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TAKING A FRESH LOOK AT EMPLOYEE BENEFITS IN THE MODERN WORKPLACE

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By Jeanette Wheeler, HR Director, MHR International

 

Historically, if an employee was asked about the most common benefits packages that they’ve encountered in the world of work, they were likely to highlight company cars, health or dental insurance and reward schemes. In recent years however, this has grown to include other benefits to appeal to new generations in the workplace, from everything to an early Friday finish to pool tables for use at lunchtime. More significant benefits such as sabbatical leave, internal secondments and additional days off for charity days are now also increasingly more common.

This however comes at a cost, and the challenge for employers is ensuring that financial stability remains as they invest in new employee benefits. The other difficulty for organisations is that many employees may not have a full appreciation of the value that these benefits provide, especially in the case of them being provided as standard as opposed to being part of a flexible benefits package. Where the value is clear, employees could even perceive them in a negative light due to the extra tax involved, or the value may not even be clear because it doesn’t appear on a payslip.

Financial wellbeing and resilience post-pandemic

When it comes to adapting benefits packages, financial resilience and wellbeing need to be top-of-mind for businesses. There are good reasons why organisations should take employee financial resilience seriously as 67% of employees now want more financial wellbeing support from their employers. A PwC survey in the US this year found employees undergoing financial stress are less productive, while recent MHR research found that 47% of employees believe being honest about their mental health would damage their career meaning putting a figure on the scale of the impact employee stress at work has is impossible.

For employees that need immediate assistance, short-term help could allow them to better manage their finances and steer clear of debt. However, it’s also important to consider that they require longer-term coaching and guidance so they can rationalise their finances and plan ahead. Financial wellness programmes and coaching sessions that address more than pensions are a genuine benefit to employees of all age groups and also have the convenience of being able to be offered online.

 

Analysing benefits packages

Employers shouldn’t rest on their laurels when it comes to how employees perceive their benefits packages. This is reflected in the fact that an IBM survey of 19,000 workers across nine countries in January found that fewer than half (47 per cent) rated their employer well for their compensation and benefits package.

With the pandemic creating wholesale changes in what employees expect from their employers, organisations need to take fresh look at the rewards and benefits packages they offer. Employers who continue to invest in benefits that employees don’t use, or value are wasting their money.

For companies that continue to offer remote or hybrid work, cheaper gym membership may not prove as appealing if the employee is a reasonable distance from the gym itself when at home. This also has ramifications on subsidised travel and food, childcare vouchers, workplace car parking or end-of-week office get-togethers if employees spend part of the week away from the office. Whatever benefits employers provide, they also need to be accessible to employees, regardless of location.

Now more than ever, employees are looking for tangible and meaningful rewards. They’ll be better disposed towards an employer that actually makes an effort to find out what they want. Organisations with the technology to facilitate regular dialogue between managers and employees and gather an accurate sense of workers’ requirements will always have the upper hand. If, for example, nobody under the age of 40 uses a financial advice service, then employers should be able to find out why.

Incorporating employee wellbeing into a holistic approach

A holistic approach is crucial for businesses reviewing their benefits packages and needs to take physical and mental wellbeing into account. Research now reveals that employees place more emphasis on benefits with a health and wellbeing aspect. IBM found that more than a quarter (26 per cent) of employees who changed jobs during the pandemic said they did so because they wanted more benefits and support for their wellbeing.

Offering comprehensive health insurance and critical illness cover are effective benefits in this area. To improve mental health, employers should consider offering sophisticated employee assistance programmes that provide support for personal problems, expert counselling and behavioural therapy.

 

Protecting the value of a benefits programme

The world of work has changed so much since the early 2020 and as we head towards 2022 there is no better opportunity for employers to take a second look at their benefits packages than now. It’s evident that employees who feel listened to and ultimately valued are more productive and less likely to leave their role. Employers that aim to ensure they remain on top of their employees’ needs require an effective HR system to be in place to facilitate meaningful dialogue. Those that offer the benefits demanded by employees will find it easier to attract the best candidates.

 

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CBDCs: the key to transform cross-border payments

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Dr. Ruth Wandhöfer, Board Director at RTGS.global

 

If you work in finance, you’ll have been hearing a lot about central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) and the moves different markets are making towards using, regulating and evaluating the viability of moving to an economy based on digital currency.

