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GENDER-LENS INVESTING – LESS TALK AND MORE ACTION NEEDED

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An article by Jacolene Otto, Maitland’s Head of Private Equity & Real Estate, based in Luxembourg.

 

Gender-lens investing (GLI) was first coined in 2009, making it a fairly new concept, but one that has swiftly gained traction among progressive investors. Just like ESG, GLI looks beyond financial returns when making investment decisions. GLI investing is done with gender concerns as an important factor in the decision-making process and therefore investment must achieve financial return as well as consider the benefits of the investment to women and girls.

The statistics on gender concerns bolster the relevance and importance of GLI. According to the Global Poverty Project, women work two thirds of the world’s working hours but earn only 10% of the income and own 1% of the property. They add that with every 10% increase in girls going to school, a country’s individual GDP rises by 3%. BasicEd report that an increase in girls’ education results in a decrease in the human and fiscal costs associated with challenges such as domestic violence, child marriages, and HIV. Goldman Sachs document that gender gaps in labour forces a decrease in GDP for both rich and poor countries, and McKinsey estimate that achieving gender equality could add $12 trillion to the world GDP.

For several years now firms such as Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs have offered GLI strategies for some of their portfolios and in 2017 the National Bank of Australia announced that it had sold AUD$500m gender equity bonds. These bonds were invested in a portfolio of businesses which received gender citation from the Australian Government according to a Reuters article on ethical bonds.

There are some serious players in the market mobilising around GLI, specifically driven by Development Finance Institutions (DFIs). Two of the interesting current initiatives are:

 

2xchallenge – financing for women

The 2x challenge launched in June 2018 as a new commitment of the DFIs from the G7 countries to unlock resources that will help advance women’s economic empowerment and gender equality. These DFIs have since supported investments and initiatives that provide women in developing countries with access to leadership opportunities, quality forms of employment, finance, enterprise support, as well as products and services that enhance the inclusion or economic participation of women and girls. To date USD 4.5 billion has been committed.

 

The gender-smart investing toolkit

To assist firms in developing their GLI strategy at General Partner or Limited Partner Level, the CDC Group released a gender-smart investing toolkit. For the GP this relates to their strategy at both the fund and the portfolio level. It is not just about where you put your money but also what you are doing at the GP level to empower and uplift women.

While GLI is spoken about in the industry and at a regulatory level, meaningful execution is distinctly lacking. The change is mainly driven by DFIs with very little assistance from governments, especially in developing markets. There is a lot of talk around wanting to support women and gender-equality but market players want to start seeing tangible action and results.

Based in Luxembourg, Jacolene Otto is Head of Private Equity & Real Estate at independent global fund administrator, Maitland.

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The perfect storm: new regulations and an inflationary environment will cause an upswing of M&A and consolidation

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By George Netherton, Partner, Head of Europe Insurance & Asset Management at Oliver Wyman

 

As Q2 results roll in, we’re beginning to see the impact of the perfect storm of challenges facing the UK personal lines insurance market. The effects of significant regulatory changes, heightened inflation, and macroeconomic uncertainty have so far largely been hidden by profits achieved during the pandemic; however, they are gradually being unmasked. The next two years will be tough, and we expect significant market shifts to result.

 

The challenges

The beginning of this year saw major regulatory changes brought in by the FCA. Welcome reforms aimed at creating a level playing field and ensuring good value for money for loyal customers, have nevertheless pushed up premiums for new customers and reduced profits in the back books of many insurers. Those with large retained profits in their back books have reduced flexibility in attracting new customers now, and we are seeing some overdue investment in innovation, particularly around electric cars.

As materials, labour, and energy prices rise, inflation challenges are not only being seen in insurers’ cost base and claims value chain, but are running far ahead of expectations. The motor insurance market, for example, has experienced significant levels of inflation in the first half of 2022, resulting from higher used car prices, higher third-party claims costs, longer repair times and inflation in the cost of car parts. As a result, profitability is dropping sharply.

Climate change is also hitting the market, with more extreme weather events, such as storms and heatwaves, becoming more frequent and expected to result in increased claims for flood damage, subsidence and even wildfire. In the first half of 2021, global insurers paid out the largest amount of claims in 10 years to cover the damage caused by natural disasters. Insurers are also facing costs for developing net zero and transition plans, as climate commitments are prioritised and scrutinised.

In addition, the cost of technology and data investment is becoming an increasing burden. Weaker businesses are struggling to justify big investment costs, yet are struggling for competitiveness without them.

 

The impact

Traditionally, insurance has been a stable business with balance sheet reserves reducing volatility and creating room for manoeuvre. This has meant that some in the market have in effect been ‘zombie business models’, not creating economic value for shareholders but still writing some new business, nursing a backbook and hoping for better next year. Insurers can give the impression of health long into their decline and several that were on their way-out pre-pandemic were able to rebuild their reserves to some extent as lockdowns created unexpected profits from motor portfolios. However, the tide is now going out and the recent market changes will make it very difficult for unprofitable outlets to survive. As the market settles into the new ‘rules of the game’, we expect to see some significant changes.

