Category Archives: Thought Leadership

Some top tips for ensuring employee and business wellbeing in 2024, from Fiona Armstrong, Chief People Officer, Moneypenny

Moneypenny, leaders in outsourced calls and communications has been consistently recognised for its people strategy, and its leadership team firmly believes that employee wellbeing and satisfaction is central to achieving business success in 2024 and beyond.

Fiona Armstrong, Chief People Officer for Moneypenny comments, “As we near the end of the year, it’s a natural time to reflect, reinvent, re-energise and refresh your wellbeing initiatives and ensure they are more than an exercise in box-ticking.” 

Here are Fiona’s top tips for ensuring employee wellbeing:

 

  • Build a safe, comfortable culture.

At Moneypenny we’re recognised for our culture, and for creating a place where people feel at home, safe, comfortable, and a part of something; creating a positive environment where people can thrive, enables companies to thrive.

Wellbeing is neither a standalone function nor a one-off event, it should be ever-present in a business’s DNA. At our company we call it ‘Moneypenny Love’ and every day we empower, tailor our approaches to different communities, and make sure that our teams feel valued, safe, and listened to.

 

  • Responsibility is a team game.

Leaders need to lead by example, communicate clearly and create an environment where people feel comfortable to speak up. It is the role of HR leaders to steer the agenda, the management team to ensure that everyone is set up to succeed, the line managers to listen and spot any signs of problems, and employees themselves to participate.

 

  • Recognise success.

There is a powerful connection between recognition and wellbeing – it leads to increased engagement and productivity but also to employees feeling more valued, supported and less stressed, which in turn improves wellbeing. And this applies to recognition from above, but also from your peers and for those giving recognition. Recognition encourages everyone to feel empowered to be their best, and it fosters belonging and inclusion.

Ensure that recognition is fair, personalised and happens at all levels, from WOW chats to handwritten thank-yous, team meals, parties, random acts of kindness and much more.

 

  • Reward success.

After recognition comes reward. At Moneypenny we offer PennyPerks: a Pick n Mix of benefits tailored to individual needs. We also offer free breakfasts and healthy subsidised lunches, as well as counselling, annual flu jabs and much more.  This Christmas, for a bit of fun, we’re turning our treehouse meeting room into a giant snowball pit, where every week different teams will take out a ball which represents a fun prize, such as a free air fryer, cuddly toy or a weekend away for the whole team, to reward them for their hard work throughout the year. And the reward for business is a happy, healthy and productive team.

 

  • Turn your people into advocates.

Engagement makes your people your advocates, and has a somewhat synergistic relationship with wellbeing, with one enabling the other. Employee engagement means positive culture, increased retention, better long-term relationships, and a healthier bottom line.  Knowing your people as the individuals is key to this, and at Moneypenny we like to hear everyone’s views. We have airy open-plan offices and an open door policy and use Workplace by Meta to ensure all our people are updated regularly and that anyone can post their views. We also have a Business Counsel and Little Things Committee where we meet for lunch, or drinks in our onsite pub, to share ideas and brainstorm new ones.

 

  • Provide opportunities.

People are generally happier if they feel they have opportunities to grow and progress. This includes promotion, education (internally and externally), and also opportunities for secondments, and experiences internationally. At Moneypenny, we offer placements in our US office and vice-versa to support our culture and share knowledge and experiences.

 

  • Ensure a healthy work-life balance for all.

Work-life balance seems to have been around for eons. To support employees and help them achieve true balance in their lives, offer flexible working arrangements, encourage breaks, tailor your support to communities and generations, and the same goes for providing resources, setting realistic deadlines, and most importantly, leading by example.

 

Fiona concludes: “Invest in these principles and you’ll setup yourself and your people to succeed in the business landscape of the future. Happy people equals happy clients, equals happy bottom line.”

Picture is of Wendy Swash, Chief Operating Officer at Moneypenny and Fiona Armstrong, Chief People Officer in the Moneypenny meeting room which for 6 weeks has been turned into a giant snowball pit, where every week different teams will take out a ball which represents a fun prize, such as a free air fryer, cuddly toy or a weekend away for the whole team, to reward them for their hard work throughout the year.

2024 is Age of Smart Recruitment: The Year of Tech Driven Hiring.

Written by Paul Marchant, Regional Vice President, Northern Europe at SmartRecruiters

We read about it every day. A major challenge in the EMEA job market currently is the shortage of digital skills. Over half of UK businesses struggle to find employees with the necessary digital skills – and to make matter worse, 46% of the european workforce lack the basic digital skills needed for conitnued business innovation. The difficulty businesses face when trying to bring in digitally skilled talent is such that they can’t afford to leave any stone unturned. They have to have an efficient, always-on recruitment process in place so that they can bring the right talent in as and when it is available.

To bridge this gap, organisations are turning to innovative HR technologies, such as AI-powered recruitment platforms. These platforms use machine learning algorithms to identify and match candidates with the right skills, whether or not they have the prior experience, greatly improving the size of a potential talent pool.

 

The HR and recruitment industry in the EMEA is going through exciting changes as we get closer to 2024. Research shows that integrating HR systems with third-party platforms is becoming increasingly important. According to Deloitte, 84% of organisations believe that this integration is crucial for boosting HR effectiveness and efficiency. It allows for smooth data exchange, streamlines processes, and improves the candidate experience.

