Are boring jobs a thing of the past thanks to technology?

Technology has the ability to rid employees of repetitive, mind-numbing tasks, but it will be up to organisations to ensure workers’ adapted roles are challenging and rewarding enough to keep them engaged

Will it soon be impossible to have a wholly boring job, given the gallop of automation and artificial intelligence? Already, technological capabilities enable workers, across the gamut of business sectors, to relinquish repetitive, menial tasks and use that clawed-back time to focus on more exciting and engaging endeavours.

Perhaps it was a surprise when, in June, a French court ruled that Frédéric Desnard’s former employer, a perfume business, should pay him €40,000 after his mental health deteriorated due to “boreout”, the antithesis of burnout. Under closer inspection, though, Desnard’s unfortunate mismanagement was the result of strict legislation that complicates the redundancy process in France. French employment law needs updating, evidently.

Consider that by 2030 up to one fifth of the global workforce, or 800 million people, will see their jobs replaced by robotic automation, according to an oft-quoted McKinsey & Company report from November 2017.

This headline figure fails to account for all the new, and more exciting, roles that technology will create in the coming decade. The key takeaway for business leaders, though, should be that it is crucial to invest in employees or risk paying a higher price for not evolving boring jobs. Employers that narrow the digital skills gap and help human and machine work side by side will gain a competitive advantage.

Autonomy is critical to interesting jobs 

Psychologist Portia Hickey, co-creator of the Smart Collaboration Accelerator, posits the model presented in the mid-1970s by organisational psychologists Greg Oldham and Richard Hackman still remains the blueprint for job design today. “They identified the significance of the job, being able to see the outcome of their work, variety, autonomy and feedback were all key,” she says.

“Jobs are generally becoming more interesting, partly because organisations are more aware of job design, but also because technology can take over highly repetitive, lower-skilled work. However, what makes a job more enjoyable is autonomy.”

The gathering of knowledge allied with autonomy is the perfect combination to motivate workers, according to Karthik Krishnan, chief executive of Britannica Group. “Learning happens when one is stretched outside one’s comfort zone,” he says. “Dopamine is the brain’s reward system and is secreted when accomplishing a challenging task. If the task is too challenging or not challenging enough, negative emotions set in, such as stress, apathy and boredom.”

Krishnan, who lists TikTok content creator, drone operator and driverless car engineer among the most exciting jobs spawned by tech recently, also notes that people’s boredom threshold has never been lower. “The ‘always-on’ mode, the 24/7 information flow and stimulation lead to constant distraction and craving for newness,” he says.

Employers should “design jobs and identify the right talent to be successful”, says Krishnan, adding that it is vital to understand a worker’s ikigai – a Japanese expression that translates loosely as “reason for being” – to keep them engaged and happy.

How tech is improving employee happiness

He says the ultimate goal is to create a culture where employees feel inspired, challenged and empowered. “The good news is that today, technology increasingly performs jobs that are well-defined, regimented and repetitive, thus reducing boring and risky jobs. From taxi drivers to shop workers to soldiers, the range of traditional jobs that will decline or disappear is huge,” says Krishnan.

Research published in September by multinational software company Pegasystems suggests intelligent automation has a critical role to play in crafting a new, tech-enabled, post-pandemic future of work. The global study surveyed more than 3,000 global senior managers and frontline IT staff, and 76 per cent agreed that increased use of tech is improving employee satisfaction, says Pegasystems’ chief technology officer Don Schuerman.

Technology increasingly performs jobs that are well-defined, regimented and repetitive, thus reducing boring and risky jobs

Further, more than half of the surveyed UK businesses (51 per cent) say intelligent automation currently saves them over ten working hours per person a week, freeing up roughly a quarter of their time. And with that available time, the top-three activities are working alongside machines, engaging more with customers and innovating. “What this study makes clear is that technology is one of the top trends shaping the future of work,” says author and futurist Jacob Morgan.

Research presented by robotic process automation (RPA) leader UiPath supports this insight. “Some 35 per cent of UK workers believed that automation would deliver more interesting and creative jobs for future generations,” says Chris Duddridge, UiPath area vice president and managing director in the UK and Ireland. He offers UiPath’s work with Brent Council’s housing benefits departments as an example to highlight how RPA “cuts out the dull parts”.

Making ‘mind-numbing’ tasks history

Before embracing RPA, all rent adjustments had to be uploaded manually on to the system. “It was described as ‘mind numbing’,” says Duddridge. “A single rent change that could take a staff member over four minutes manually now takes fewer than 40 seconds. The council estimates that this automation alone has saved it over £32,000 in the overtime costs needed to ensure deadlines were hit.”

Having the right tech is paramount for workers’ happiness. In a new Freshworks study, some 82 per cent of business leaders around the world acknowledge that how their workplace tech performs is imperative to engage employees. “This is especially true now in the time of home working,” says Arun Mani, president of Freshworks Europe. “Not having the necessary IT services on hand in the same building means businesses need to ensure their technology works and provides a flawless experience for users.”

Alarmingly, the Freshworks research also found 77 per cent of employees will look for a new employer if their current job does not provide the tools, technology or information they need to perform.

Workplace tech

It’s not all about tech, though. A balance must be struck and leaders have to understand what motivates individuals. “You have to foster a culture where employees feel comfortable talking about what they need and want,” says Nabila Salem, president at Revolent Group, who recommends holding regular one-to-one meetings.

Organisations unprepared for mass remote working when lockdown was enforced in March are playing catch up in terms of engaging staff, particularly new hires, says Charlie Johnson, founder and chief executive of BrighterBox, a London-based recruitment firm. “A lack of contact time or on-the-fly coaching has left a few joiners feeling lost, unable to ask simple questions,” he says.