We are already seeing progress in the research, piloting and introduction of CBDCs into the financial system. The Banque de France for example, recently launched its second phase of CBDC experiments in line with the “triple digital revolution” unfolding in the financial sector. The infrastructures of financial markets and fintechs, however, are not prepared to accommodate their security, stability, and viability.

This could be an issue in the not too distant future. Each year, global corporates move nearly $23.5 trillion between countries, equivalent to about 25% of global GDP. This requires them to use wholesale cross-border payment processes, which remain suboptimal from a cost, speed, and transparency perspective. In fact, the G20 cross-border payments programme considers improving access to domestic payment systems that settle in central bank money, as one of the key components in facilitating increased speed and reducing the costs of cross-border payments.

The current state of cross-border payments

International transactions based on fiat are currently slow, expensive, and highly risky due to today’s disconnected financial infrastructure, messaging, and liquidity. Wholesale cross-border payment settlement can take 48 hours or longer, which is not practical in today’s digital world. Even if not every market moves to CBDCs, in an increasingly digital era, cross-border settlements between central banks will unavoidably involve dealing with CBDCs. So, not only will we have different currencies, we’ll have different technical forms of currency being exchanged – digital and fiat – as markets adopt CBDCs at different rates, adding another layer of complexity to cross-border settlements.

While there is much anticipation about the opportunities CBDCs can bring, the adoption of this technology will only be widespread if payment and settlement capabilities are overhauled to allow for new innovations in currencies.  This need for transformation represents an opportunity to redesign existing infrastructure to support cross-border CBDC transactions.

The current cross-border payments system involves correspondent banks in different jurisdictions using commercial bank money. Uncommitted credit lines used in cross-border transactions are a potential risk for any bank that relies on credit provided by a foreign correspondent bank. Interestingly, there is no single global payment and settlement system, only a complicated network of interbank relationships operating on mutual trust. While trust has allowed financial systems to function smoothly, when it begins to fail, as it did during the 2008 financial crisis, the result can be catastrophic.

Following the crisis, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) implemented the Basel III agreement, which required banks to maintain additional capital against correspondent banking account exposures. These risk-weighted assets impose a costly capital charge on positions held by banks at other banks under correspondent arrangements. While this framework helps combat risk, it neglects to address the inherent problems in traditional correspondent banking that contribute to these risks.

Making the case for CBDCs

CBDCs can offer an improvement in settlement risks and are certainly thought to have potential benefits by the BIS. If implemented correctly, wholesale CBDCs can indeed accelerate interbank transactions while eliminating settlement risk. They can also encourage a more efficient and straightforward method of executing cross-border payments by reducing the number of intermediaries.

It is likely the evolution towards CBDCs will initially see the financial market supplement rather than replace existing payment instruments with new types of digital currency. CBDCs will coexist with current forms of money in a wholesale context, and their payment rails will also work alongside the existing payment systems. In simple terms, CBDCs will need to be linked to the broader capital markets ecosystem and applications such as securities settlement, funding, and liquidity.

If built with an innovation-first mindset, the future of banking infrastructure should provide full interoperability and convertibility between fiat, CBDCs, and any other type of digital money used in wholesale payments.

The future of CBDCs

To unlock the full potential of CBDCs, a ‘corridor network’ will need to be formed. This involves combining multiple wholesale CDBCs into a single, interoperable network under common governance agreed upon by all central banks involved. The legal framework of this platform would then allow for payment versus payment (PvP) or, where applicable, delivery versus payment settlement.

Practical wholesale CBDCs appear to be on the horizon, either as a supplement to existing financial systems or as part of a transition to a digital, cashless world. Looking ahead, central banks would benefit from collaborating with fintechs that provide innovative cloud native technology to enable seamless wholesale cross-border payments without interfering with the flow of funds. If wholesale CBDCs are to become a reality, fintechs must be prepared to accommodate them.

 

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Green growth: The unstoppable rise of climate technology investment

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With the investment community focusing more and more on renewable technologies, investor interest is at an all-time high. Ian Thomas, managing director, Turquoise, reviews the current investment landscape and highlights the opportunities for investors keen to capitalise on this growing trend.

Green, or climate, finance is a label for providers of finance who are supporting investments seeking positive environmental impact. The label covers investments in green infrastructure, venture capital investment in clean technologies and renewable energy. Green finance has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, supporting public wellbeing and social equity while reducing environmental risks and improving ecological integrity.