But how exactly is HR and recruitment in 2024 being shaped by the integration of third-party platforms, addressing the digital skills shortage, and adopting AI-powered technologies?

 

Embracing the Third-Party Integration Revolution.

The reality is that a one-size-fits-all approach no longer suffices in 2024 to meet diverse recruitment needs. Continuous technology advancements have prompted comprehensive vendors to recognize the significance of third-party integrations. For example, Microsoft’s Viva seamlessly incorporates HR technology into existing workflows, aligning with the trend of utilising technology through users’ preferred channels.

Third-party integrations are vital for achieving overall business success, extending beyond technical HR professionals. Integration capabilities and interoperability have become critical factors in technology acquisitions, as companies increasingly understand the necessity of seamless integration with existing systems and workflows. By embracing third-party integrations, businesses unlock the full potential of diverse technologies, boosting productivity and fuelling innovation.

For instance, a company using an applicant tracking system (ATS) can benefit from integrating it with third-party assessment tools. These integrations allows seamless evaluation of candidates’ skills and qualifications, making the hiring process more efficient and effective.

It is vital for organisations to recognise the significance of third-party integrations in HR technology. By embracing these integrations, businesses overcome limitations and unlock the full potential of diverse technologies, ultimately increasing productivity and innovation.

 

Unleashing Hidden Talent and Embracing Skills-Based Practices.

The demand for tech skills in 2024 is soaring as organisations embark on their digital transformation journey. AI revolutionises the hiring process by enabling companies to embrace skills-based practices. AI algorithms can identify transferable skills, giving rise to internal skills marketplaces and mobility programmes within organisations. This development allows employees to uncover hidden talents and explore new career opportunities.

The convergence of AI and the skills agenda has led to a thriving vendor market, offering AI-powered solutions for skills management. By harnessing the power of AI, organisations can efficiently identify and leverage their workforce’s skills, leading to enhanced productivity and overall success.

 

AI will continue to be a major trend in 2024, capturing the attention of HR professionals. Industries heavily reliant on frontline workers experience a growing demand for AI-driven solutions. However, the adoption of AI may vary across regions due to privacy laws and regulations. The transformative power of AI remains undeniable.

Cultural and legislative factors shape attitudes towards AI, resulting in differing levels of adoption across geographic markets. SmartRecruiters understands this and offers organisations the flexibility to deploy AI based tools on their comfort level, empowering them to effectively manage risks. Implementation of AI is heavily influenced by cultural nuances, with different markets having diverse interpretations of diversity and inclusion. Our mission is to provide a comprehensive and diverse perspective by leveraging cross-customer datasets worldwide, ensuring fairness and mitigating biases in AI models.

The accuracy and reliability of AI models heavily rely on the quality of input data. Each organisation plays a crucial role in providing appropriate and unbiased inputs, such as job descriptions, to achieve optimal outcomes. Their contributions are integral to the overall success and effectiveness of the AI system.

 

Looking ahead to 2024, the HR and recruitment domain in EMEA will experience ongoing changes driven by emerging technologies and evolving market demands. Third-party integrations will be highly valued for enhancing productivity and fostering innovation. AI-powered hiring practices focusing on skills will address the digital skills shortage, facilitating growth and career advancement within organizations. Automation and efficiency will be key macro trends, optimising workforces and enabling businesses to focus on higher-value tasks. AI will continue to play a major role in HR technology, transforming various industries.

As we move into 2024, AI will further advance and integrate into HR and recruitment practices, enabling businesses to thrive in an ever-changing technological landscape.

 

NEW: Can Charities Survive the Burden of the Cost-of-Living Crisis?

Expert Outlines Five Ways for Charities to Make Donors Money Go Further

CHARITIES will continue to face huge funding challenges next year due to the ongoing cost of living crisis, a leading expert has predicted.

Shameet Thakkar, the managing director of Unimed Procurement Services, said many charities could ultimately close due to growing financial pressures.

He said: “There is no doubt that charities, and smaller charities in particular, have been affected by the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. In 2022, 86% of charity leaders expressed concern regarding the impact of the crisis on those who depend on their services.

“And with 53% of donors having found it more difficult to give to charities in 2022, these concerns are justified, with charities experiencing both a decrease in income and a higher demand for services.

 

Outlining how the past year has been so far he continued: “2023 has seen those challenges continue, with a new Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) survey showing that the cost-of-living crisis has had an impact on the workforce of seven in 10 charities, and only 55% of charities surveyed were confident they could meet current overheads.

“What’s more, research indicates that the 2023 Spring Budget departmental budget increases have not flowed down to charity frontline services, ultimately creating a £1 billion public funding cut that could result in widespread charity closures.

“It’s clear that small and medium sized charities will ultimately have to do more with less in the current climate. But this isn’t an impossible feat, albeit a particularly difficult one.

“As a consequence of the cost-of-living crisis, charities need to make their funds go further. However, this should be something that is always kept at the forefront – everyone holds charities accountable for how their money is spent, which is an added layer of complexity in an already challenging situation. But there are specific ways charities can ensure their funds are used as effectively as possible.”

