everyone can be themselves and thrive. There’s no doubt in my mind that a more diverse, more inclusive firm will be more successful in the long term and we know we can grow a better business if we build a more diverse workforce. The quality of our decision-making will be assured and the relationships we have with our clients and customers will be enhanced. And that benefits everyone – not just us as individuals, but also our colleagues and our clients. We’d like everyone that works for us and with us, in whatever capacity, to see themselves reflected in our firm.
So, there’s lots we’re committed to as a firm; think of these as our organisation’s New Year’s resolutions if you like. But, unlike most New Year’s resolutions, we’ll show resolve in achieving them this year and for many years to come. They require long-term commitment to make them so.
Over the past year, we’ve all worked really hard to stay connected, but it’s hard to genuinely be together, to work together virtually. In 2022, we’ll get the chance to get the best of both the virtual and the office environments in our new hybrid approach to working.
Many of us have had, all too fleeting, glimpses of what’s possible in a hybrid world. The benefits of flexibility in our working lives, but also the spontaneity of the office environment. The ability to look around and see how everyone is getting on, who could help, who needs help. The ability to be more inclusive, to collaborate more effectively with each other and our clients. This is a true sense of togetherness – much more than just being connected.
There are inevitably some difficult weeks ahead, and I’ve rarely been accused of being an optimist, but 2022 should be the year when we all come together again. Even this won’t be easy. We must be mindful and understand that this transition back will be very difficult for some of us, whilst also helping and encouraging everyone to feel the benefits of togetherness. My commitment for 2022 is to do everything I can to support us all in doing just that.