Archive for the ‘Insights’ Category

In conversation with Tim Shipman: Five things we learnt

Posted on: May 17th, 2024 by Morgan Arnold

Here are five key things we learnt from the conversation:

Personalities drive politics

The biggest takeaway from the conversation was how for better or worse, most political and policy arguments are refracted through the personality and characters of our most senior politicians and civil servants.  

Many of the political events of the last few years have been driven by a handful of people – many of whom view politics through their own ambitions or desire to do others down.

Theresa May did not understand the importance of communication

Perhaps not the biggest revelation, but reflecting how she dealt with both the media and her own party as Prime Minister, Shipman explained that part of Theresa May’s downfall was that she didn’t get the importance of the Prime Minister’s role as a lead communicator.  

Whether it was through stilted personal interactions with the media, or poor management of personal relations with senior cabinet ministers, May neglected her role as communicator-in-chief and failed to sell her vision of Brexit to the Conservatives or to the UK public – ultimately leading to her downfall.

Dominic Cummings a master strategist – but was too abrasive to succeed in office

Dominic Cummings is one of the most controversial advisors ever to work from 10 Downing Street – but he earned his place there, at least in the beginning.  

Shipman described him as being “touched by a form of genius” in his ruthless pursuit of a political vision and said that his work in Number 10 from summer 2019 until shortly after he helped Boris Johnson win a thumping parliamentary majority in the 2019 election may be one of the few times in recent years that politics has been done effectively in recent years. 

However, once settled in office his difficult to work with personality meant that he could not bring many key civil servants and politicians along with him, ultimately leading to his departure from frontline politics.

Boris Johnson did not fear Keir Starmer

One of the most intriguing insights from Shipman was his views on what lay behind Boris Johnson’s complacency on party-gate. 

Johnson simply did not fear a Starmer-led Labour Party, and believed that he would comfortably thrash him at the next general election. Why would he do anything but deny there was any wrong-doing and risk looking even slightly guilty, when there was no electoral impetus to do so?

Keir Starmer’s honeymoon will be short

A potential Labour Government needs to act fast if wants to be successful in Government. Shipman pointed to the fact that most enduring, positive legacies of recent Conservative governments – such as education reforms under the coalition – were all enacted in the first few months of office. 

Given the economic fundamentals and relative inexperience of Labour’s frontbench, events could take over even sooner – so a quick start will be essential to the success of an incoming government led by Keir Starmer. 

Our next In Conversation with: event will take place on 3 July with Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, Jess Phillips. If you’d like to sign-up, place click here or email us at [email protected] 

Innovation Zero: As nature rises up the agenda, businesses should be ready for tough questions

Posted on: May 8th, 2024 by Morgan Arnold

Last week’s Innovation Zero conference at London’s Olympia saw thousands of impassioned entrepreneurs, business leaders and politicians make the case for climate action. Renewables, transport and finance all featured heavily throughout the two-day congress. But it was the focus on nature and its role in corporate sustainability efforts that caught our eye.   

Waking up to nature-related risk 

Often overlooked, nature has been given more attention in recent years following developments such as the Taskforce for Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) and the Montreal-Kunming Global Biodiversity Framework. While this has pushed the issue up the international agenda, nature is still somewhat of a hot potato, with businesses struggling to communicate their role in protecting and conserving our natural environment or how they are harnessing nature’s power to accelerate net zero.  

A recent analysis from the Green Finance Institute and the University of Oxford has starkly quantified the potential impact of nature degradation, both domestically and internationally, on the UK’s economy and financial sector. The deterioration of the UK’s natural environment could lead to an estimated 12% loss to GDP, a figure larger than the shocks of the Global Financial Crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic.  

The researchers argued that while the economic costs of climate change are becoming increasingly accepted, the risks posed by nature degradation amount to a material cost that has not been sufficiently factored into financial and business decision-making.  

Another study from BloombergNEF in collaboration with TNFD at the end of last year, profiled 10 companies that incurred significant financial losses due to their impacts, dependencies, and risks associated with nature. These companies, ranging from Bernard Matthews to Tesla, faced heavy falls in market valuation, credit rating downgrades, litigation settlements, and major reputational damage. This underscores the real-world consequences of nature-related risks. 