 

Here, Shameet outlines five ways charities can make their money go further:

 

Gaining and retaining donors’ trust

“Showing accountability and a transparent approach when handling taxpayers’ money is the best way to gain their trust. In turn, this can help charities receive continued donations from habitual donors, even in spite of the cost-of-living crisis.

“In this context, it’s also vital that charities don’t compromise on the quality of the commodity or the service itself. Cutting costs shouldn’t affect the quality of what the charity is providing or facilitating, which in most cases is something of vital importance to those receiving it.

“If charities are to retain consumers’ trust, keeping quality in mind is a necessity, as it will also improve the credibility of the organisation. Consumers tend to trust and respect charities that continue to support those that depend on them as best as they can in spite of the challenges – and communicating this to donors with transparency can go a long way.”

 

Employing the very best people

“Many are unaware of the costs that take to simply keep a charity alive, and the costs that ensue from hiring people run those all-important operations.

“Though only a small portion of taxpayers’ money goes into the charity’s running costs, such as its employees, charities have to invest in the best people to get the most value out of their funds.

“People are at the heart of businesses’ and organisations’ success, and charities are no different. Even one individual can make all the difference. Ultimately, charities should be run by business-minded individuals, allowing charities to more easily turn a profit for the security and welfare of the cause or the communities supported by the charity.”

 

Ensuring effective planning strategies are in place

“It can be helpful to look at a charity as a business, which means that within their planning strategies, they should focus on costs, procurement, and the value of what they’re buying to make sure that they are getting the right product for the right price.

“Often, charities will need to buy products in an ad hoc way. However, if they plan their procurement cycles correctly, properly plan for when their projects are going to come in, and know exactly what they’re going to be buying and when, then they will likely be able to obtain better value for them.

“The element of foresight and proper planning should never be cast aside, particularly at times when funds are limited – charities simply can’t afford to rely on guesswork.”

 

Adopting a business mentality

“Again, having a business mentality when running a charity has its benefits.

“Many think that charity leaders are paid too much. But if we think of them as business leaders, they should receive the money that they need to be at the helm of their organisation, which involves many of the same elements of business leadership: hiring quality employees, putting the right processes and systems in place, managing finances effectively, setting goals, measuring performance and much more.

“Overall, charities need the very best people to operate effectively whether in times of crisis or not, just like a business would. But for charities, it’s even more essential that there are people guiding it that are truly capable of delivering the very best work.”

 

Outsourcing procurement to ensure better control

“Procurement is a large part of charities’ activities. Having professionals at one’s disposal who can effectively take care of this function can be a huge help, especially when it comes to saving on costs.

“Instead of having a full-time employee dedicated to procurement, which of course comes with its additional financial burden, outsourcing procurement allows charities to only pay for these services when they are needed.

“Smaller charities in particular don’t need procurement individuals, as they can outsource to organisations such as Unimed, paying a one-time fee as opposed to a yearly salary, which works in their favour when it comes to the costs.

“And the benefits are not just financial. Funds can often be misused if they’re not controlled by procurement professionals. By outsourcing this function, charities are also outsourcing that responsibility – but they are outsourcing to experts who know exactly how to handle this burden.”

 

From Weak Link to Impenetrable Shield: Empowering Employees to Reduce Cyber Risk

Written by Anurag Lal, President, and CEO of NetSfere

 A major risk exposure for enterprises today is cyber risk with 84% of organisations experiencing one or more breaches in 2022. Enterprises are working daily to combat cyber threats which are growing in frequency and sophistication. When successful these threats have costly reputational, legal, and financial repercussions. IBM’s most recent Cost of a Data Breach report revealed that in 2023 the global average cost of a data breach reached $4.45 million , which is a 15% increase over the last 3 years.

A majority of data breaches – 74% – involved the human element. Humans make mistakes.

Cybercriminals are very aware of this and work overtime to exploit that fallibility, attacking people more often than technology to gain access to networks and systems. Research from cybersecurity company Fortinet found that 81% of organisations faced malware, phishing, and password attacks last year which were mainly targeted at users. Fortinet noted that this data “underscores that employees can be an organisation’s weakest point or one of its most powerful defences”.

As the risk of cyber threats continues to increase, enterprises can significantly reduce that risk by empowering employees to become an impenetrable shield against cyberattacks, proactively stopping these attacks before they start.

To help employees become powerful security assets, organisations should take the following proactive steps:

 

Establish a strong security culture

Establishing a strong security culture is critical for mitigating cyber risk and reducing the potential of costly data breaches. An enterprise-wide commitment to cybersecurity makes for a shared responsibility across the organisation, creating an environment where everyone understands their role in reducing cyber risk.

Making employees partners in advancing a security-conscious culture encourages cyber-secure behaviours and attitudes and helps minimise risky behaviours such as using unauthorised apps, accessing malicious websites, and clicking on suspicious links in e-mails.

 

Provide secure collaboration tools

When employees are provided with secure collaboration platforms, they will not turn to unsecure messaging and collaboration tools that expand the cyberattack surface in organisations.