Creating the best environment for employee success

Janine Chamberlin, director at LinkedIn, agrees and points to her company’s research that shows 75 per cent of UK C-level executives say workers now expect greater availability and transparency from leaders. “This closer connection is a great way to engage employees, motivate them to achieve their potential and keep them focused on business goals,” she says.

You have to foster a culture where employees feel comfortable talking about what they need and want

“Great employers recognise the importance of change and present opportunities for internal mobility and skills development so employees can benefit from a new experience and progress in their career.”

This chimes with Erica Brescia, chief operating officer of leading software development platform GitHub. “Forward-thinking companies have found new ways to drive employee engagement beyond activities and modes of working that are tied to physical offices,” she says. “They adapt how they operate to support a distributed team, from changing how they communicate to how they track, manage and report on projects.

“They move from highly synchronous ways of working to more asynchronous and collaborative work. And they encourage team camaraderie through virtual activities, such as quizzes, scavenger hunts, cooking classes and happy hours.”

Looking ahead, Brescia concludes: “The new future of work is not dependent on office locations or physical workspaces, but rather on adapting to new ways of getting work done to provide employees with the best environment for their success.”

The article was first published in Raconteur’s Future of Work and Collaboration report in September 2020

Is London still king in post-Brexit banking?

The EU referendum may be a distant memory, but as the end of the transition period approaches, global banking hubs are gearing up for a post-Brexit world

Will it be a happy new year for the UK banking sector? When the transition period of Britain’s exit from the European Union ends on January 1, business leaders and bankers alike will tiptoe into a post-Brexit reality. Enmeshed by confusing and in some cases yet-to-be-determined rules, they will be entering a new global banking landscape.

But given that financial institutions inside and outside Europe have been preparing for this day since the EU referendum on June 23, 2016, will things be markedly different?

Whatever happens, British banks and their European counterparts have had enough time to ready themselves for post-Brexit life. Admittedly, some details still need to be finalised, though Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey has been warning the largest UK lenders to plan for a no-deal Brexit since June.

Legally, there will be changes, if only slight to begin with, on a global scale. “As of January 1, banks located in the EU and the UK will have to operate in two separate regulatory and supervisory environments,” says Yves Mersch, a member of the European Central Bank’s executive board. “Providers of financial services between the EU and the UK will no longer enjoy the benefits of the single market.

“Many euro-area banks doing business across the Channel, as well as UK banks operating in the euro area, have made considerable progress in view of this event.” Mersh adds that most are “on track to finish their preparations” this year, but others “have much work to do”.

For the latter, the coronavirus fallout has disrupted post-Brexit plans. “Broadly speaking, the main priority for banks over the past few months has been tackling the multi-faceted consequences of the pandemic,” he says.

No excuse for banks to be unprepared

Indeed, the “C” word has obscured the “B” word since March, and although COVID-19 may provide a reason for the sluggish progress of Brexit negotiations, it is not a just excuse for banks to be ill-equipped. Many big players lined up their moves long ago.

EY calculates that banks and fund managers have committed to moving £1 trillion of assets out of the UK and into the EU because of Brexit. US lender JPMorgan Chase & Co., for 

instance, is expected to shift around £180 million in assets to Germany. Further, it has ordered 200 staff to move out of London to other European cities including Paris, Milan, Madrid and Frankfurt, in the expectation that the UK and the EU will not firm up an agreement on financial services.

The UK has always been, and continues to be at least for now, a world leader in financial services

Considering the UK exports more than £26 billion in financial services to the EU, according to the Office for National Statistics, perhaps the global post-Brexit banking landscape may transform quicker if no deal is reached.

However, James Butland, vice president of global banking at cross-border fintech Airwallex, argues the “mass exodus” from London “has not happened to the extent so many were sure it would”. He says: “London remains an attractive place where people want to live and work. Equally, the ecosystem in London is truly global, like New York or Hong Kong, and has always been regarded as a crucial financial hub.

“The UK has always been, and continues to be at least for now, a world leader in financial services, eclipsing many of its EU rivals across the sector. And despite uncertainty around Brexit, one thing is clear: Europe will remain a leader within the global banking industry, mainly due to the strength of the euro as a currency.”

London has critical role to play

But Butland says ”a new leader needs to take London’s crown” within the region. He continues: “The European banking community may start to face geographical fragmentation, as the position to become the epicentre of the eurozone opens up. The race to become the financial capital of the EU seems to be between Paris, Frankfurt, Brussels and Amsterdam, with no winner yet in sight. Wherever this location may be, it should look to London to continue Europe’s legacy as a leader within the global banking economy.”

Alastair Holt, financial regulations partner at global law firm Linklaters, agrees. “Other European cities will not be as influential as London, at least in the short to medium term,” he adds. “London can play a critical role in bridging the East and the West, particularly given the increasing tensions we have seen between the world superpowers in those regions.

Brexit and London

“The UK will still be a leading global financial centre, boosted by its language, time zone, the legal system, and the pre-existing ecosystem of financial institutions and suppliers, the vast majority of which will remain in the UK.”

Professor Brian Scott-Quinn, director of banking programmes at Henley Business School, is more cautious and believes the global banking landscape has been fragmented since the 2008 financial crash.

“Just as trading relationships between the major blocs – the United States, Europe and China – have been damaged in recent years, as well as the relationship between the UK and the rest of Europe, so globalisation of banking and finance has been in low gear now since the financial crisis,” he says. “Most UK banks that had plans for internationalisation or for building up their investment banking capabilities have since abandoned such plans.”

Contingency plans needed for uncertain year

Regardless, Holt argues that coronavirus is more of a threat to the banking sector’s future. “COVID-19 is clearly a worry, more so than Brexit,” he says.

