As another eventful year draws to a close, we tasked our team to predict five of the biggest trends 2022 has in store for businesses.
With our understanding of how to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic growing throughout 2021, so did business resilience. And as business kept moving forward, so did the world around us. The response to the pandemic helped accelerate a shift in working patterns towards hybrid and flexible ways of working, whilst our impact on the environment was the focus for many with Glasgow hosting COP26.
Next year, every business will continue to need to find ways to adapt – if this month is anything to go by, resilience and quick thinking will continue to be necessary assets to keep navigating through different levels of restrictions and changes to trade through the impact of Brexit, new trade deals and COVID-19.
To help plan for 2022, we asked our Ultimate team to share their thoughts on what next year has in store.
Rising Interest rates – Josh Levy, CEO
Although the Bank of England agreed not to raise interest rates last month, it felt like it was only a matter of time until they had to go up – and they now have with the Bank of England announcing on 16th December a rise from 0.1% to 0.25%, despite ongoing concerns of the impact of the Omicron variant on businesses as new restrictions are imposed.
Ultimate Finance’s CEO Josh Levy explains, “The justification for not increasing rates in November was labour market uncertainty following the end of the furlough scheme, but with early jobs data remaining positive, a nearing rate increase looked highly likely. The emergence of a new variant appeared to reshuffle the cards for a while, especially with the hospitality and retail industries already seeing an impact from new restrictions and many businesses facing renewed short staffing issues from isolating team members, but the inevitable rise did indeed come to fruition.
Consumers will be impacted, with the mortgage market already seeing rising interest rates with some cheap fixed-rate deals withdrawn. Undoubtedly businesses will be impacted too, by higher interest rates, higher inflation, or both.
But despite declarations of the end of the era of ‘ultra-cheap’ finance, it’s important to contextualise. The pre-pandemic rate of 0.75% was only marginally above the then record low of 0.5%. The economy remains fragile and even the most ‘hawkish’ economic commentators do not expect or advocate rates going beyond this level in the next 12 months – any increases will be slow and steady. By all historic measures, we will still be operating in a low-rate environment and whilst businesses are carrying significant debt balances, the cost of servicing this debt won’t substantially change. In highly competitive commercial finance markets, there is no imminent prospect of lenders meaningfully increasing prices.”
The evolution of the workforce – Rebecca Evans, Head of HR
Those who could physically work from home experienced a major shift in routine overnight back in March 2020, and for many, nothing has been the same ever since. The change engendered what we now commonly refer to as the “hybrid revolution”: a split between working from home and from offices. And with where we work changing so drastically, many also reviewed when they work, with flexibility rapidly becoming a top ranker in employees’ criteria and more companies even making the leap to 4-day weeks to enhance wellbeing and productivity.
Our Head of HR Rebecca Evans explains, “When the announcement was first made that we would have to work from home we had the benefit of knowing how to work together remotely through operating from five offices around the country and already having remote workers as part of our team, but that’s not to say we didn’t have to adapt to everyone working from their home. Almost two years later, our teams are benefiting from the best of both worlds by being able to use our offices as hubs for collaborative work and in-person catch ups whilst having the opportunity to work from home up to four days a week so they can still enjoy the new work/life balance they’ve learnt to appreciate”.
And if adapting to new ways of working wasn’t enough, another change is on the way, with the most diverse, inclusive, and connected generation seen so far joining the workforce. Gen Z workers – or people born between 1997 and 2012 – bring with them a whole new way of thinking ready to collide with traditional working patterns. From an increased emphasis on mental health, diversity, and social issues to a redefined approach to career building and brand loyalty, the water-cooler moments as we have come to know them could turn into deep learning experiences for all. Rebecca continues, “Although most if not all businesses have already adopted the digital and social ways of working introduced by the last couple of generations, we have a lot to learn from a generation that has grown up deeply connected to the rest of the world from birth – and they’ll have to learn from our shared experiences too. From new social media platforms such as TikTok to a redefined approach to global current events, their joining your company could lead to a whole suite of minor and major revolutions in the way you do business”.