Many consumer-grade messaging apps and unsecure collaboration tools do not have the enterprise-grade security, compliance and governance features needed to keep organisations secure. Bad actors are well aware of the vulnerabilities in these less-than-secure tools, tailoring their attack mechanisms to these channels. Research shows that cyberattack numbers increased 38% in 2022 compared to 2021, driven up “by smaller, more agile hacker and ransomware gangs who widened their aim to target business collaboration tools”.

 

Using a secure, user-friendly all-in-one platform which is designed for the enterprise with end-to-end encryption (E2EE) reduces the attack surface and keep organisations secure. E2EE locks down sensitive data in transit and at rest, ensuring that only the sender and receiver can read messages. Secure by-design collaboration technology like this provides employees with a convenient and frictionless way to share ideas, files, and data without compromising the security of networks and systems.

 

Set and enforce clear policies

Employees can become one of the most effective security controls in an organisation when clear cybersecurity policies are established, communicated, and enforced. Policies prohibiting the use of shadow IT (the use of unsanctioned applications that are not monitored and managed by the enterprise IT department) are particularly important for employees to be aware of and understand.

The danger of employee use of shadow IT lies in the lack of IT control. IT teams can’t control what they don’t know about which can lead to unauthorised access to an organisation’s IT infrastructure, according to Randori’s State of Attack Surface Management 2022 report.

Policies prohibiting the use of shadow IT means employees will avoid using apps and tools that can increase enterprise risk exposure to data breaches and compliance violations.

 

Provide training

When employees are trained to recognise cyber threats, they are better equipped to identify, report, and prevent cyberattacks.

Providing regular cybersecurity training that educates employees on common threats such as phishing, malware and social engineering teaches them best practices for password management, secure remote working and data handling reduces the risk of human error, helping employees take proactive steps to protect sensitive company data and information.

 

Cybersecurity tools alone are not enough

Tools such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems and VPNs help defend against potential cyber threats, but they are not enough to fend off cybercriminals. Effectively combatting cyber threats and reducing cyber risks today requires organisations to empower employees to become an impenetrable shield in cyber securing the enterprise. A strong security culture, secure collaboration platforms, clear policies, and cybersecurity training are the way forward to achieving that.

Not So Remote: The Large Possibility of Data Loss When Workers Are Offsite

Written by Mark Johnson, Senior Director of Global Alliances, Arcserve

As we all know, the COVID pandemic triggered a rapid and widespread shift to remote work that persists today—and for good reason. Remote work offers many benefits. It gives employees greater flexibility over schedule, eliminates commute, enhances health and happiness, and boosts productivity. There are also downsides, of course. For one, the rise of remote work introduced a host of cybersecurity concerns, as employees who work outside the office don’t have the security features that go with it.

Are companies responding? Many are not. For example, only 38% of financial services companies have a backup and recovery solution for remote employees, according to an eye-opening new study from Arcserve. It is a risky proposition. Financial services companies that don’t have a security solution for remote employees expose themselves to a wide range of serious threats, including data loss, regulatory noncompliance, and operational disruption.

Of course, the situation may not be as dire as that 38% number suggests since much of the data held by financial institutions probably doesn’t exist on employees’ devices. Most of it resides on secure servers, either onsite or in the cloud. Indeed, employees aren’t even allowed to save files to their desktops at many financial companies. They must log into remote virtual desktops or save data on SharePoint or OneDrive, both cloud-based. Strict controls and monitoring capabilities are in place because the main goal is to have as little data as possible on individual devices.

Where remote backup falls short

The financial sector is in pretty good shape regarding security. But if we consider remote workers outside the financial services sector, where regulations and security measures are typically less stringent, we can identify serious issues.

In many industries, individuals are allowed to save data to their devices, which poses a problem. Backing up remote workers is always a challenge because, in many cases, organisations aren’t managing the devices themselves. Instead, they focus on controlling access to company or web-based resources like Microsoft 365, NetSuite, and Salesforce.

Most companies don’t secure remote devices adequately, and even when they try, protecting those devices is inherently difficult because they’re constantly on the move. Traditional backup and recovery methods often fall short when the laptop is unavailable or offline. Not all backup and recovery software solutions automatically resume backup when the device comes online, resulting in days of data loss.

That’s why, with the rise of remote work, the goal is to store as much data as possible in the cloud or corporate servers and reduce reliance on individual devices. This way, if a laptop is lost or damaged, data remains accessible. Like transferring data to a new phone, the idea is to enable users to log in and access their data seamlessly. However, achieving this goal is challenging due to the offline nature of remote work.

Four keys to protecting remote data

In the context of remote working, here are four key lessons and security best practices that organisations can learn from and adopt.

1: Centralize your data

While some individuals may have copies of data on remote workstations, the goal should be to centralise data on corporate servers or cloud-based solutions like Office 365, Salesforce, NetSuite, or a similar platform.

2: Secure remote devices

Whether it’s a laptop, iPad, or home computer, all devices serve as a gateway to corporate systems. For instance, the laptop on my desk is the portal through which I access applications like Salesforce and Office 365. The goal is to enhance the security of these devices. The approach should include robust endpoint security, strong authentication, and regular updates to protect devices from malware, unauthorised access, and known vulnerabilities.

