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Managing Director - Douglas Grant talks about his view on the 'new world'

Managing Director - Douglas Grant talks about his view on the 'new world'

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We all hope, desperately, that the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic has passed. But if and when that proves conclusively to be the case the future remains daunting. As the crisis developed, talk extended from a focus purely on the health situation to the impact on the economy. In terms of being a disruptor, it looks set to outstrip the impact of the 2008 global crash.

At times, as the death toll racked up across the world, it may have felt crass to be worrying about such things. Of course, the health of the population will always be the priority, but for those of us whose skills lie elsewhere, it is right that our attention has turned to the future.

As I write, the baby steps to relaxing the rules of lockdown in the Isle of Man are taking place. So far, it has appeared to go well. More businesses are now looking at how they will continue into the future.

While these developments can feel like the first rays of sunshine as dawn breaks following the nightmare of what came before, the landscape is very different from the one before the coronavirus sunset.

We are waking up to a new world. Normal is a different word. It is scary in many ways. But there will be good to come from this. It is important that those businesses that are in a position to do so, maintain a standfast position and offer support and assistance to others in more difficult circumstances.

Some businesses were able to adapt and continue during the height of the crisis. Others are now in a position where they can rebuild. I have been amazed and pleasantly surprised at just how well many companies have adapted to deal with the situation. Many have had their reputation enhanced by the way in which they supported their community. Others are facing stark realities and difficult choices, often through no failing of their own.

It will take years for the full long-term impact on economies to become known, but we are already very aware of some short-term implications.

How many furloughed workers will have a job to go back to? Some businesses – such as those in tourism and leisure – need longer term support than other sectors that have already managed to get back up and running. In some ways, it will be more straight forward to assess the level of control of the pandemic in terms of public health than it will be to judge how we control the economic impact.

Certain ways of life have already changed immeasurably and are very unlikely to go back to the way they were just a few months ago.

We are finding new ways to live and work and new attitudes to how we balance the two. Hygiene and personal safety will now be a much more important factor for all businesses and trades, both for their workers and their customers.

Office life may well have changed forever. The realisation that many tasks can be done from home offers an opportunity for businesses to remodel the way they work.

We have seen how, with some thought, many businesses are in a position to adapt to accommodate the needs of some staff to structure their work around other commitments. But it is not so simple as merely deciding an arbitrary number of your staff will work from home from now on.

There are other considerations to bear in mind, however, including safeguarding. If a worker’s job involves dealing with the public, even if merely over the telephone or via email, are the systems in place to ensure that no customer will have access to that worker’s personal or family details. The value of face-to-face interaction between colleagues should not be underestimated, either.

One realisation that started to come out during the crisis was that feelings of loneliness and isolation were not just restricted to children or the elderly. There are many people out there who in normal circumstances live on their own. Their social interaction comes from the workplace, sport and leisure pastimes and a night out at the weekend. All that was taken away from them. A number of businesses recognised this and structured their remote working in such a way that ensured interaction between colleagues. At Conister,  this is something we worked hard on overcoming

By necessity, all of this had to be virtual, but what it demonstrated was that, while home working can have advantages, it is important to ensure workers do not feel isolated. Something employers must remember as we move into the new normal.

It may be that in future long-term planning of office rotas will become the standard, especially if it takes a while for schools to be in a position to resume full-time attendance for all pupils. It will be possible for a business to have some people working from home for certain days or weeks, but also have some time in the office factored in, for the benefit of all. The crisis has also shown the value of e-commerce and logistics, sectors that have shown their strength and flexibility. They will be stronger for it.

Retail, especially on a local level, has shown itself to be a crucial part of society and the economy. Customers will hopefully not forget this, nor the value of local produce and the importance of geographical proximity for many trades.

On a wider scale, not surprisingly the pharmaceutical industry is well-positioned for growth. The motor industry will be interesting to follow. Will cars be used less for environmental/health reasons or more, as a method of ensuring social distancing whilst travelling to and from work? Generally, will the pressure for greater environmental awareness increase as that issue not gone away?

Banks have also shown themselves to have behaved responsibly so far. The public should have a reasonable expectation for this to continue and hopefully for them to be able support businesses in the coming years.

At Conister, we have been working hard to provide new lending products to reflect the current environment, and to assist help depositors while the low interest environment continues. We and other banks will continue to find the best ways to support our customers, which in turn will support the economy. What we have also seen, of course, is the realisation of how little we actually need notes and coins. Contactless pay has, by necessity, become the norm for many more people.

Elsewhere, some industries may take years to recover or may need to change forever.Tourism, for instance, has taken a huge hit. The first steps to recovery are likely to be focussed on a concept of holidaying closer to home, within in the British Isles in our case.At the time of writing, the idea of air bridges is gaining traction in a bid to aid international travel, but it may take some time for some people to feel confident, particularly for holiday purposes.

The stay at home vacation is likely to be around for a while – hopefully travel firms will be able to adapt and, in turn, leisure facilities across the British Isles will at least be able to make up some of the shortfall from the loss of international visitors through an uptake in ‘local’ tourists. The problem will be, many companies will have invested in this summer season utilising the funds they received from bookings. But with the cancellation of so many holidays, even in the UK, there will be an unprecedented level of refunds which will have to come from their cashflow. Which having been invested in the expectation of them performing the service will not be there.  So government support will be required or we will lose even more household travel companies. Desperate times in the short term.

Some industries may never be the same. The future of live music is uncertain, especially until a viable vaccine is widely available. But there appears to have been an increase in creativity and work rate by those unable to get on the stage. So the recording industry, which in recent years has been seen as less of a money spinner than live music, may see a renaissance. Recording studios are unprepared for the pent up in demand that is about to hit them!

Sport is another sector that has truly suffered from the pandemic. In some respects there are many more important things to worry about, but we must not forget just how many people are employed, for instance, in connection with football, hockey and rugby for example. We may not fear for wealthy footballers who have had to tighten their belts a little – and it is only fair to acknowledge many have done so willingly – but there are many sportsmen, professional and amateur, who will have been impacted. And that is not to mention the pleasure that watching sport can give to many – I say that as a supporter of Queen of the South!

Tough times await us ahead and it will do well for us to remember what we have already been through.

But if we can sustain the sense of community, work for and support each other – both in our home lives and in the business world – those first rays of sunshine after the darkness will get stronger.

Brighter days will come.

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