Chris Ganje, chief executive and co-founder of Cardiff-based fintech AMPLYFI, which focuses on developing artificial intelligence for banking, expands upon this theme. “The banking sector should have already dealt with Brexit over the past two years with robust models in place to move on,” he says. “The fallout of COVID-19 is a major unknown. For example, any FCA Section 166 notice into how a bank handled crisis-related loan applications could cost it tens of millions of pounds to review.”

Additionally, Alessandro Hatami, co-author of Reinventing Banking and Finance, says it is hard to quantify the effect of Brexit at the moment. And he points out: “The impact of leaving the EU financial passporting scheme, making it harder for UK fintechs to serve European customers from the UK, is also not clear and won’t be until the final deal is negotiated.”

Butland at Airwallex concurs that 2021 will be pivotal in shaping the global banking landscape. “The next 12 months will certainly be interesting, as both the pandemic continues and the repercussions of a potential Brexit deal loom ahead,” he concludes. 

“Whatever happens over the coming year, disruption lies ahead. Financial institutions will be making contingency plans for every possible eventuality.”

This article was first published in Raconteur’s Future of Banking report in November 2020

What’s holding the 5G rollout back?

A quotation attributed to American-Canadian science-fiction writer William Gibson surges to mind when assessing the scarcity of active use-cases of the fifth-generation mobile network and the associated technologies and industries required to enable 5G at scale. “The future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed,” the father of cyberpunk commented decades ago.

Evangelists promise 5G will provide super-speed broadband connections, up to a hundred times faster than 4G, and flash the green light for autonomous vehicles, among a panoply of other pluses. It will start the internet of things (IoT) revolution and make cities truly smart, finally. What needs to happen, then, to improve the distribution and adoption of 5G?

“The opportunity to take advantage of advanced cellular technologies to drive digital transformation across the board – industrial and robotics, automotive, aerospace and defence, smart cities and more – is unprecedented,” says Rob Jones, the UK-based strategic alliances regional director at multinational software and services provider PTC. “Advanced cellular capabilities have the potential to fuel the fourth industrial revolution, but only if the ecosystem co-operates to enable 5G.”

It’s a sizeable “if”, given there remain concerns around the readiness and reliability of supporting industries and services, including collocation, big data, cybersecurity and edge computing, to deliver and enable 5G en masse. Indeed, the financial and ecological cost to build the necessary infrastructure is colossal, says Thomas Spencer, telecoms lead at software firm R3.

“Mobile network operators (MNOs) face an uphill battle to enable 5G,” he says. “It is estimated they need to invest up to $1 trillion in upgrading network infrastructure for 5G, while already having to manage sprawling networks of towers, cables and switches just to support their ongoing operations.”

No ‘big-bang’ moment for 5G

There are further complexities. “The challenge of how to finance and optimise infrastructure usage extends to MNO plans for 5G rollout and in particular how to roll out small cell sites,” says Spencer. Next year in the United States alone, there will be some 400,000 small cell sites located on public infrastructure, restaurants, offices and homes. “Determining who owns, operates and finances these sites poses a significant and operational challenge,” he adds, hinting that blockchain might provide a solution.

Richard Carwana, Dell Technologies’ UK telco and service provider director, is similarly ambivalent about what must happen to enable 5G. “We are still joining the dots on how this will be built out,” he concedes. “There won’t be a ‘big bang’ of 5G that some had expected, rather a gradual introduction of services and operators moving into the telco space. Partnership and collaboration will be pivotal to make significant progress and drive implementation.”

He points out that “5G requires dense fibre connectivity to underpin use-cases, whereas 4G and 3G did not” and calls for “telecoms providers, industry leaders and governments to come together to understand requirements and build solutions for specific use-cases”. As an example, Carwana notes how the German government is collaborating with telco providers to build new motorways with autonomous-only lanes.

Partnership and collaboration will be pivotal to make significant progress and drive implementation

Closer to home, the UK government has acknowledged the ban of China’s trailblazer Huawei is likely to delay widespread 5G rollout by at least two years, notes Robert Pocknell, intellectual property partner at Keystone Law in London. “European Union research shows Huawei is the number-one leader for patents that are fundamental to 5G rollout,” he says.

Strong cybersecurity measures needed to enable 5G

Politics aside, cybersecurity readiness is one of the fundamental issues holding up the advancement of 5G. Is it any wonder, when achieving 5G’s lofty goals relies on billions of interconnected devices, remote workers and the growth of cloud infrastructure? “Add to this the increasingly heavy compute and network infrastructure that is needed to support 5G applications, devices, data and services,” says Martin Rudd, chief technology officer at Telesoft Technologies. “Security, 5G and IoT are inextricably linked.”

The recent AT&T Cybersecurity Insights Report: Security at the Speed of 5G highlights the considerations that stakeholders must address. “A key takeaway is that 76 per cent of the respondents expect wholly new threats to emerge as a result of 5G and the increased attack surface,” says Theresa Lanowitz, head of evangelism and communications at AT&T Cybersecurity. “The remaining 24 per cent of participants expect a volumetric increase in existing threats.”

Shahzad Nadeem, head of smart cities at design and engineering consultancy Plextek, agrees and says: “On top of security, there are concerns around the ownership of data, along with compatibility and interoperability with existing systems.”

Security and trust issues – spooking investors?

Additionally, erroneous claims that 5G is connected to the spread of the coronavirus has further hampered its progress, says Amelia Westerberg, associate strategist at R/GA London. “Conspiracy theorists are the biggest threat to the uptake of 5G,” she argues. “Anti-5G attacks on phone masts and general national security and health concerns have caused 5G rollout to be delayed in most markets.”