3: Train your users

It’s worth emphasising that many vulnerabilities arise from compromised user credentials. These credentials aren’t limited to super admins or high-level staff. Even regular user credentials can be exploited to wreak havoc, especially on platforms like Microsoft 365. Ensuring that your users are well-informed and vigilant is crucial. Ultimately, organisations should aim to foster a culture of security where every employee understands their role in maintaining cybersecurity and feels responsible for protecting sensitive data and systems.

4: Continuously update your policies and procedures

This best practice applies to security, backup, recovery, and user access policies. These must be updated regularly to keep pace with changes in your environment, such as introducing new applications. For instance, if you look at some major ransomware incidents, many were executed using outdated credentials. When employees leave a company and their credentials aren’t promptly revoked, it creates a vulnerability. Falling behind in policy updates can lead to mismatches between your policies and the data you must protect, whether for backup or security purposes.

Final takeaway

The global shift to remote work has brought both opportunities and challenges. While remote work offers enhanced flexibility and adaptability, it has opened up cybersecurity threats and increased data vulnerability. Considering these issues, there are overarching lessons and high-level security principles that all organisations should heed. These are especially important now that we live in an era where remote work is not merely a temporary response to unforeseen circumstances but an enduring and integral component of the contemporary organisation.

 

How to make events truly inclusive

In the ever-evolving landscape of business meetings and events, one word stands out: inclusivity. Recognising and respecting the diversity of an audience, whether in terms of background, ability, gender, age, or any other characteristic is crucial in today’s events world. Creating an environment where every delegate feels welcomed, valued, and able to fully participate should be every event organiser’s priority, according to Danielle Bounds, Sales Director at ICC Wales.

Here are some of Danielle’s top tips on how to incorporate inclusivity into events and the benefits this can bring, from fostering innovation and broadening audiences, to enhancing the delegate experience in order to create impactful and memorable events.

 

  1. Venue selection

Inclusivity is not an optional add-on; it is a fundamental element that demonstrates the delegate is front of mind, and applies throughout the planning process and from the moment they leave their home, to the days and weeks after the event. This all starts with the choice of venue. Ensuring that there are accessible travel and parking options as well as working ramps, lifts, and reserved seating, will help delegates feel comfortable navigating the venue, enabling them to truly focus on the event’s content and connections. ICC Wales’ ‘Changing Places, Changing Lives’ initiative ensures that people with profound and multiple learning disabilities, as well people with other physical disabilities have the space and amenities they need. Events can also embrace neurodiversity and create parent and child areas; at ICC Wales we are fortunate to have woodland right outside the venue to add sensory and wellbeing experiences.

 

  1. Using technology

Not everyone is comfortable sitting in an auditorium or meeting room for a long session so technology can be used to reach a wider audience. SQL Bits, the largest Data Platform conference in Europe who held their event at ICC Wales in March this year, recognised that not everyone wanted to sit in a busy session room throughout the day. So, they explored alternative methods and streamed sessions onto big screens in the exhibition hall, where delegates could listen with headphones and enjoy the sessions at their own pace, in their own space. Interactive virtual components such as live chat or Q&A sessions, which enhance a culture of knowledge sharing and networking opportunities, help foster inclusivity in the world of events.

 

  1. Inclusive communication

Effective communication is the backbone of any event: when attendees can easily understand and engage with event information, they are more likely to have a positive experience. Considering the audience and their needs when it comes to marketing materials, signage, and announcements is key, and SQL Bits executed this well during this year’s data conference by including clear, concise signage and keeping their breakout sessions close to the main exhibition hall. They also incorporated British Sign Language (BSL) sessions as part of their event to encourage networking in a fun and accessible way.

 

  1. Diverse speaker line up

A diverse line up of speakers is not just a checkbox; it’s a cornerstone of inclusivity. Seeking out speakers from various backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives not only enriches the content but also makes attendees feel represented and heard. It demonstrates an event organisers’ commitment to embracing different voices within the industry. The SQL Bits Data Platform Conference featured a large and diverse range of speakers, including women, people of colour, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. By promoting a broad range of voices, the team showcased the importance of inclusivity and offered attendees the opportunity to connect with a broad spectrum of industry experts.

 

  1. Concentrate on community

I have often shared my thoughts on how the terminology surrounding events can be adapted to be more inclusive, such as referring to it as a ‘community’ rather than an ‘audience.’ Event organisers can begin thinking of attendees as a wider community who have come together for a shared experience, each with individual needs, as opposed to delegates who are just gathering for an event. This sense of community was seen at SQLBits through their Bits Buddies programme, where volunteers were available to buddy up with delegates who might be flying solo and needed a little extra support.

 

  1. Sensory inclusivity

Addressing sensory needs can be often overlooked, but it is a key ingredient of inclusive events. Creating designated quiet spaces and equipping them with sensory tools such as noise-cancelling headphones or fidget toys allows attendees who need a break from the hustle and bustle of a busy event to feel relaxed and valued. During the SQL Bits conference, sensory-friendly spaces were provided and equipped with sensory tools and comfortable seating, allowing everyone to participate fully and comfortably in the event.