Rethinking nature by moving it out of the corporate social responsibility bucket and putting it on equal footing with net zero will enable businesses to take the lead in managing their risk exposure and safeguard their reputation. It will also help channel capital and investments towards nature-based solutions and businesses taking nature-positive steps as part of their environmental strategies. Communicating the steps businesses are taking to focus on nature-based solutions as well as net zero will be paramount to achieving real change. 

The great carbon offsetting debate 

A second thread of the nature conversation at the conference was generally a more positive one. Forests, peatlands, and oceans all hold the key to one of the most powerful levers for climate action: nature-based solutions (NbS). 

The potential of NbS is immense, offering a pathway to sequester carbon and restore the balance of our ecosystems. The voluntary carbon market is the most well-known mechanism that provides essential funding for nature-based projects that might otherwise lack support.  

However, its critics have continued to campaign against corporates purchasing carbon credits to offset emissions, claiming that it distracts from decarbonisation. Indeed, last Thursday, the BBC’s Panorama investigated two carbon projects that have generated carbon credits purchased by the likes of Shell, Delta Airlines and Deliveroo. The programme raised some serious questions about how the proceeds of the credits are spent and the impact on local communities, with one example showing a group of indigenous people having been evicted from their land. 

The programme’s accusations are the latest in a long-running series of investigative journalism that has scrutinised the voluntary carbon market and the businesses that participate in it.  

With the in delivering net zero, businesses must be prepared for heightened questions about their use of carbon credits, the projects they are supporting, and how this does not distract tactic from the broader objective of decarbonisation.  

Nature has entered the boardroom 

Putting all of this together, it is increasingly clear that nature is becoming a boardroom issue and getting on the front foot is essential. So where should communicators begin? 

Firstly, transparency is crucial. Exploring initiatives like the TNFD, where businesses voluntarily disclose their nature-related impacts and dependencies, will help build trust over the long run. Given that these frameworks tend to later become mandatory, businesses that are engaging now will be better prepared when it becomes part of their legal reporting requirements.  

Secondly, this issue requires meaningful stakeholder engagement. Creating dialogues with key audiences around the importance of nature and its role in net zero will offer a chance to understand their needs and highlight where efforts should be focused. No business will have all the answers now, but through collaboration and engagement, solutions can surface. 

In summary, businesses and their complex relationships with nature are firmly in the spotlight. Reputations are on the line when things go wrong.  

However, on the flip side, those who get it right should stand to gain when they are able to confidently articulate how they are contributing towards a nature-positive future. 

Benjamin Carr, Associate Director & Mathilde Milpied, Senior Account Manager 

 

Fintech unicorns in the waiting room 

Posted on: April 19th, 2024 by Morgan Arnold

Fintech in Focus is part of The MHP Financial Services Pulse. 

This week’s gathering of the biggest players in UK fintech has offered a useful ‘check-up’ on the health of the sector.

The fintech ecosystem in the UK has been through a challenging 18 months with company valuations slashed, headline redundancy rounds announced, and question marks over paths to profitability. Despite the UK retaining its crown as the best location in Europe for fintech investment, this period has ‘spooked’ many – even some of those who have been the market’s biggest advocates in recent years.

Some suggest that the UK has lost its lustre for fintech during this period and is focusing too much on regulation while increasingly losing talent to Berlin and Paris. Yet, this pessimism was not shared by those attending the Guildhall this week with many seeing clear signs that the UK market is beginning to regain its confidence.

Underpinning this growing confidence, we are seeing two parallel story lines playing out simultaneously. One is being led by larger, more established players who have surfed the digital banking wave over the last two decades and are looking for support over the coming years to reach the exit door via an IPO. The second is the ‘billion dollar’ question that many are now asking: where will the next pocket of financial services innovation emerge in the UK?

For onlookers, notably, this week’s event started with the news that UK neobank Zopa Bank had turned a profit and was now eyeing an IPO in the next few years. This is revealing for a few reasons. First, it shows a rebound in performance with the sector’s relentless focus on profitability now starting to bear fruit for fintechs who have had to right-size their teams, refocusing as funding markets slowed. Second, Zopa is the latest fintech to join the IPO ‘waiting room’ which includes Starling, Revolut, and Atom Bank.