Business with purpose – Andrew Ribbins, Group Head of Sales, and John Lightfoot, Head of Relationship Management
What makes your business stand out from the competition? Although every business has already identified their Unique Selling Points, 2022 will put them to the ultimate test. With new competitors and new ways of connecting with brands emerging almost every day, the pressure to stand out has never been as great.
Group Head of Sales Andrew Ribbins explains, “Why does your business exist? Why should your customers, partners and staff choose you instead of your competitors? And how is your business offering value to your target audience? These are questions every business will need to ask themselves, because your products or services are no longer the sole focus. Personality sells, and yours must shine and be aligned to what your audience expects and demands, or they risk checking out the competition”.
For example, our mission is simple: we want to help keep business moving by supporting the ambitions of our clients. To do that, we offer tailored funding solutions designed to help meet specific requirements, be it taking on new clients, acquiring a specific asset or property or simply helping with paying staff. Head of Relationship Management John Lightfoot explains, “We’re one amongst many non-bank lenders in the UK but we believe that our approach to funding is what sets us apart: we allow technology to empower our people but not replace them, so algorithm decisions don’t get in the way. Not only that but we firmly believe in delivering more than much needed funding – we provide a service that’s designed to meet our clients’ expectations and more. Our approach has helped so many businesses over the last 20 years and many of them have shown their appreciation on Trustpilot already where we proudly hold the industry leading score of 4.9/5 – another testament of how we’re staying true to our purpose.”
Focus on sustainability – John Farquharson, Head of Finance
Over the years science has demonstrated the negative impact of our everyday life on the environment, and many have named this new decade the “make it or break it” phase for our planet and brands who have already turned their sustainability strategy into a selling asset have earned praises from customers.
But sustainability will move beyond performative statements in 2022 as businesses’ responsibility to reduce their environmental impact grows alongside expectations from customers, staff, and shareholders. Head of Finance John Farquharson says, “Customers already know how to draw attention to a company’s impact on the environment based on packaging and the suppliers they use, but next year, pressure will be on to demonstrate just how your business is playing a role in protecting the planet. With younger generations already invested in the climate change conversation and joining the workforce, internal messaging will become as important as external as companies aim to share their efforts and increase trust in their brand”.
Strategies could involve making changes to your ways of working, from printing less to using recycled materials where possible, but also wider upcycling measures such as donating unused office equipment, taking part in litter picking campaigns and helping your teams in their own efforts by sharing resources on how to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle.
Marketing the new normal – Yvonne Balfour, CMO
Although most of us have had to adopt our ways of working since 2020, Marketing teams have seen perhaps one of the greatest transformations when it comes to strategy. With budgets shrinking to moderate the impact of the pandemic and consumer habits shifting dramatically overnight, marketers were tasked with finding new ways to reach an audience.
Chief Marketing Officer Yvonne Balfour explains, “As marketers we’re used to having to adapt and learn as we go because the technology and ways of communicating are always evolving, but the last couple of years required us to do more with less. It will be interesting to see whether marketing budgets will ever go back to pre-pandemic levels now that teams have learnt to work smarter and at a less cost. Although Return On Investment metrics were always relevant, they are now more than ever in a still volatile economic landscape.”
And with a new generation of entrepreneurs and business owners coming into the market, will B2B marketers need to adapt even further to reach new audiences? Yvonne continues, “It took a little time to understand how platforms such as Facebook and Instagram can help B2B marketers connect with their target audience, and there is no doubt that there will be a role to play for more recent social media apps such as TikTok and Snapchat, especially as young entrepreneurs open new ventures. It will be a great challenge to understand how industries such as ours find their voice and connect with a wider audience through these new technologies”.
What are your predictions for 2022?
Next year promises to be full of surprises – and after the last two years, not many of us would be certain to predict exactly what it has in store for businesses. What is for sure is that it will test the resilience of businesses and their ability to adapt – hence the need to review strategies based on what we already know.
We hope our selection of the five defining trends of 2022 will help you plan for a prosperous year and invite you to share your own predictions with us via LinkedIn and Twitter.