 

  1. Inclusive catering

When it comes to conference catering, standards are continuously being raised to cater to a variety of dietary options, preferences, and allergies. While offering vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, halal, and kosher choices are a must, inclusivity in the dining hall means more than just ingredients. Opting for bowl food service can be a sure way to avoid lengthy queues and the inevitable frustrations and stress caused by standing in them, allowing delegates to further relax, network, and really enjoy their break.

 

  1. Feedback and continuous improvement

Inclusivity is an ongoing journey, not a destination, and when it’s woven into the fabric of an event, its impact can be far greater than the event itself. Creating a safe space for open discussions about inclusivity, such as post-event online forums, and actively seeking feedback from attendees can benefit event organisers in two ways. Opportunities for open and honest feedback helps identify areas for improvement, as well as fostering a sense of trust and loyalty among the community when they see their feedback has led to positive change. As part of this process, the SQL Bits event encouraged all attendees to write their own blogs that were shared publicly.

How pension trustees can capture investment opportunities

Written by Becky Wood, Trustee Director, Vidett

Earlier this year, we hosted our first ‘Risk Transfer Conference’, bringing together over 200 professionals from the industry. The day was made up of various panels, including one with representatives from Isio, Legal and General, Linklaters and Cardano.

The session looked at how we can capture different investment opportunities in the run up to a transaction, focusing on different timescales and how this could influence behaviour. The panel offered insights on how trustees and sponsors should approach each situation and overcome barriers to ensure a successful outcome.

Whilst for many pension schemes this is a well-trodden path beginning several years before the transaction, rising gilt yields in 2022 and increasing credit spreads led in many instances the journey has accelerated. The panel looked at what insurers and trustees could consider six weeks out, six months out and two years out.

Six weeks out – preparation is vital

As the market gets busier, insurers will not be able to quote on all transactions. They’ll prioritise deals that give them the best chance of a transaction. To be selected, pension schemes need to prepare and demonstrate what one insurer called ‘A BADGE’ – which stands for affordability, benefit specification, assets, data, governance and engagement.

Well-funded schemes are on the increase, which sees them seeking to manage buyout funding level volatility (so reducing their potential for funding level falls). The three main market risks that impact buyout pricing are:

  • interest rates
  • inflation
  • credit spreads

It’s worth noting, for all these risks, insurers will invest differently and have different expectations.

It can be beneficial for some pension schemes to partner with one insurer during the preparation stage to access best assets and prices, as well as assistance with data cleansing preparation if required and preferential reinsurance pricing. Conversely, doing this could mean losing the competitive tension of an auction process.  Even if advisers are comfortable with the sole insurer approach, trustees need to be happy too, particularly as they have a duty to get the best price in the market and losing competitive tension may mean that is lost.

From a pension trustee’s perspective, price is often most important when looking to transact but it’s not the only factor. Partnering with an insurer can bring benefits, not least removing the execution risk in an auction process where trustees are relying on multiple parties.

However, if trustees are considering going down the sole insurer route, it is vital the employer is on board too as they will either be funding any shortfall or looking to share in any surplus and will have a keen interest. Trustees also need to be comfortable with the insurer’s covenant. This is important in all transactions, but even more so where you aren’t exploring the market more widely. Trustees also need to get advice to support their decision.

Assuming the scheme is well-prepared, it comes down to the ‘how’ and ‘who’. Trustees need to ensure they have the power to enter the transaction and have considered who will be responsible for getting it over the line. Ensuring everyone is on the same page is essential when dealing with a compressed timeframe.

Six months out – easing the pressure

Although it can be hard to generalise, when you have a little bit more time there are a few common themes when considering investment priorities. Making the portfolio as liquid and flexible as possible should be a key focus.

It’s also important six months out to understand the insurer’s pricing basis and sensitivities, the value of the insurer’s price and the scheme’s assets. Once the size of any gaps are known, stress test these gaps to understand how they could affect the viability of the transaction. Also consider what actions could help close these gaps, such as making changes to the investment strategy.

Two years out – proactive and careful planning is vital

Pension schemes on a de-risking journey need a clear investment strategy outlining what they want to achieve. Two years is still a short time frame and the gap analysis and actions to close any gap are vital. Firm agreement is needed with the sponsor about how any gap will be funded so this is ready to roll out when the transaction comes through.

Consider the risks and potential to be thrown off course and how to mitigate these as far as possible.  Investment risks include markets, credit spreads, interest rates and inflation. Think about when to remove high growth assets (equity, diversified growth funds (DGFs), real assets, private assets etc) as it is unlikely much growth is needed at this stage.

Free capital can flow into high quality, liquid credit assets to provide a degree of alignment with insurance market pricing models. Linking the credit strategy with the journey plan is important as expected time to execution will drive decision making.

For efficiency and to reduce ‘leakage’ through the transaction, it may be possible to target a full or partial in-specie transfer for standard gilts and corporate bonds. If this is the target, a well-developed strategy and (ideally) direct collaboration with the insurer as early as possible will help the effectiveness of this type of transition.

At two-years out it’s about doing something sensible, both with hedging strategy and residual strategies so the investment strategy can do some of the work to get the scheme where it needs to be. A lot depends on the market opportunities at the time though. You’ll need a clear pathway to liquidity too – targeting100% liquid with six months to go so the transaction can go through smoothly.