Worldwide, energy investment is forecast to increase by 8% in 2022 to $2.4 trillion, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency, with the expected rise coming mostly from clean energy – $1.4 trillion in total. To put this rocketing figure into some perspective, clean energy investment only rose by 2% annually in the five years following the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015. Energy transition investment has some way to go, however – between 2022 and 2025, to get on track for global net zero, it must rise by three times the current amount to average $2,063 billion. [1]

Turquoise has been active for almost 20 years as a venture capital investor and adviser to companies in the climate technology space that are raising capital and/or selling their business to a strategic acquirer. Reviewing current industry investment news, as well as drawing on examples from the portfolio of Low Carbon Innovation Fund 2 (LCIF2), managed by Turquoise, I have commented below the latest on the renewable energy trends most piquing investor interest.

 

Solar PV

Renewable power is leading the charge when it comes to investment, with wind energy and solar PV emerging as the cheapest option for new power generation across many countries, and now accounting for more than 80% of total power sector investment. Solar power is responsible for half of new investment in renewable power, with spending divided roughly equally between utility scale projects and distributed solar PV systems.

This huge increase in solar spending, which continues in spite of supply chain issues affecting raw material delivery, has been driven by Asia, largely China (BloombergNEF, 2022). Meanwhile, Europe is re-doubling its efforts to achieve an energy transition away from Russian gas and other fossil fuels, building on investment that was already rising steadily prior to the outbreak of war in Ukraine. Germany, the UK, France and Spain all exceeded $10 billion on low-carbon spending in 2021.[2]

 

Wind

Last year was a record year for offshore wind deployment with more than 20GW commissioned, accounting for approximately $40 billion in investment. The first half of 2022 saw $32 billion invested in offshore wind, 52% more than in the same period in 2021 (BloombergNEF, 2022). Taking into account also onshore wind, in 2021 investment was spearheaded by China, followed by the US and Brazil.[3]

In the UK, suggested targets include plans to host 50GW of offshore wind capacity, as well as 10GW of green and blue hydrogen production, by 2030. Investors will naturally be encouraged by proposals to simplify the planning process across the board for renewable projects.[4] France and Germany have also increased their offshore wind targets, signalling further support for investment.

 

Decarbonising housing: the business opportunity

The need to decarbonise residential housing, made all the more urgent by current energy prices, also offers substantial scope for investment. The gas price spike is naturally increasing interest in technology such as electric heat pumps, which had already enjoyed 15% growth in 2021 albeit from a very low base.

Recently, Turquoise announced an investment by Low Carbon Innovation Fund 2 (LCIF2) in Switchd, which operates MakeMyHouseGreen, a data-driven platform that allows homeowners to source and install domestic renewable energy generation, including solar panels and battery storage with other energy saving products in the pipeline. The investment will enable Switchd to roll out the MakeMyHouseGreen platform to a much larger number of customers. The latest episode of the Talks with Turquoise podcast series saw us interview Switchd co-founder Llewellyn Kinch about the UK energy market and national transition to decarbonisation, covering the rise of residential renewable energy and energy efficiency.

 

Adapting to the low-carbon economy

Meanwhile, investors should not forget opportunities on the other side of the energy market. Renewables are undoubtedly exciting investors, but there are also opportunities for fossil fuel companies to adapt their business models to the low-carbon economy. Turquoise advised GT Energy, a portfolio company from our first fund that develops deep geothermal heat projects, on its sale to IGas Energy, a leading UK onshore oil & gas producer. Under IGas ownership, GT Energy will progress its flagship 14MW project to supply zero-carbon heat to the city of Stoke-on-Trent through a council-owned district heating network.

 

A broad investment landscape

Forecasts show that renewables will increase to 60% of power generation in Europe by 2030, and 40% in the US and China by the same date.[5] As demand rises for climate technology, the investment opportunities in green finance are far broader than they ever have been. Undoubtedly, as the energy crisis continues, investor interest will continue to soar to even greater heights.

[1] https://www.iea.org/news/record-clean-energy-spending-is-set-to-help-global-energy-investment-grow-by-8-in-2022
[2] https://ihsmarkit.com/research-analysis/global-power-and-renewables-research-highlights-july-2022.html
[3] https://dialogochino.net/en/uncategorised/56938-global-wind-energy-council-vice-chair-brazil-offshore-wind-accelerating-2/
[4] https://www.edie.net/uks-clean-energy-investment-ranking-rises-after-government-sets-95-low-carbon-electricity-target-for-2030/
[5] https://www.spglobal.com/en/research-insights/featured/energy-transition-renewables-remain-the-cornerstone-of-future-power-generation

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