While fintechs are biding their time for the perfect window to list, the growing discussion around exit strategies – something rarely spoken of 12 months ago – highlights increased optimism at the top of the sector. This optimism is one motivation for Monzo, Revolut and others in the Unicorn Council for UK Fintech (UCFT) to call on the Government this week to ditch its tax on share trading. If the Government wants these firms to list in London, these firms are telling them that they will need some support to find the exit door.

On the second ask, the sector’s leaders are increasingly aware of growing competition between London and its EU rivals. Many know that innovation and technological development is key to keeping the UK market in pole position – this is becoming even clearer as the artificial intelligence opportunity grasps the sector. As a result, industry leaders are looking to old playbooks and new to find opportunities in the market.

In particular, the launch of an Open Finance Taskforce will provide recommendations to the UK Government on leveraging financial data to improve SMEs’ access to credit. This is a “quick win” for the industry, leveraging the UK markets strength and expertise in open banking. The Treasury also hopes that the upcoming National Payments Vision will further push the sector forward and create greater direction for the payment ecosystem.

But, to drive innovation forwards, you need knowledge and talent to enable technological development. Ernst & Young’s report on Monday that the sector’s boardrooms lack the AI ‘know how’ is a clear warning shot to policymakers and industry leaders that they need to do more attract and retain the best talent. EY’s research found that 47% of fintech CEOs believe their board lacks the essential skills and experience related to Generative AI.

Both of these discussions focus on how the sector can thrive over the next five years, and leverage the depth and maturity in the UK market. They also reflect growing criticism that the UK doesn’t have a joined-up approach to its fintech strategy. This echoes the sentiment of Revolut’s UK chief who yesterday noted that New York’s concentration of financial services talent posed a significant risk to the capital.

For the sector’s leaders and policymakers, creating a joined-up approach that compliments all the component parts of the sector and works with the wider financial services industry is key. Ultimately, this will dictate whether the next decade of fintech innovation in the UK will succeed, or if the sector needs stronger medicine.

If you would like to discuss in more detail, please email g[email protected]

Financial advice in 2070: takeaways from NextWealth

Posted on: March 27th, 2024 by Morgan Arnold

Money Matters is part of The MHP Financial Services Pulse. 

A 10ft tall image of David Bowie might not be the first to spring to mind when talking about wealth management, but there it was, looking down over the hundreds of attendees at last week’s NextWealth Live annual conference.

‘Change agents’ was the dominant theme throughout the day at The Royal Institution, where we heard discussions on democratising advice, the balance of human connection over tech, managing generational change and the potential for life coaching to retain clients.

There was recognition of the need to not only adapt new models and practices, but to leverage marketing and PR to shout about this – and meet younger clients in different spaces.

A third new era of investment and wealth management

The talk that drew the most attention was from industry innovator Sandy Kaul from Franklin Templeton’s US base. She spoke about the move to designing portfolios that would be as much about delivering personal enrichment as financial; helping clients identify what they want out of life. The increase of gamification and ‘social’ investing fed into this, with the inevitable shift towards personally relevant stocks and tokenised collectibles (imagine a Taylor ‘Swift-ETF’ that covers concert tickets and merchandise as a portfolio benefit!).

She also spoke about the move to three-dimensional, hyper-personalised portfolios that span investments through to healthcare accounts, and the progression from chatbots to ‘act’ bots – holograms that could even take on the avatar of an individual adviser and lean on the data to offer guidance.

The next generation of advisers

This is where the industry is headed – an inevitability driven by client demands and a re-set in how younger generations view and access financial advice. But an ‘ageing’ financial advice industry is a challenge to this: around three quarters of IFAs plan to retire within the next decade. Someone made the point that the RDR was the death knell for advisers, with the scrapping of the commission structure that might enable younger advisers to get started (or attract them in the first place). Another argument was that licences to practice were becoming tougher to achieve and align with regulations, not market need. Once again, a reminder that it is the end-client who will ultimately steer this next era.

