I remember the first time I had an awareness that time was going faster as I got older. That was 48 years ago when I was about to start the fourth grade and I realized that my summer holiday seemed to go faster that year than the year before.
Now that I am 56 and in my sixth decade of life, the time goes faster than ever before. Except this year was different. I have never been happier about saying goodbye to a year now that I am starting to see 2020 in the rearview mirror!
I recall writing back in January about how I believed that 2020 was going to be a year of vision and clarity for the world. In some ways I could not have been more off the mark, but in many other ways this year has certainly brought me clarity and I think for our business and industry it has been the same. For one thing, I value the relationships with my family, my work colleagues, and my clients more than ever before. The commitment I have seen to moving forward amid such a jarring health, economic, social, and political environment is nothing short of amazing and inspirational. I am humbled by the countless examples of kindness and compassion that I have seen from front line health workers to employers providing flexibility for their employees and business partners, and the way people have reprioritized to put their families and health first and do the right thing.
As we look towards 2021, I see a market that is changing faster than most people can keep up with, yet when you stop to think about it there are some very logical conclusions one can arrive at given the fallout from the past year. Here are some of the forces I see driving change and focus in the consulting industry:
- Mergers and Acquisitions: With the amount of cash on the sidelines in private equity, venture capital funds and the low cost of capital, companies that can join forces to achieve market competitiveness and increase profit margins in highly efficient industries will do so with a gusto we have not seen in our lifetimes. This will drive integration and standardization initiatives where firms with the right talent and relationships will enjoy an increase in activity.
- Financial Market Volatility: Given the almost certain need to raise taxes to support the enormous amount of debt taken on during the pandemic and the cycle of deficit spending we have seen over the past two decades we are likely to see a continued devaluation of the US dollar and wild swings in the equity markets. This will likely have a negative impact on discretionary projects as corporations focus on core products and services and client retention, which could lead to declines in some areas of consulting spend that leaders do not see as critical to maintaining shareholder satisfaction.
- Realignment and Stabilization of the Risk and Regulatory Market: Now that companies in the financial sector have built up armies of operational risk and regulatory compliance functions, the advent of increased automation, AI and predictive modeling will outpace the investment in transaction-based issue resolution and focus on prevention. This will drive growth in the tech sector that provides these solutions and only the most visionary companies will make the critical investments necessary to capitalize. This will increase opportunity for firms that have the talent and ability to educate their clients on how to implement these solutions.
- Continued Focus on Digital Transformation and Client Experience: With every bank and financial institution vying for the attention and assets of the retail financial consumer, all digital transformation projects have been put into overdrive to retain brand relevance and accessibility to clients and markets. This will continue to drive demand for firms that have proven ability to understand and deliver in the UX, CX and Open Banking space as firms modernize their digital infrastructure to support their clients.
- Emphasis on Maintaining and Evolving Corporate Culture: As companies start to contemplate returning to the workplace in the 2nd half of 2021, one of the biggest challenges will be how to maintain a unified corporate culture. In a mixed environment where some employees may be remote indefinitely and others return to the workplace, regardless of technology and video conferencing, inevitable inequities can develop that erode team cohesion, a sense of belonging and ultimately employee retention. This will drive increases in demand for change management and leadership development consultants that can tune in to the unique demands of client companies that need to address this critical element of creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive work environment.
- Displaced Workers and a Shifting Market for Talent: No doubt there will continue to be reductions in staff through efficiencies created in M&A activities, activity-based furlough programs, and outright expense reductions needed to maintain profitability regardless of short and long-term impacts to the institutional knowledge and capabilities of companies. This will drive increased demand for savvy learning and development programs for consulting firms that can deliver these capabilities. This will also drive the displaced workers to renew their commitment to continued education and professional development.
The bottom line for me in taking all this in is that when it comes to dealing with all these forces, I must remain committed to a mindset of continuous change. I like to say that “change is never easy, but it always comes.” Now more than ever this is true. Staying open-minded, flexible, and being willing to apply true critical thinking skills to every situation is critical.
I would not be true to myself were I not to make a plug for being human and jumping up to spend a moment on the soapbox as I write about my vision of the future. In the spirit of unity and collaboration, I am going to recommit myself to being kind, compassionate and loving to my fellow man and woman as I go through life, both personally and professionally, and I ask you to do the same. Behind every interaction there is a back story. It could have been the worst of days for someone that comes off as unhelpful to you in your day. By taking the time to be compassionate, understanding and connect with the back story, you can turn a life around with one mention of thanks, appreciation or acknowledging someone else’s pain.
Markets only matter when people come together. Let us all come together and be positive, productive and think critically to be our best selves and the best contributors to the solution. As the saying goes, “if you’re not part of the solution then you’re part of the problem.”
Let me raise a toast to a little slower of a year in 2021 – May your holidays be blessed and your new year bright.
John Henning is the Chief Client Officer at Granite Solutions Groupe. He has over 35 years of leadership experience in the financial services and technology industries, and currently oversees all client account management, professional services, marketing strategy, business development and sales operations for GSG.