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In the last two editions of MARKETVision, we’ve been focused on tracking the impact of 5 key areas of activity in the consulting and professional services space.  These include M&A activity, the broader financial markets, risk and regulatory compliance, digital transformation/customer experience initiatives and Return to Office programs.

With Return to Office taking center stage as most companies are planning to make the shift starting in September, we’re also seeing a new trend in large financial institutions as there is a huge emphasis on improving the employee experience as a critical and foundational step towards improving the customer experience.

Here’s what we’re seeing at our clients and in the broader marketplace:

  1. Return to Office – The majority of our clients are planning on a hybrid approach that will allow employees and consultants to continue working at home 1-3 days/week, while encouraging those that are vaccinated to start coming back to the office as much as they feel comfortable doing.  Some companies are struggling with protocols, especially around the issue of how to deal with the unvaccinated, but most are moving forward with confidence, empowering their workforce to make sound decisions on their own and focus on communication and collaboration.  Technology is a big part of it and making sure that the facilities that have been dormant for over a year are updated and ready to go.  One of the biggest shifts employers are going to have to deal with is helping their workforce deal with the fact that they’ll have to start commuting again and the impact that will have on the work/life balance.  As for the impact to the consulting space, what I see is a shift from tactical readiness to real change management and the real and perceived inequities that will result from a more hybrid onsite/remote workforce and how to collaborate effectively in this mode.
  2. Employee Experience – Highly correlated to the Return to Office initiatives, this area of growth stemmed directly from the pandemic environment.  With an emphasis on mobility, digital capabilities and clear process flows, companies are coming to grips with how important it is to update their internal systems and processes to focus on the employee and how to make them more efficient and productive in the support of their customers.  This is an area I see growing significantly as clients get back to business as usual and customers get “less sticky” as things get back to normal.  Improving the lives of employees will help employers with retention as now 1 in 4 employees have indicated that they plan to look for a new job as the pandemic fades.  This will cause a huge “brain drain” in companies that don’t get ahead of it and fight to keep their talent, whether they are FTEs or consultants and contractors.
  3. Financial markets & M&A Activity – The markets continue to surprise me as they have been less volatile than I would have thought given all the uncertainty around geo-political issues, the pandemic and vaccination efforts, and consumer confidence.  Now that we seem to be experiencing a collective sigh of relief on these fronts, I expect the market to continue its march towards new records as increased economic activity generates increased prices, inflation and higher wages.  Of course there will be blips and buying opportunities along the way, but the long term outlook remains generally positive with the exception of sovereign debt levels, inflation and the pressure of rising wages on company profits.  This also applies to M&A activity – the low cost of capital and high equity valuations continues to encourage opportunities for consolidation in certain segments, especially in the wealth management, fiduciary and investment management space as companies seek operational efficiency and asset growth.
  4. The risk and regulatory environment seems to be taking a bit of a pause with the exception of third party risk evaluation, information security compliance and anti-trust investigations.  The continued evolution of sophisticated fraud prevention and remediation is driving some activity and investment, but the overall consolidation and maturation of technology products that are used for client onboarding systems (AML/KYC/BSA/CDD) are letting customers evolve their processes to improve the employee and client experience to be more efficient.  A continued emphasis on these areas will support ongoing growth in consulting activity.
  5. Digital transformation and customer experience activity will continue to grow.  The biggest challenge our clients are facing today in this space is in the areas of Design Thinking and Customer Experience architecture.  Those consulting firms that have a strong bench in the areas of User Experience, Open Banking and Customer Journey Design will continue to enjoy strong demand.

The thing I’m most excited about looking forward to the upcoming 3-6 months is the ability for more direct collaboration and human interaction.  While we’ve adapted as a society and industry to the remote operating environment, the intangible benefits of being together in one room will introduce a new wave of productivity, trust and collaboration. 

I’m looking forward to traveling again to meet with clients, and because of the impact of the hybrid workforce model, I’m likely to start going to some places I’ve never been before, and it will be great to see for myself how people in different communities are coming together to move forward.

See you soon – In the MARKET!

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.