Connecting via communications

It was telling that the real focus on the role for marketing came from Paddy Earnshaw, Customer and Digital Director at B&Q. When 74% of customers get frustrated if content shared has nothing to do with them, and 48% spend more when their experience is personalised, he rightly emphasised the importance of connecting with customers and their communities.

That’s why wealth and investment managers, while it might be unchartered territory for some, need to be thinking more about their brand. Take inspiration from in and out of financial services, and companies that are already showing how they understand changing lifestyles. It can start small: a narrative that defines the ambition, a one-off sponsorship to test the waters, building to something longer-term that that stretches the business into different territory.

If you would like to discuss more about what these next steps should be, do get in touch on [email protected].

 

Greenhushing: Are companies running away from communicating their climate ambitions?

Posted on: March 25th, 2024 by Morgan Arnold

It’s hard to miss Spring entering its early bloom in recent weeks following the warmest February on record last month. Blossoms have appeared around a month earlier than usual in recent years, creating disruptive effects on ecosystems, and 2024 has seen a continuation of the recent extreme weather trend that has dominated headlines. With further warnings of the coming months setting fresh temperature records around the world, climate change has maintained its grip as one of today’s most pressing global issues.

And, as more voters than ever head to the polls this year, companies are grappling with their responsibilities to the planet and the extent to which they uphold and communicate their climate ambitions.

In the wake of new legislation approved by the European Parliament in January to curb greenwashing, businesses face a new reality. Generic environmental claims and misleading product information are banned, with only sustainability labels backed up by certification schemes permissible under the new rules. It comes as the UK government announced its consultation to regulate the ESG ratings sector this month. HM Treasury seeks to improve “clarity and trust” in the sector, highlighting the need for more transparent and accountable data on companies’ climate credentials.

Sustainable positioning on the retreat

While these developments, and others, will go a long way towards stamping out instances of greenwashing and increasing data quality, they could also lead to unintended consequences. Companies may opt to stay quiet on their net zero progress out of fear of falling foul of regulations.

Some financial institutions, including Blackrock and HSBC, have decided to downgrade their funds under the EU’s Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation from the most sustainable category to one that requires a looser definition. Vanguard deleted two paragraphs about its “dedication to responsible investing” from its webpage on sustainable investing for several months last year. Meanwhile, ASOS has removed the “Responsible Edit” filter section from its website without any public announcement.

A recent study by South Pole confirms this concerning trend of businesses shifting away from their sustainable positioning. The study found that most respondents in nine of the 14 industries surveyed are intentionally decreasing their climate communications, otherwise known as ‘greenhushing’. It found that 44% of companies stated that external communications on climate targets have become more challenging, and 7 in 10 listed companies admitted to greenhushing. They blame a heady mix of factors, including growing regulatory scrutiny, investor pressure, customer activism and data scarcity.

Companies may underreport their sustainability efforts for genuine reasons, such as being unable to fulfil the demand for data or the regulatory costs. Some prefer to test their green credentials over time to avoid scrutiny or fines. However, research has shown that the world’s biggest brands are missing out on billions of pounds of potential value by failing to communicate their sustainability achievements and progress appropriately.

Avoiding the greenhushing trap

So, how can companies avoid the greenhushing trap? The same principles to prevent greenwashing apply, such as ensuring the communication of environmental claims is substantiated with verifiable data and providing regular reporting on progress against clearly defined goals.

But, more than that, widespread greenhushing could set a dangerous precedent that may cause the recent momentum on corporate sustainability to stall. Communications leaders and their bosses must get comfortable with a degree of scrutiny that comes with talking about their impact on the planet. No business is perfect and scrutiny can be planned for and mitigated against. Ultimately, companies have a responsibility to tell authentic stories in order to catalyse a more sustainable future. A good example of this was Apple’s short video with Oscar winner Octavia Spencer last year. By embracing the sceptic in the Mother Nature character, Apple was able to directly address her concerns, and with it, address its critics while admitting that it still has more work to do in key areas.

While the path to net zero is not straightforward for any business, and uncomfortable headlines will occasionally need to be stomached, those that preserve and demonstrate accountability will reap the benefits both commercially and reputationally. After all, companies that lead this movement can set the benchmark, prompt others into action and, more broadly, encourage an era of more authentic sustainability communications.