As of mid-September, just shy of 300,000 people and organisations from 220 nations had signed the Stop 5G on Earth and in Space appeal, and investors might be getting spooked. It’s a tricky sell in the first place, with all the moving parts. As Nadeem says: “Because the technology is still evolving and its value potential split across its different uses in different domains, there are difficulties in justifying the business case and return on investment.”

Also in September, it was reported that in Grenoble, France’s answer to Silicon Valley, mayor Éric Piolle, a rising star in The Greens political party, is in no rush to provide access to 5G, questioning the impact it will have on the environment, especially if millions of new handsets are required.

While it is evident that to maximise 5G’s vast potential there is a reliance on a confluence of upgrade technologies, as well as multi-stakeholder collaboration and enormous investment, could it be there are more basic hurdles to overcome first? “For people to adapt and trust 5G,” Westerberg concludes, “it needs to establish itself as a positive contribution to culture as well as the economy.”

This article was first published in Raconteur’s Future of 5G report in September 2020

Six steps to building a strong ethics and compliance programme

In today’s globalised business world, organisations are under increasing pressure to comply with an ever-growing framework of regulations – or risk the substantial threats to revenue, operations and reputation that compliance failures can lead to.

At the same time, investors, employees and customers are now looking beyond traditional measures of corporate success, placing increased emphasis on issues of sustainability, ethics and social responsibility.

As global enforcement of regulations increases, punitive fines continue to swell and public demand for ethical business grows, the question of whether to develop an integrated ethics and compliance programme is an easy one to answer. 

In short, it’s not a question; it’s an imperative strategic decision that offers numerous benefits: a better reputation, greater transparency, a stronger legal defence, more robust processes and better use of data, for starters.

Yet we are navigating strange and challenging times, and implementing an ethics and compliance programme can be an intimidating, if not overwhelming, experience – especially if starting from scratch.

“The coronavirus pandemic has helped to build a strong case for compliance and ethics,” says Vera Cherepanova, ethics and compliance consultant at Studio Etica and the lead author of NAVEX Global’s Definitive Guide to Ethics and Compliance. “Our wellbeing, and the wellbeing of others, depends on how compliant we all are. In the same way, the wellbeing of organisations depends on our individual and collective conduct.”

Ahead of the launch of the new guide, which will help organisations develop and implement their own ethics and compliance programme, here are the six key steps to consider as you pursue your own plan.

1. Get board buy-in

The first step lies in gaining support from organisational leadership; admittedly, no easy task. “This step is the most important,” says Cherepanova. “Without leadership buy-in, the other steps probably won’t happen.”

Those seeking to implement an ethics and compliance programme must push for time with the C-suite and stress the vital role it can play within the business, from growing the organisation’s reputation to facilitating transparency and mitigating risks posed by both internal actors and external third parties.

Equally, paint the alternate reality: without a robust programme, the organisation is playing a high-risk game likely to end with costly fines, ongoing legal and remediation fees, unhappy employees and a reputation forever tarnished in the eyes of prospective customers and the wider public. 

Ultimately, align the programme with the board’s overarching business strategy and you’ll stand a better chance of piquing their interest. Gaining this top-down support will help mitigate potential challenges that surround participation, engagement and understanding of the compliance programme down the line.

2. Create the right framework

Once that critical first step has been taken, project leaders need to create a suitable framework for the ethics and compliance programme. Take the time to consult with stakeholders across the business to better understand how compliance relates to different functions because not everyone will understand its value right away. 

“Depending on how the organisation is structured – how many offices it has, in which countries and so on – the decision must be taken where the compliance function will sit, where it will report to and what status it will have in the organisational hierarchy,” says Cherepanova.

Jon Green, company secretary and general counsel of Essentra, a global provider of essential components and solutions serving 34 countries, agrees. “Compliance needs to be embedded as part of everyday business management and thinking. It’s not a standalone box-ticking exercise, which doesn’t add or preserve any value,” he says.

Alongside such internal considerations, you should also factor in the jurisdictions your organisation operates within, as well as the relevant legislation to abide by, as this will impact regional implementation of the programme.

Understand how compliance relates to the daily life of the business internally and externally, and you’ll be better able to identify the most suitable framework for your programme, whether centralised, decentralised or independent.

3. Establish governance structures

When establishing your compliance programme framework, you’ll engage with a wide range of stakeholders across the business, including representatives from legal, risk management, human resources, procurement departments and even further afield. 

During these conversations, it’s important to discuss the potential programme framework and listen to feedback. In the long run this will result in a much smoother process. The more key people who understand and want to contribute to the vision, the better.

Cherepanova explains: “There are many compliance and ethics-related risks facing a modern organisation. Obviously, the compliance function can’t have expertise in every area and that’s why collaboration with other functions is key for a holistic coverage of all risks.”

As part of these collaborative discussions, look to clarify and define each stakeholder’s role and responsibilities. Establishing clear procedures and timelines will ensure a more robust governance structure, minimising crossed wires and mixed messages, which will be central to the programme’s long-term success.

4. Conduct a risk assessment

The successful completion of a risk assessment depends upon both the business-wide participation and appropriate oversight granted by departmental stakeholders, as well as a coherent plan of execution. Leveraging the expertise of individual functions will quickly highlight the specific risks facing the business.

“There is no one-size-fits-all programme,” says Essentra’s Green. “It is important to have something that works in the context of your business, your risks and your people, otherwise the investment is wasted.”

This is precisely why risk assessments are so essential. To underline their value, NAVEX Global’s 2020 Definitive Risk & Compliance Benchmark Report shows industry professionals responsible for the most advanced ethics and compliance programmes use the results of risk assessments to aid decision-making more frequently than any other information source.

