Howard Bentwood Qualified Finance, Howard Bentwood
Cedar’s justifiably proud of its new offices and growing team but, post-Brexit, is the market really that buoyant? We talk to CEO Howard Bentwood to find out.
Two years into the process, what’s your take on the impact of Brexit?
From a purely business perspective, the mood’s definitely changed from one of fear and concern to one of acceptance with even a few glimmers of optimism. The threatened Brexodus of individuals and companies hasn’t materialised and there are question marks as to whether it will. The FT, for example, has substantially revised estimates of how many jobs might be lost.
A defined transition period – from next April through to the end of 2020 – has also steadied people’s nerves. During that time EU citizens arriving in the UK will continue to enjoy the same rights as those who arrived before Brexit while, as well as being party to existing EU trade deals, the UK will also be able to negotiate, sign and ratify its own.
Some sectors have been harder hit than others, but at Cedar mandate volumes are up across all the sectors in which we operate. So much so that over the last 18 months we’ve experienced head-count growth of over 40%.
40% is a significant increase. Is the market really that strong?
The sectors we operate in are certainly buoyant and our expansion’s been very much demand-led. Widening what we offer to include PQ&T (part-qualified & transactional), Procurement, Change & Transformation, and Recently Qualified Practices has been a natural progression that built on our existing strengths.
This increase in market demand has been one of the key contributing factors to our recent move to larger premises and we’re continuing to explore other growth options such as expanding beyond London.
We’ve seen some high-profile failures in retail recently. Doesn’t this temper your optimism a little?
No, not really. Most of those that failed had faced challenges with their business models for some time. It’s true that retail’s under pressure from factors such as the recent hike in business rates, but our clients remain cautiously upbeat.
This was borne out at our recent Retail Breakfast Briefing. Guests acknowledged the difficulties, but highlighted the sector’s ability to adapt to changes in consumer habits. Many recognised the importance of refocusing on the in-store experience, through adopting a concession model to reinvent themselves as leisure destinations.
As the latest forecast from PwC shows, growth in consumer spending may have slowed but it still exists. Retail remains a challenging environment but, like our clients, we’re optimistic about UK PLC’s post-Brexit future. And, from a purely personal perspective, we’re confident there’ll always be space for a grown-up agency that offers proper, consultative advice.
So does a competitive market bring its own problems?
We’re certainly witnessing a genuine fight for quality candidates, but it’s noticeable that in response corporates are increasingly aware of the need to offer the ‘right’ work environment. Traditionally, the three lures employers could exploit were a role’s specific scope, prospects for career development, and cultural fit. Now, more than ever, candidates expect to be looked after by future employers.
So have you noticed a change in expectations?
Both salary- and non-salary-oriented expectations tend to be higher, particularly amongst the so-called Millennials. The advantage, however, is that a few extra perks can often help a company win the battle for talent. Rather than getting into a vicious circle of agreeing to everything, employers need to be proactive in managing expectations. Finding the right balance may not always be easy, but it’s where our experience can really help.
With no slowdown in the growth of technology in sight, should finance professionals be concerned?
My feeling – and I think it’s one shared by many – is that no amount of automation will be able to remove the human element entirely. If anything, the sheer amount of data produced nowadays means that people with the skills to turn it into actionable insights are more in demand than ever.
Finance professionals able to interpret what the numbers mean and – just as importantly – able to communicate it effectively to those less comfortable with data, will always be key to an organisation’s success.