You can read all of our Financial Services Pulse content here. For more information about the Financial Services team and our sustainability expertise, contact Ben Carr, Associate Director & Sustainable Finance Lead, at [email protected].

Financial Services Pulse | Money Matters

Posted on: February 1st, 2024 by Morgan Arnold

Welcome to Money Matters, part of The MHP Financial Services Pulse. Our team of experts bring you their take on all things money and the communications considerations that the hottest trending topics in the space are creating. 

Are star fund managers a dying breed? 

Recent press coverage would point to the demise of the star fund manager.

Consistent redemptions seen by Terry Smith and Nick Train over the past year have been in focus, while the recently announced departure of Ben Whitmore from Jupiter sent the firm’s share price into a spiral. Meanwhile, Bobby Jain’s attempts to have the largest ever hedge fund debut seems set to fail, with expectations now being managed down. Looking further back in time, the retirement of James Anderson dominated the business pages. The less said of the fall of Neil Woodford, the better.

At the same time, we are seeing the rise and rise of passive investing. In the US, the amount of money in passive funds has for the first time outstripped that in actively managed counterparts – an eye-watering $13.3trn. How much of this is the pull to passive vehicles or more generous interest rates – and how much of this is a push from seemingly underperforming actively managed funds remains to be seen.

But the underlying debate between stockpicking versus following the market is not new. Nor indeed is the question around the value of the superstar stockpickers and their pulling power. The same questions could have been asked 10 years ago. And they were. For instance, the Financial Times questioned in March 2014 whether star fund managers are a dying breed. Since we still have well-known, highly respected names in the industry that seem to shine brighter than others and inspire client loyalty whatever the investment weather, the answer remains no.

That’s not to say nothing has changed, especially since the Woodford debacle. Larger fund houses are clearly more alive to the downsides of star managers – whether the key man risk, the perception of a lack of appropriate controls, or client concerns around long-term succession planning. That’s why they are far more disposed to communicating the infrastructure, processes and technologies that sit behind their portfolio managers and the collegiate teams that drive performance. Process over individual personality has become more common, through necessity; performance doesn’t just rest on one individual’s shoulders.

Investment personalities in The Networked Age

But of course that’s just part of the story. Star fund managers are a distribution team’s dream: they generate their own brand awareness, media interest, and ultimately inflows. As such, they will by necessity remain a core part of fund management’s marketing machine.

And in The Networked Age – the volatile, activist and polarised landscape we communicate in – there is a simple lesson that continues to help star managers cut through: the messenger is as important as the message. Essentially people connect with people they identify with or are inspired by.

We believe passions spread ideas. And through big personalities passionately demonstrating their conviction in their investment approach, they become highly effective – and often highly trusted – messengers.

Despite the advent of AI, and the rise of passives, investment involves humans, and therefore cannot be emotionless. This means there will always be a role for mavericks that we place our trust in – hoping we have found the next genius that can beat the market.

Diversify your spokesperson portfolio

Star managers deliver investment companies huge media profile. But the key lesson for communications teams is this: do not place all of your eggs in one basket. Managers do not stay in situ for ever. This means thinking beyond pure succession planning for a single manager; it means demonstrating the expertise and range of personalities across your portfolio managers. It is far better to build a small team of Galacticos than rely on one star player.

You can read all of our Financial Services Pulse content here. For more information about the Financial Services team or to discuss this topic further, contact Dan directly at [email protected].

A new approach to understanding and measuring trust is needed

Posted on: January 11th, 2024 by Morgan Arnold

World leaders will shortly descend on Davos to discuss this year’s theme of ‘Rebuilding Trust’. The debate will be shaped by surveys that ask people questions like “Do you trust business?” or “Do you trust the media?” The surveyors’ intent is clear, but the insights they deliver are not. Asking the public to think about trust in abstract and intangible ways is unhelpful and unwise. Trust isn’t abstract. Neither is it intangible. It’s concrete and there are better ways to explore and scrutinise it.