Embrace a position of utmost scrutiny when assessing the risks and you will ultimately create a more robust programme that offers better protection against the unique threats your organisation faces.

5. Implement appropriate compliance controls

Once the organisation’s risks have been identified, either through the initial assessment or as part of an ongoing review, they must be mitigated through the implementation of appropriate internal and external compliance controls. 

This will typically include establishing rules and policies for employees and stakeholders, training employees on the rules and regulations they must adhere to, providing a means of reporting breaches of those rules, and putting procedures in place to measure and mitigate external risks, such as those posed by third parties.

It’s also critical to bear in mind that with the actions you take, you can demonstrate the “how” and the “why” to regulators, should you be required to. This means leveraging accessible, easy-to-use technology and embracing clarity when communicating the programme across the organisation. Being able to demonstrate appropriate controls can lead to greater leniency from law-enforcement agencies should the worst happen. 

6. Establish effective integration, reporting and measurement

With legislation continuously being updated and refreshed, it is vital to keep abreast of changes while also ensuring the compliance programme you’ve developed is respected and adhered to across the organisation. This may present challenges if the value of compliance is not fully understood, but the new programme must be integrated into all business units, even those that may perceive it as a hindrance.

Therefore, building relationships to combat those perceptions is essential. Knowing how to tailor the narrative to each stakeholder and business unit will help you to gain support more quickly, making it easier to establish effective monitoring and review processes. 

Yet this is only the first step. Once results start coming in, you must impose effective tracking of the programme, and the data insights it generates. This will not only justify its level of efficacy, but also identify areas of opportunity. 

“Implementation was simple,” says Green. “Our current challenge is continuing to develop [our tools and programme] to keep up with the pace of change in compliance thinking and working practices. Technology plays a major role in helping us to do that.”

Do the right thing

Ultimately, most employees want to do the right thing. The goal of any ethics and compliance programme should be to enable them to do just that. Much of the time, compliance isn’t difficult; it’s simply common sense. 

Green concurs: “Don’t burden or confuse people with what they don’t need to know. Tell them in simple terms what they need to know and how they should react if they spot a red flag or are otherwise uncertain.”

Organisations need not be intimidated by the prospect of creating and establishing an ethics and compliance programme. By breaking it down into a series of key steps, you too can implement a manageable and effective programme that will protect your people, reputation and bottom line. 

This article was first published by Raconteur in September 2020

Should you bother with real-time data?

Real-time insights are essential to adapt to a changing consumer landscape, but companies that ignore trust and transparency as part of the process are risking it all


The advice that “trust takes years to build, seconds to break and forever to repair” is attributed to an anonymous sage, which is good news for the sage because the dearth of real-time data means they’ll escape an endless stream of personalised ads.

But it’s wisdom that brands would do well to heed. Now more than ever, given that consumer trust is so difficult to earn and easy to lose, and organisations are becoming increasingly reliant on customer data to manage sales.

The Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report, published in late-June, found that, after price, the most critical factor in a customer’s purchasing decision is trust. “If trust is a key consideration for consumers, it must be a key consideration for brands,” says Henk Campher, vice president of corporate marketing at social media management platform Hootsuite.

However, consumer trust has been eroded in the last six months if engagement from brands has been lacking, or tone deaf, according to new Pegasystems research, which reveals the extent of damage the coronavirus pandemic has caused for businesses’ relationships with their customers.

More than a third (36 per cent) of respondents say they lost existing customers during the pandemic due to failings in their communications. And a similar number (37 per cent) admit to communicating at least one message that was poorly received and dented brand reputation.

It’s not easy for brands, though. The January State of the Connected Customer report from Salesforce highlights a rise in consumer expectations, while stressing four in five consumers won’t buy from companies they don’t trust.

Timing is key to real-time data success

The research shows almost three quarters (73 per cent) of customers think companies should understand their needs and 78 per cent expect consistent interactions across departments. And to make that work, real-time data is required.

“Brands that deliver connected, multichannel and personalised experiences will earn consumers’ trust,” says Adam Spearing, Salesforce chief technology officer for Europe, Middle East and Africa.

Personalisation perhaps feeds from trust as much as it drives it

“Having a 360-degree customer view is crucial for enabling brands to have more personal and contextually aware interactions with customers. For retailers, this may be understanding the most appropriate time to offer customers in-store or online discounts. Whereas manufacturers can get ahead of demand based on what customers usually order at a specific time of the year, based on decades of data intelligence.”

And if companies can use real-time data to communicate with customers at particular times, and it feels sincere and authentic, then brownie points will be won. “Brands can build trust through meaningful interactions with their customers, anticipating their needs and delighting them,” says Spearing. As an example, he lauds Premier League football clubs that send personalised messages from star players to supporters on their birthdays.

Personalisation is a risky business

“The more valuable an interaction is for a customer, the more inclined they will be to continue to trust a brand to use their data appropriately,” he says, though warning there is “a fine line” to walk. “Only if brands use the data respectfully will they gain that trust.”

Andrew Hood, chief executive of data analytics consultancy Lynchpin, is equally ambivalent. “Personalisation perhaps feeds from trust as much as it drives it,” he says. “While I might be happier to share my data if I receive a better, more relevant experience in return, if I don’t trust you as a brand with my data in the first place, I might not feel confident enough to make the first move.”

M&C Saatchi’s senior art director Tom Kennedy is treading carefully and acknowledges the risk that comes with data-driven personalisation. “In January, Aviva addressed its whole email base as ‘Michael’, proving that with even the most basic data, mistakes can happen,” he says. “The assumptions, errors and insults will be amplified with each step more personal.”

