Looking to 2024
As I reflect on 2023, it is impossible to do so without acknowledging the continued economic and political uncertainty, the cost-of-living crisis, high inflation and conflict in the Middle East and Europe. The past 12 months have carried the echoes of 2022 and if there is one thing that has been consistent, it is change.
Despite the many challenges, we end the year with a more positive outlook and economic picture emerging. We have experienced so much change recently that we have grown used to it – we have adapted to be much more adaptable.
Inflation, historically still high, has fallen and is expected to continue to do so. The Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales in its latest business confidence survey points to an improving and upward trend, albeit from a low point.
It is perhaps the promise of change that is refiring optimism.
In 2024, 4.2 billion people across 70 countries will elect new governments. Technology, and particularly the rapid rise of artificial intelligence (AI), brings doubt but also the promise of efficiency and opportunity. Businesses and people continue to embrace and prioritise purpose, adopting economic and environmentally sustainable principles.
There are three areas that I believe we need to prioritise in 2024: a focus on customers and clients, greater efficiencies and engagement with people.
Customer is king
I firmly believe that 2024 will see the customer or client at the front and centre of everything we do. Every one of us is, after all, a customer in one way or another, and what we expect, want and need will dominate the year ahead.
With almost half of the world’s population electing new governments, including our own, politicians will be looking for our custom. We will be asked to consider policies that support our individual needs, those of the economy and our country’s role on the world stage.
At a more personal level, we will look for products and services that share our values and, importantly, offer value for money. Whilst we crave and embrace new experiences and new technology, the human touch will become more widely valued. Products and services that combine AI with a human experience will stand apart from faceless algorithms.
For businesses, this means being on top of customer demands and requirements with greater efficiency in delivery. Businesses that talk and listen to their customers, and more importantly act on that information, will find the glue that keeps them engaged and loyal.
Efficiency… but not at any price
Business efficiency has always been front and centre for leadership teams, and that will be under greater scrutiny in 2024 and beyond. It is not an understatement to say that AI and the automation it will power will change business operations permanently.
The data that AI provides will enable businesses to make smarter decisions more quickly. There are, however, challenges that will need to be addressed. How AI algorithms reach decisions will need to be closely monitored to avoid allegations of bias, abuse of data or copyright.
Transparency in decision-making will be important and valued, and it is the continued human touch that will provide those reassurances.
Striving to be more efficient will have a wider impact. The communities in which we live and work will change as retailers face accelerated changing shopping habits. Many high streets will need to be reimagined and businesses will need to focus on how they can develop their offering online, in the metaverse and through immersive experiences.
Organisations need to embrace the fact that our customers and people expect us to be more efficient. Not only to be price competitive but also to demonstrate forward thinking.
And then there is the impact AI will have on jobs. Whilst its immediate impact is almost certainly over-stated, robot accountants, lawyers and bankers, to name a few, are already informing and making decisions based on the data they hold. This will accelerate. The demand for those who can interpret and personalise that data will increase too.
I firmly believe, however, that the rise of AI-led efficiency will create the need for a more human-centric experience, with process simplified by technology. Smart business will use the time it gives back to them to add greater value for customers. That is to be welcomed.
The power of people
Businesses will continue to battle to attract the very best talent and retain employees. So too will they compete for customer or client spend. Increasingly, both will expect their voices to be heard.
The way people work has changed and continues to do so. Employers are requiring a reluctant workforce to spend more time in office environments and for good reason: clients and customers benefit and so do employees through social interaction and learning and development. But people truly value the greater work-life balance that has been created for many following the pandemic. We all need to find a compromise that works best for all.
There will be the need to create an environment that attracts those people who will help your business grow. Those businesses that cannot compete on salary alone will need to look to other measures. We recognise, however, that in some business sectors that is not always possible. Here, businesses will need to engage with their employees in other ways. Meaningful conversations where employers and employees speak and listen, and then act, will be a good place to start.
Businesses with a clear purpose, where people and the planet are valued, will hold an advantage.
Talking of purpose, I was in Dubai at the Kreston Global World Conference during COP28 in early December and it once again reminds us that business efficiency cannot be at the expense of our planet. The first global stocktake since honouring the 2015 agreement by 196 parties has not only helped lead to a roadmap to accelerate climate action but also over $186m being pledged to build momentum to protect and restore nature.
In March 2023, Kreston Reeves achieved B Corp status, joining a growing community of more than 6,000 businesses from 89 countries. Whilst B Corp may not be suitable for everyone, every business and individual can and should take responsibility for the impact it has on the planet and the communities in which we all live and work.
Embrace the new year
There is no doubt that 2024 will bring its challenges, and we can in times of uncertainty all too easily focus on what divides us forgetting that which unites us.
In the season of hope, we should remind ourselves that there is a lot that brings us together. They are often very personal experiences, but also our interaction with neighbours, colleagues and friends. Sometimes they can be the very biggest cultural or sporting events. The celebration of women’s football with the Women’s World Cup in July and August and the coronation of King Charles are proof of that. The 2024 Olympic Games in Paris in July will unite the world again in sporting competition.
In an uncertain world that often appears ever more polarised, we can rely on the certainty and tradition of the Olympic games to bring the world together every four years. Such events remind us of our humanity and that whatever challenges come our way in 2024, we will all be facing them together.
We should remember and celebrate that throughout 2024.
Everyone at Kreston Reeves wishes you a great festive break and a happy and healthy new year!
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