Trust is crucial to any human relationship. It influences how we relate to, and interact, with organisations, governments and each other. Without trust it’s hard to develop successful relationships, create loyal customers and foster prosperous economic exchanges. Trust is also complex and multi-faceted: made up of three core components that vary in importance based on a variety of factors and contexts. That’s why asking general questions about trust provides an oversimplified response. That might be fine if all an organisation or political party wants to know is how they fare on industry and competitor league tables. But if you actually care about trust and want to know not just how trusted you are, but why and what you can do to build and maintain it, then more is needed.

Enhanced approaches to measure trust can offer improved tools and insights, allowing brands to positively influence how much consumers will buy, recommend and advocate them. Doing this requires a focus on three important factors.

  1. Thinking about trust in terms of behaviours.

Ask people a complex question and they often answer a simpler, different one. Broad questions like “How much do you trust the technology sector?” frequently obscure important nuances. They may result in people thinking about a brand they are most familiar with or that has recently been in the news, biasing scores. To avoid bias it’s more effective to ask behaviourally informed questions that target three core components of trust that behavioural science has identified as mattering most. They are:

  • Competence: Do audiences trust you to do your job?
  • Integrity: Do audiences trust you to do the right thing?
  • Benevolence: Do audiences trust you to care about their needs?

This scientifically informed Competence, Integrity, Benevolence (CIB) model allows the creation of a much more helpful set of questions about the behaviours and beliefs mostly likely to lead to trust. The result is a much more concrete and context relevant measure offering actionable strategies for those wishing to build and maintain trust.

MHP Group, working with world-leading behavioural science group INFLUENCE AT WORK and in conjunction with GWI, have designed a way to do exactly this testing it in the UK, US and Germany with 15 high profile brands in the Technology, Financial and Pharmaceutical industries.

Standard trust measures find the technology industry typically fares better than the financial and pharmaceuticals sectors when it comes to who is most trusted. But a closer look through our CIB three-component model tells a different story. Although tech is certainly rated as the most competent, its falls short on integrity and benevolence resulting in the sector falling in the overall rankings from first, to last. It seems that, despite audiences trusting tech companies’ smarts and gizmos, they are much less confident about their values and social impact. Focussing on actions and behaviours that prioritise these components, over competence, is likely to be technology’s most productive approach to restoring trust.

Context matters too. Our research finds that when it comes to perceptions of trust, the relative importance of Competence, Integrity and Benevolence varies from brand to brand. For technology and pharma brands their ‘Benevolence’ score has the biggest influence on business outcomes. For finance, ‘Integrity’ matters a lot too.

 

  1. Integrity and benevolence matter. A lot.

Many still believe the route to trust is reliability, transparency and a commitment to good causes. But things are changing. Broader concerns about the impact brands have on people and the extent an industry or organisation can act in honest, ethical ways even if doing so is counter to their interests, increasingly loom large in consumers’ minds.

Our CIB model finds integrity and benevolence have a particularly strong correlation to a range of business outcomes that include increased sales, likelihood to advocate, and a business being seen as a true partner. This holds true across different sectors and the brands within them. Yet, little attention is paid to how to increase these aspects of trust. By measuring the specific behaviours that give rise to increased integrity and benevolence it becomes possible to provide explicit advice on how to boost perceived integrity and benevolence where it is lacking.

  1. A way forward.

The CIB model study supports the long-held belief that higher levels of trust are associated with a range of desirable outcomes for industries and organisations such as improved sales, customers becoming fans. Trust can even protect an organisation and industry’s licence to operate. But the work also clearly demonstrates how trust is much more nuanced than traditional models accommodate. Trust is complex. It is a context dependant human endeavour, rather than an abstract concept and there are ways to build and maintain it more effectively.

If the question keeping leaders up at night is ‘how do we rebuild trust?’, the answer is to start measuring it more accurately before more billions are committed and wasted.

Reports of X’s demise have been greatly exaggerated

Posted on: January 4th, 2024 by Morgan Arnold

The website ‘House Price Crash’ is a community of thousands of people who have been praying for a UK house price collapse for nearly two decades. Day after day, the forum reassures itself that the inevitable implosion is coming, and that they were right all along, when they opted not to get on the ladder in 2005. It’s a community sustained by confirmation bias, denial of basic economics, and despair. Much like the media industry commentary about X.