Increased awareness of data privacy

Hunting for real-time data can be viewed as insidious and creepy, and there are many instances where organisations crossed the line. Cassandra Moons, data privacy officer at navigation technology firm TomTom, recalls how in 2012 American retailer Target supposedly worked out a teenager was pregnant before her parents through data mining. “Knowing intimate details about your customer that they have never told you can make people very uncomfortable,” she says.

More recently, consumer trust has been chipped away by serious data breaches. “Using data to personalise communications could be the tool that destroys people’s trust in advertising if not used smartly and respectfully,” says Megan Jones, senior planner at R/GA London. She points out that record numbers of people are using internet ad blockers and search engines protecting privacy, such as DuckDuckGo.

“This shift is symptomatic of greater public understanding around data due to Cambridge Analytica’s influence in the Vote Leave Brexit campaign, as well as greater awareness of data privacy through the launch of the General Data Protection Regulation two years ago,” says Jones.

Trust second only to price

Don’t rely too heavily on personalisation

Because customers arguably cherish personal data more than before, she questions a market strategy founded on real-time data. “Almost a decade ago, easyJet stopped investing in Google search terms and moved that budget into more traditional media to deliver phenomenal results. The company saved £6 million a year and there was a 95 per cent rise in seat sales,” says Jones.

“Similarly, last year adidas’ econometric analysis showed they’d been relying on ‘personalised’ communications too heavily as it was the broad brand-building communication that got them the majority – around 65 per cent – of their sales. And let’s not forget that Amazon, hailed as an exemplary data company, was the fifth-highest investor in traditional media in the UK in 2019, with a spend of £114 million, £26 million more than the year before.”

Lynchpin’s Hood concludes: “Ultimately, privacy and personalisation, using real-time data, go hand in hand. And brands that are transparent with the former are more likely to be able to deliver on the latter effectively to their, and their customers’, benefit.”

This article was originally published in Raconteur’s Future Customer report in September 2020

Seven elearning scams to watch out for

While online learning is booming, charlatans and scammers are looking to take advantage. Cowboy coaches are flooding the market making official accreditation or authenticity essential for individual students and businesses. Here are seven online scams to beware

01 Cloak-and-dagger sales presentations

Online learning can be a crook’s cloak, where the course has little educational content and value and is instead a sales presentation full of commercial advertising. Through advertising and regular email communications, the course is a guise to persuade you to buy a sometimes unrelated product or service.

One anonymous respondent to a CPD (continuing professional development) Standards Office survey says: “I paid to attend a training conference that I thought would genuinely give me some training in beauty and aesthetics for my practice. However, it was a sell, sell, sell session for buying botox and chemical peel products.”

Amanda Rosewarne, chief executive of the CPD Standards Office, advises: “To avoid online scams like this, people should look for training courses listed with many learning objectives and seek out independent review sites such as Trustpilot.”

02 Fake qualifications

2. learning scams

It is easy to fall foul of scammers who promise professional qualifications. They hook you in by selling a course, but then fail to provide the correct certificate or licence.

Dr Emma Woodward, a New Zealand-based educational psychologist, says: “I’m concerned by the number of online courses offering training in areas that cross over into fields that are highly regulated, such as ‘diploma in child development’ or ‘diploma in cognitive behavioural therapy’.

“These courses allude to having more gravitas than what they offer, which is both unethical and dangerous as the application to real people is a skill that needs more than a few PDFs online.”

03 Promises of employment

“There are several ‘professional coaching organisations’ we have encountered that promise on completion of their, usually very expensive, coaching ‘qualification’ they will forward clients to you,” says Rosewarne at the CPD Standards Office.

“In this case, the course is not the problem, it’s just that the clients, business development opportunities or guaranteed financial guarantees given at the point of sale, do not materialise, leaving people at a loss of how to make a living, or develop a business, from their new skillset.”

Performing due diligence is critical. Robert Clarke, the managing editor of Learning News, says: “In these times of change and uncertainty, unscrupulous providers are on the make. Recognised training and CPD helps buyers avoid the tricksters and scams, and buy with greater confidence.”

04 Non-existent colleges and academies

4. learning scam

“The words ‘college’ and ‘academy’ are unprotected when registering an organisation at Companies House,” Rosewarne points out. Therefore, anyone can set up an online learning course linked to a fake education centre. There are two typical online scams. Firstly, the scammers charge for an expensive and prestigious course before liquidating the organisation. Alternatively, buyers are duped into long-term membership commitments that are impossible to cancel and the content is often freely available elsewhere.

“Make sure it is a well-known provider and check it with a phone call,” says Hilarie Owen, chief executive of the Leaders’ Institute. “Don’t part with any money until you have checked.”

05 Rogue conferences

Scamming global conference providers offer fake event agendas by using the names of top academics, business leaders and talking heads to advertise and sell tickets. Supposed keynote speakers will have “cancelled at the last minute” only to be replaced by lower-grade alternatives.

A Trustpilot ConferenceSeries Review provides an example of this dubious practice. “Attended the fifth International CAM Conference in Vancouver in October 2019. Only a few speakers showed up and the rest apparently had their visas rejected or had health issues. Total fabrication.” There were 44 names advertised originally, but only four speakers attended and there was no one from the organisation present. “I wish I had checked before registering,” the reviewer adds.

06 Poor-quality online learning courses

6. learning scam

“This online scam involves a concise overview course for a minimal fee, usually £50 or less, which offers what we call ‘skimpy content’,” says Rosewarne. “Buyers will encounter heavy promotion and sophisticated digital marketing tricks for purchasing a further, more expensive, course, which might be £1,000 or more. Sometimes these courses also lack engagement and are ‘chalk-and-talk’ presentations with little practical application.”