Understanding liquidity is vital, as some assets may not be as liquid as you think. Sometimes pension trustees will be left with assets which cannot be redeemed within the proposed transaction timetable, meaning alternative solutions need to be investigated including deferred premiums.

To conclude

Capturing investment opportunities and successfully navigating the complexities of risk transfer needs preparation and proactive planning whatever the time scale to transaction. This includes monitoring market opportunities, understanding the liquidity of assets and ensuring the most effective mirroring of insurer pricing when close to transaction.

 

If you have any questions or want to find out more on this topic, please get in touch with Becky Wood.

What is the value of corporate family events?

Written by Joe Gilliver, Founder of Chameleon Agency 

Employee events followed by family events and supplier events may all seem an extravagance  when the word recession is being dropped in news articles with regular intensity. So why would a business want to spend money on events for people outside the organisation?

Recently we have created a number of supplier events for our clients. Here suppliers were offered the opportunity to demonstrate their products and new innovations. This enables a better understanding throughout our client’s business of who they are working with and what the capabilities of that relationship might be. By bringing a business together with their suppliers, offers an educational opportunity for employees to find out more about the product and services that the supplier offers. The event also built a mutual working understanding that creates a cohesive working relationship. I have seen at first hand friendships being made between suppliers and employees start at events  that stand to be commercially and culturally beneficial. The suppliers feel they are valued and a positive commercial relationship is nurtured throughout both organisations.

This summer our clients have also embraced family events wholeheartedly, for example telecoms giant Three held a Hawaiian Luau party for employees on Thursday evening and then on Saturday held a beach party for employees’ families.

This is a cost effective way of using the same theme and props twice while being appropriate for both audiences. The beach party for the family audience involved beach arts and crafts, beach photo opportunities and beach games. Strong friendships at events can start at young age, at one event the kids found the comperes microphone and started an impromptu karaoke session, prompting people to ask why they hadn’t known about the karaoke – there wasn’t one, the kids were just having a great time!

We recommend two family events a year, once at Christmas where you can incorporate a winter wonderland, a visit to the North Pole and Father Christmas and one in the summer where you can get everyone outside to compete in sports and summer activities.

Here are the four main reasons to extend business events to families

  1. Regular events build a community, with the same purpose. Families and kids are introduced and friendships wider than the office are made. This supportive mutual respect trickles throughout the culture of the business and families understand more about what happens at work and why.
  2. Your business is seen to practise what it preaches! Work Life balance is respected and acted on. Three are huge advocates of creating a healthy work and life balance for their team. By creating family orientated events the business is proving their commitment to this value and recognising their employees lives beyond their working environment.
  3. Staff retention is raised as employees feel seen and valued. Events that incorporate employees’ families create a feeling of real belonging throughout the team and therefore people are more likely to feel committed to the organisation. Resignation by employees will be considered much more seriously as there is more at stake than a salary, there is the loss of a supportive community.
  4. By introducing family events businesses will also see commercial benefits. As staff enjoy the inclusive community at work they will remain in their role, becoming valuable skilled employees. This saves money on recruitment, onboarding and staff training of new candidates new to the organisation.

 

So as negative news continues to surround the economy, reassure your team with positive family events that will ensure they feel secure.

 

What do trustees need to know about the ‘Mansion House Reforms’?

Written by James Duggan, Client Director and Professional Trustee at Vidett

The recent ‘Mansion House’ speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, introduced a series of reforms aimed at empowering the financial services sector to improve pension and investment returns for people in the UK.

These changes also aim to increase the supply of investment capital to support the growth of high-potential businesses across the nation.

As the UK’s pension market is the largest in Europe, worth over £2.5 trillion, these reforms carry significant implications for pension schemes and their trustees.

Here are some key takeaways from the speech, the ‘Mansion House Compact’, and other ongoing consultations pension trustees need to understand.

Key takeaways

Unlocking the potential:

The UK’s pension market plays a vital role in providing secure retirement income for retirees across the UK. However, how the money has been invested has been limiting returns for some pension savers. To address this, the Chancellor has introduced the ‘Mansion House Compact’, a voluntary agreement among nine of the UK’s largest defined contribution (DC) pension providers. This agreement aims to allocate 5% of assets in their default funds to unlisted equities by 2030. By diversifying portfolios and investing in unlisted equities, providers can achieve higher net returns, benefiting long-term savers.

The Mansion House Compact includes Aviva, Scottish Widows, L&G, Aegon, Phoenix, Nest, Smart Pension, M&G and Mercer. With over £400 billion in assets and representing the majority of the UK’s DC workplace pensions market, the Compact has the potential to unlock up to £50 billion of investment in high-growth companies by 2030. This could result in pension pots increasing by up to 12%, providing an additional £16,000 for an average earner.

Ongoing & recent consultations

These reforms will have a significant impact on trustees and pension scheme sponsors and are part of a series of ongoing consultations around pensions that will require legislation before becoming law.

Key consultations for pension trustees to note include:

  • The Value for Money (VFM) framework – this proposed framework around VFM assessments for DC pension schemes aims to shift focus from costs to value by requiring consideration of factors critical to longer term saver outcomes, including investment performance. The Government-regulator response to this consultation was updated on 25 July 2023 and pension trustees need to be aware of the requirements and The Pension Regulator’s powers of enforcement.