Many journalists, influencers and comms people have been predicting Twitter’s imminent collapse and declaring its irrelevance since the earliest days of the Musk takeover. Some have even walked away to the social media equivalent of House Price Crash – Threads – to swap stories of X’s mismanagement.

And some of the criticism is justified. By some metrics, the Twitter community has shrunk since the takeover, and the new brand has much less media visibility than the old. Elon Musk himself has admitted that the platform could go bust if advertisers don’t return. But Twitter’s network effect helped it survive the departure of right wingers to Parler and Gab and so too it will survive the departure of progressives to Threads and Blue Sky.

In the meantime, as the resignation of Harvard president Claudine Gay highlights, it remains the only open platform where opinion elites co-ordinate at scale.

  • It was X where the testimony of Gay, and her peers from MIT and Penn before a congressional hearing on antisemitism on campus, went viral
  • It was X where mega-donor and CEO of Pershing Square, Bill Ackman, set out his case against Gay and the Harvard board
  • It was X where evidence of Gay’s plagiarism first began to reach public attention
  • While the journalist and activist Chris Rufo admits that without the coverage given to the issue by mainstream, left-leaning media like the New York Times, Gay would have survived, journalists from these titles came under pressure from influential X users to cover the scandal
  • And it was X’s Community Notes feature that discredited attempts to minimise the sin of plagiarism

TikTok and Facebook may be the platforms to engage mass audiences, YouTube, podcasts and Substack are the places where ideas and arguments are explored in-depth, and LinkedIn and Instagram are where we go to admire and be admired, but it is only Twitter that can energise debates, give shape and form to elite opinion, and mobilise elite action.

That’s why Musk bought it, that’s why so many were concerned when he did, and it’s why it’s wrong for anyone in the communications industry to write it off.

What will 2024 bring for consumers and their finances?

Posted on: January 4th, 2024 by Kate Cunningham

“I’m going to pick a stock and talk about why I think it’s interesting. And that stock is GameStop.”

So says Paul Dano playing ‘wallstreetbets’ investor Keith Gill in Dumb Money, Hollywood’s chronicling of the 2021 GameStop saga. The real-life scenario saw a subsequent short squeeze on the stock and what the Financial Conduct Authority called a “speculative frenzy”. In the US, trading platform Robinhood imposed restrictions barring new long positions in GME, for which it later apologised in front of Congress.

It was a watershed moment highlighting the power of retail investors, but also raised questions about what responsibility trading platforms have for educating their users. That it took place in January is telling: Christmas is often a time of increased financial stress, so the chance to make a quick return is tempting. As we step into 2024, the cost-of-living crisis is entering a new phase, and Robinhood itself has launched in the UK with a promise to “drive innovation” in this market. With that in mind, here are my thoughts on the other interlinked trends likely to grow this year, driven by consumer expectations.

1. Social media’s (continued) influence on investment decisions

The surge in retail investment shows no signs of abating. Platforms that democratise access to the stock market continue to attract millions of new users, many of whom are younger and more socially connected than ever before. This is set to get a further boost with the government’s potential sale of its remaining shares in NatWest to retail investors this year. If that goes ahead, we should see even greater adoption of the platforms that facilitate this, if launched in the right way. But the battle for their attention, and for provision of reliable information, has stepped up yet another level. Investors are further delving into social media and online communities to make investment decisions, and Gen Z is largely ditching Google and instead browsing TikTok, Instagram and Pinterest as a form of search engine.

2. Impact goes mainstream

The world quite literally burned last year, and pictures of holidaymakers forced to abandon their hotels spread across social media. Like it or not, it’s when perceived ‘far-off’ problems start to seep into everyday life that people begin to sit up and take notice of the evidence. Sustainable investing is no longer a niche interest; it’s a significant force in the financial world. People want to know not only how their money is invested, but the impact it is having. Harnessing this momentum, the Make My Money Matter campaign with Olivia Colman thanking pension savers for allowing oil and gas companies to destroy more of the planet was particularly powerful. And it’s not just the E – activists speaking out on the S and the G are, again thanks to social media, given a bigger platform than ever before.