We predict the market will rationalise down to a smaller number of players, consisting of some rejuvenated major players and some low-cost digital attackers. Many Tier 2 and 3 insurers may withdraw from the market entirely, consolidate their exposures or merge to reduce their cost base. Marginal players will be faced with the choice of significant investment to reach market leadership or narrowing to focus on defendable niches.

At the same time, we predict diversity and scale to come back into fashion. The decade of 2010-20 was dominated by the success of largely monoline businesses writing largely one product (motor) through largely one channel (price comparison websites). But this concentration is now proving painful. Diversification brings resilience and breadth of opportunity, and the companies recently announcing successful Q2 results are those that have been able to secure varied portfolios. Personal speciality businesses, such as pet and travel, will benefit from this as they become attractive opportunities for major players seeking diversification in tricky core markets.

Tough market conditions are a natural part of the insurance cycle, but the combination of factors experienced over the last year has been extraordinary. The challenges run deep, and the impacts will continue to be seen for a long time to come. Insurers need to continue to adapt to protect their operations, promote customer retention, and prepare for the future.

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Accounting software: the future is not what it used to be

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By Lyndon Stickley, CEO of iplicit; an award-winning accounting software developer


Escape your discomfort zone

US Navy Seals have a saying: “The only easy day was yesterday.” That sentiment could well be echoed by some of the FDs and CFOs we hear from.

Many are suffering (unnecessarily) in a discomfort zone that looks like this:

  • their old on-premise accounting software is unable to integrate with other true cloud applications, within their organisation
  • they resort to numerous time-consuming spreadsheet workarounds to patch ‘holes’ in their reporting processes
  • their teams have to manually rekey data to make sense of information from multiple sources
  • reports can take days and even weeks to complete – when they could take just hours
  • their desktop technology can’t cope with today’s efficient WFH and hybrid working
  • essential information is trapped on office servers (or even in filing cabinets) – but they need to access it remotely.

It’s not ideal – so why do they put up with it? What’s so bad that they’d rather soldier on with this sub-optimal status quo?

What’s worse than your outdated on-premise accounting software?

The cost, time and stress involved with upgrading to more powerful software – that’s what. Or so some finance professionals believe.

It’s not uncommon for them to worry that the cure could be worse than the ailment. That’s because of all the pain that they experienced the last time they changed their accounting software.

They can recount horror stories of paying tens of thousands of pounds for an annual licence and similar for implementation charges. But the software was so complex that even the experts took months to install it and customise it.

Back then, too many buyers had to endure a string of broken promises and missed deadlines – all of them bad enough to trigger nightmares, flashbacks and the occasional nervous tick:

  • the system cost twice as much as the quoted price
  • installation took twice as long as promised
  • it still didn’t achieve the intended result because it was so difficult to use
  • staff never truly understood the system or liked it.

And we sympathise because their concerns are based on bitter experience. Back then, they were the victims of a cynical software industry that revelled in putting them through the wringer.

The vendors made a fortune from overselling a sledgehammer to crack a nut…and then took forever to install it. All the pain simply meant higher profits for them.

But that was then. This is now…

Don’t get me wrong – there are still vendors out there peddling the old model by charging far too much and taking too long to install the software.

But the difference now is that there are alternatives. Sensible, readily accessible ones.


Don’t let the past define your future

You no longer have to repeat the misery of the past to end the discomfort of the present.

You don’t need the open-heart surgery of a high-priced corporate ERP system that takes a year to install. Now you can opt for the elegant keyhole surgery of mid-market true cloud accounting software – whether you’re an SME or a Nonprofit organisation.

Today’s mid-market cloud accounting software costs a fraction of the price of a big ERP system. And it can be installed in just 15 applied days – over a time period to suit you. The data migration, configuration, implementation and training can all be executed in bite-sized chunks – enabling you to continue with your day job and transition with minimal disruption.

So there’s no reason to continue putting up with the hopelessness of your existing on-premise accounting software. Your fears – though rooted in all-too-real past experience – are based on a future you’ll no longer have to endure.

 

The Devil you know is no longer worth knowing

Inevitably, ‘Better the Devil you know’ will never be a solution to the increasingly pressing problems posed by old and outmoded accounting software. At what point does prudence become inertia? If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice; deferment is still a decision.  Both the saying and the software have a nasty habit of wasting money as well as time in the long run.

And, with every organisation requiring increasing levels of timely, actionable information, hindsight could show that doing nothing, in this instance, is the wrong decision to make.

The future is not what it used to be. Take a look.

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