 

  • Collective defined contribution (CDC) – this is a roadmap to extend opportunities for CDC, a new type of pension scheme. Contributions are collected in the same way as a DC scheme but are pooled and invested collectively with a view to delivering a sustainable target benefit level, more like a defined benefit (DB) scheme. The Government’s response to the consultation was issued in July 2023 and consultation on draft regulations to extend CDC to whole-life multi-employer schemes including master trusts is expected in the Autumn.

 

  • Defined benefit pension announcements – a Department for Work and Pensions call for evidence supports the development of innovative policy around how DB pension schemes could increase investment in productive asset classes. This includes exploring the provision of more equity capital and finance for businesses in the UK. This covers start-ups, infrastructure, and private equity, as well as longer-term investments, typically in illiquid assets – sometimes called ‘productive finance’.

Call for trustee evidence

The government recognises the importance of pension trustees’ roles and wants to ensure they have the skills and knowledge to navigate an evolving and complex regulatory environment effectively. To gather insights into trustee capabilities and barriers they may face, a ‘call for evidence’ has been launched. Trustees of DB, DC and CDC schemes can participate in this process until 5 September 2023. The call for evidence focuses on trustee skills and capability, the role of advice and other barriers to trustee effectiveness, especially when considering diverse investment opportunities.

Recommendations for trustees

  • Pension trustees must thoroughly grasp the implications of the Mansion House Reforms and other ongoing consultations. They need to keep abreast of legislative developments so they can adapt to the changing landscape effectively.
  • Participate in the call for evidence: trustees, particularly those of smaller pension schemes, should actively engage in the process. Sharing their expertise and operational practices can contribute to shaping the future of trusteeships and pension scheme management in the UK. You can find out more here: Pension trustee skills, capability and culture: a call for evidence – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

The Mansion House Reforms present a unique opportunity for trustees to improve pension and investment returns for UK pension savers and support the growth of high-potential businesses. The Mansion House Compact, along with other pension-related consultations, will herald significant changes for pension schemes and their trustees. By actively participating in the call for evidence process and understanding the reforms, trustees can effectively adapt to the evolving regulatory environment and deliver better outcomes for savers.

 

Everything you need to know about hiring remote staff for your small business

Written by Tom Price-Daniel, VP of Strategy at Teamed

The global talent shortage has more than doubled since 2018, with employers now struggling to find candidates with the right mix of experience and skills to fill various roles.

Could the answer lie in employing remote workers across different geographies?

The growth of remote work has provided organisations with opportunities to hire talent based on merit, not location, thereby overcoming skill shortages and capability gaps to build high-performing, diverse teams cost-effectively and at scale.

So, how can SMEs tap into this global talent pool effectively and create the best environment for their remote staff? From technology to regulatory compliance, here is everything you need to know about hiring remote staff for your small business.

Three remote hiring tips

There are three easy steps that businesses can take to make hiring remote workers easier and smooth. Here are the five we consider important.

  1. Take care of compliance, take care of your employees

Be mindful that employment regulations are not the same in every country. Don’t assume it’s the same as “home”. Remember that labour laws can change at any time so it’s crucial to be constantly abreast with specific laws and regulations of the relevant country. For example, in Colombia, employees get a mandatory Christmas bonus and in Iceland, equal pay between genders is mandated by law. When hiring remotely SMEs should be familiar with the regulatory nuances in order to remain compliant at all times. At Teamed, we help make it easy for businesses to hire, pay and take care of their remote workforces, by handling local regulations, payroll, benefits and onboarding.

  1. Investing in technology to help your teams thrive

To effectively hire staff remotely, your technology should be fit for purpose.

Technology, as the pandemic laid bare, is the foundation for success when hiring talent in different parts of the world. But investing in technology doesn’t have to break the bank. For remote teams to function successfully, the most important technology you will need are video conferencing tools such as Zoom and Skype, chat tools such as Slack and Microsoft Teams, file-sharing tools like Google Drive and Dropbox, and shareable calendars such as Outlook and Google Calendar. With these in place, you can be assured that you are prepared to enable workflows across multiple time zones, which means you are ready to recruit talent from just across the globe.

  1. Consider time zones, and be coordinated around the clock

The world is your new talent playground but consider time zones. How and when will this person interact with your team? Do they need to be plus/minus 3 hours for example?

Consider time zones as regular communication can become tricky when workers are spread out across multiple time zones, especially if there are times that overlap between the zones. But, this is also a strength, and means you can have employees that can be reactive around the clock.

As a business, you need to be mindful of this challenge and ensure that your teams are aware, putting processes in place for effective cross timezone collaboration. This will also mean that the right tools are available to make communication and collaboration as seamless as possible.

More than anything else in their businesses, smart small/medium-sized business owners recognise that staying on top of the talent gap is critical for the long-term health of their businesses. 

Do these things successfully, and your company will be able to survive and thrive even in times of skills shortage. Global talent was historically the preserve of multinationals. With Employer of Record platforms such as Teamed, SMEs can now get in on the act. The best talent in the world is waiting for you. Go get it.