3. AI: the future-gazing financial adviser

Cost and fear of judgement have long been two of the main barriers to getting qualified financial advice. But people are increasingly seeking personalised financial experiences tailored to their unique needs and life stages. AI is already being used as an aid by the industry to offer these insights and automate often complex decision-making processes, and this is becoming more advanced at pace. While there are challenges in terms of data privacy and over-reliance on historic data, the reality is that AI-driven tools are best placed to identify future trends. It’s this hyper-personalised, predictive potential that will be the real game-changer.

4. BNPL your cab fee

Well, not yet. Embedded finance is nothing new, but the demand for convenience has reached new heights and the growth of all of the above – digitisation, transparency, personalisation – feeds into this. As the line between financial and consumer services continues to blur, so expectation of getting two, or even three financial services in one increases: a pre-approved loan for a vehicle purchase, payment facilitation, and automatic integration of that payment plan into a bespoke financial dashboard complete with those hyper-personalised tips and updates. While that’s a while away, more financial partnerships with consumer brands to offer a seamless, frictionless experience will be the only way to win – and keep – customer loyalty.

5. Financial literacy as a core focus

On the point of loans, financial literacy became more of a necessity last year, but the UK is still a weak performer when benchmarked against similar economies. A report from Wealthify and the Cebr found that three quarters of the country falls below the financial literacy benchmark. The desire is there to manage money or invest more effectively, but we have long failed to offer sufficient financial education in schools and habits then slip down the generations. We’re likely to see an increase in educational resources, workshops and interactive tools designed to demystify finance, shaping a financial landscape that is not only more innovative, but inclusive and responsible.

So what does this all mean for communications?

Understanding and embracing these trends is crucial to financial services brands looking not only to stay relevant, but to influence. Consumers are rightly more discerning, seeking services that can better fit into their lives. Reaching them should be via the spaces they already occupy and the formats they are naturally drawn to – whether that’s via video games and TikTok, or LinkedIn and broadsheets – and with content that informs without preaching, driving natural debate and conversation.

While having a set of agreed guidelines or key messages to inform activity can provide a valuable skeleton to work from, flexibility and willingness to adapt around them is key – things move quickly. As the GameStop saga showed, it only takes one post.

 

COP28: A historic agreement struck, but will it be enough?

Posted on: December 14th, 2023 by Morgan Arnold

Yesterday, the UAE Consensus was adopted at COP28 in Dubai. Only hours earlier, many were questioning whether a deal could even be reached. Several nations were angered by an earlier draft agreement that failed to include strong wording on fossil fuels. However, the final ‘Global Stocktake’ text was published early Wednesday following a dramatically swift adoption process.

Running to more than 20 pages and nearly 200 clauses, the UAE Consensus “calls on parties to contribute” to take actions including “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science”.

In what is being described as a historic moment, this is the first time there has been an explicit mention of reducing the use of fossil fuels in a COP text.

However, developing nations and campaigners have not shied away from critiquing the agreement since the moment the gavel came down on the negotiations. They claim that the deal has a litany of loopholes, appears to placate fossil fuel interests and will ultimately hamper the world from cutting greenhouse gas emissions drastically enough to limit global heating to 1.5c above pre-industrial levels.

They also argue that, despite an agreement on a loss and damage fund, developing nations still require hundreds of billions more in finance to help them transition away from coal, oil and gas. During the summit, the US pledged just over $20m in new finance, while India announced it would double its coal production by the end of the decade.

Despite its imperfections, the deal represents perhaps the biggest step forward since the Paris Agreement of 2015. It signals the start of the end of the fossil fuel era and a global push towards renewable energy.

The hope is that the commitment to triple renewables and energy efficiency by 2030 will see wind and solar replace coal, oil and gas and the requirement for nations to submit stronger carbon-cutting plans by 2025 should, in theory, help to accelerate the transition.

As diplomats and officials leave Dubai, there will be a sense that there is still much more work to be done to achieve the goal of limiting climate change and its impacts. This year was the warmest year on record and 2024 is set to pass the 1.5c threshold, according to The Met Office, and the UN recently warned that global temperatures will rise by 3-5c by the end of the century.

Away from the politics, many will be wondering if the agreement struck today is radical enough to address the scale and pace required to avoid climate breakdown.