Simon de Cintra, director of Act Naturally, agrees. “Professional training providers know that reputation is key to long-term success and actively encourage well-informed purchasing at every stage,” he says, warning that users should always read reviews before buying.

07 Free online learning

Not only are numerous free online learning courses, peddled by charlatans, a waste of time, but the purported expertise they provide is also substandard and therefore potentially harmful. “This learning often focuses on a specific topic, such as beauty aesthetics, child mental health support, or IT engineering technical training,” says Rosewarne. “Most of the time, the authors have had a single fluke success online and are not at all experts in the topic.”

This chimes with Jo Cook, founder and director of Lightbulb Moment. “A lot of people are jumping on the COVID-19 bandwagon, either as a scam or with little expertise in how to provide quality remote courses and live online sessions,” she says. “Make sure to go to a company with years of experience behind them.”

This article was originally published in Raconteur’s Digital Learning report in September 2020

Expert advice: ‘The best business lessons I ever learnt’

We asked dozens of corporate giant C-suites and founders of SMEs for the best business advice they have ever been given. Here are some of their words of wisdom

 “It was Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus who said, ‘We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.’ Those words have never been so important to heed.”

Gerd Leonhard, chief executive officer, The Futures Agency

Ian Rand from Barclays Business Banking
Ian Rand from Barclays Business Banking

“The best business advice I’ve been given is to acknowledge that leadership is hard, and this means accepting that you’ll need help and won’t have all the ideas. Leaders can sometimes think that they should make decisions on their own to demonstrate that they have full grasp of a situation. But instead they should constantly ask for advice. You never know where the next big idea will come from, but it probably won’t be you.”

Ian Rand, chief executive officer, Barclays Business Banking

“It’s so important to listen to colleagues of all levels and experiences. Employees will never feel comfortable speaking their minds unless companies create an overarching culture of inclusion. We use an online platform called Chatter. We’ve found that actively listening to our employees in this way has had a dramatic impact, empowering individuals, regardless of role or region, to have a voice that is heard.”

Andrew Lawson, executive vice-president and general manager UK, Salesforce

“The hardest but most valuable lesson to learn is your approach to failure. When I first started out as an entrepreneur, one of my businesses failed badly. Although things didn’t go the way I had hoped, my backer sent me a note saying that this business had failed despite me, not because of me. I still use this piece of advice today, which helps me to depersonalise and keep track of my objective.”

Rich Gelfond, chief executive officer, IMAX

Carl Reader is author of The Startup Coach
Carl Reader is author of The Startup Coach

“My dad told me in my early days of working to keep a contacts book. Since then this has moved onto my iPhone, with emails and social media handles rather than landlines and fax numbers, but it has been amazing how contacts from over a decade ago are still relevant to me today, and how a strong network is vital.”

Carl Reader, business adviser and author of The Startup Coach

“Keep your feet on the ground and your head in the clouds. This means stay humble, but always be brave enough to dream big. I’ve often repeated it to other entrepreneurs – that, and to think like a toddler.”

Paul Lindley, founder of Ella’s Kitchen

Kate Burns
Kate Burns from Hambro Perks CREDIT: © MAX LACOME/MAX LACOME

“[Executive chairman at Twitter] Omid Kordestani once told me (while we were scaling Google rapidly), always hire people smarter than yourself, but also people you inherently get on with. One day you could be stuck in an airport with them for hours.”

Kate Burns, chief executive officer of Media Tech at startup accelerator Hambro Perks (and Google’s first international hire)

“ ‘Frustration comes before a breakthrough.’ What I like about this is not its truth – that is inevitable, as most breakthroughs need tension to be achieved – but the philosophical view it provides. It places you in your own story and allows you to imagine the perspective from the future, which in turn gives you permission to accept the frustration of not being where you wish to be.”

Mark Curtis, co-founder and chief client officer, Fjord, design and innovation from Accenture Interactive

Leo Rayman
Leo Rayman from Grey London

“The best advice given to me came in the form of the following story. There are two hunter-gatherer tribes searching for food. One group splits up and covers a large area. The second grabs a charred stick from a fire and breaks it on the ground. Whatever direction the stick points, the whole tribe go. Despite being no more strategic, the second group find more food because they travel all together in the same direction.  So, in business, choose a direction, communicate it to your crew and go together. That is what real success is made of.”

Leo Rayman, chief executive officer of advertising agency Grey London

“The head of our Spanish organisation once explained to me he takes a ‘nose in, fingers out’ approach to management. As a business leader, no matter how much you want to, getting involved in everything makes you stressed and unproductive. Set up a reporting structure which means you only have to be involved in making the critical decisions, freeing up your time to tackle the bigger challenges which, ultimately, you’re paid to overcome.”

Matt Cross, UK managing director, Hotwire Global

“ ‘Don’t do what I say, do what I mean.’ This is my favourite quotation from a friend, and an amusing way of remembering how important it is to be clear in your communication.”

Aidan Bell, chief executive officer of e-commerce service EnviroBuild

“One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given was to ‘hire positive people’. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not about your team blindly saying ‘yes’ to everything; innovation flourishes when you build a team that challenges the status quo. But it is about a team that communicates ideas and feedback in a positive, productive and fair manner. In the end, happy staff are productive staff. It’s a win-win.”

Pip Jamieson, chief executive officer of professional networking platform The Dots

Ed Molyneux from FreeAgent
Ed Molyneux from FreeAgent

“The best advice I’ve ever been given is: ‘Make sure you are a painkiller, not a vitamin.’ You need to be offering something to customers that it would be painful for them to live without rather than just a nice-to-have – then your business will have more chance of longevity and success.”

Ed Molyneux, co-founder and chief executive officer, FreeAgent

This article was first published in The Telegraph in March 2018

Tech-enabled finance could save your company

When crises hit, organisations always lean heavily on their internal finance specialists to reduce costs, streamline operations and plot a roadmap to recovery, in that order. While lessons should have been learnt after the global economic crash a dozen years ago, and more robust business continuity plans established, it was impossible to predict the speed, scale and severity of the coronavirus pandemic.

Once again, business leaders are looking, desperately, to their finance teams for rapid solutions to colossal challenges. It’s a mighty responsibility, given the amount of uncertainty and an impending global recession.

“During the current crisis, C-suite executives rely on financiers to identify the most cost-effective sources of financing, not only for the survival of the firm in the short run, but also for the growth that follows economic stagnation,” says Dr Nikolaos Antypas, finance lecturer at Henley Business School.

“For most companies, the top-down directive is: survive first, grow later. Since the pandemic started, the role of internal finance has shifted towards turning down or postponing indefinitely any project or cost item with non-existential importance.”

However, unlike in 2008, access to digital technologies, cloud storage and data analysis are enabling faster results, greater agility and collaboration, and better forecasting. If COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation, the financial function is in the driving seat of that change.

Finance Tech

Tech-savvy organisations have major advantage

Laggard organisations that decline to embrace technology will fail. And even industries that have rallied well since lockdown, such as ecommerce and healthcare, should be anticipating more obstacles on the road to recovery.

“The threat of decreasing revenue looms ominously,” warns Antypas, nodding to the tapering of the furlough scheme, which could trigger a sharp rise in unemployment. “No company should be complacent with their current success; their customer base is about to lose its revenue stream and that loss can have devastating ripple effects. Even the most profitable company can suffer if cash flows are not managed efficiently.”

Red Flag Alert, a credit risk management company, has amassed financial data of UK businesses for the last 16 years. The analysis is bleak. “UK industry is facing a mountain of unsustainable debt; it could be as much as £107 billion,” says Mark Halstead, a partner at the Oldham-based firm.

“Technology and data will be critical to companies bouncing back from the pandemic. It will also enable businesses to protect themselves and strive for growth in an economy saddled with record levels of debt.”

Technology and data will enable businesses to protect themselves and strive for growth in an economy saddled with record levels of debt

Organisations that invested in digital technologies and evolved the financial function before the pandemic have an early-adopter advantage. Kaziu Gill, who co-founded London-headquartered LimeGreen Accountancy in 2009, has long promoted accountancy software and other digital tools to his clients, who are mostly small and medium-sized businesses in the creative industries.

“COVID-19 has forced many businesses to change and become leaner and more mobile, but we have managed to continue without any disruption,” he says. “In some cases, we have been more productive.

“We are seeing more businesses exploring how they can grow digitally and the suite of tools that we use complements any organisation’s approach to budget and forecasting.”

Finance functions arm themselves with digital tools

LimeGreen enjoys a partnership with cloud-based accounting software platform Xero. “We offer plug-ins to Xero, like Spotlight, which is a great forecasting tool, and Receipt Bank,” says Gill. “And there are other project management tools that help link the financial function with human resources, such as CakeHR. We have always strived to utilise tech and now financial functions simply have to make that transition to digital. Pieces of paper are no good when you can’t send or receive physical mail during lockdown and with remote working.”

He argues that the recent open banking directive – a government-enforced programme designed to open up banking data, launched in 2018 – strengthens the case for finance departments to embrace digital tools. “It’s the perfect time because every bank in the UK is obligated to open up their application programming interfaces so third-party software companies can use them.”

Xero, for instance, recently launched a short-term cash-flow tool that projects bank balances 30 days into the future, showing the impact of existing bills and invoices, if paid on time. “This capability helps the financial function to scenario plan accurately and make changes to business plans instantly,” explains Donna Torres, Xero’s general manager of global direct sales and operations.

“It’s more important than ever for organisations to have an up-to-date view of their cash flow so they can plan, forecast and make the right decisions about their future. Cloud accounting technology provides a real-time snapshot.”

Empowering finance teams to change business plans

Financial functions that push to arm their organisations with other digital tools, including artificial intelligence-powered document scanning and e-signature, are discovering they can achieve company-wide efficiencies almost overnight.

Mike Plimsoll, industry head of financial services at Adobe, offers a banking example. “Facing increased demand with reduced branch capacity to maintain social distancing, TSB acted quickly to transform a significant amount of offline forms into digital-only interactions, creating an end-to-end journey for its personal and business banking customers,” he says.

“After implementing Adobe Sign, TSB managed over 80,000 customer interactions in the first eight weeks, saving the need for up to 15,000 potential branch visits.”

Plimsoll posits that by switching their processes and establishing digital technologies, finance teams have been able to “keep the business moving and react quickly to the shifting landscape and help steer a course through the uncertainty”.

Adopting a shorter planning window is paramount for business continuity and recovery, says Thomas Sutter of Oracle NetSuite’s Global Solutions Centre of Excellence. “Most businesses operate on a 12-month budget cycle and manage strategictra plans with longer timeframes, but at this time the focus must shift to immediate priorities,” he says.

“Now more than ever, establishing a clear framework of visibility and control will streamline and protect cash flow in the short term, keep customers happy, and reveal new and innovative options business leaders have available to drive the business forward in the future. Finance leaders and their teams will be at the heart of these strategic moves.”

Finance departments may have had more responsibility thrust upon them when COVID-19 hit, but it seems their role will only grow in importance in the coming months and years. Technology is both empowering and enabling their new lofty status.

This article was originally published in Raconteur’s Business Continuity and Growth report in August 2020