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Industry roundup: 21 July

A third of UK business leaders unhappy with how they handled the pandemic

A third of UK business leaders say the pandemic forced them to prioritise financial and productivity over employee wellbeing, according to research from NerdWallet. The finance comparison platform commissioned an independent survey of 989 decision-makers within UK businesses. It found that 34% were not satisfied with the way staff have been managed throughout the pandemic, with 33% admitting that employees’ health and safety has not always been their number one priority.

NerdWallet’s survey found that 43% of UK businesses have asked or expected for staff to work in the office since the start of the pandemic. When lockdown restrictions are fully lifted, 45% expect all staff to return to the office.

Positively, almost half (49%) have invested in new office equipment to improve health and safety and better facilitate social distancing, while 53% have allowed greater flexibility in the hours that employees work. 

A further 47% of UK businesses have made cuts elsewhere so they could allocate additional resources to support employee wellbeing. Over two fifths (42%) have allocated more financial resource to support their physical health. Three in five (59%) companies plan to conduct a review of how they handled the pandemic to see what lessons could be learnt.

"Businesses have been forced to make many difficult decisions over the past 18 months," said Nic Redfern, financial director of NerdWallet. "And evidently, many managers haven’t always been able to keep staff welfare as their main priority in the face of many new challenges brought about by Covid-19. Some business leaders are frustrated and dissatisfied with the way they or their company have handled the pandemic. It reflects just how troubling it has been for decision-makers as they have attempted to balance the security or survival of their business with the health, safety and wellbeing of employees. Clearly, the right balance has not always be struck. But it is positive to see that the majority of businesses will review their handling of the Covid-19 crisis to assess what they can learn from it."


Hazeltree and Lionpoint partner on treasury management modernisation for private capital markets

Hazeltree, a provider of integrated treasury management and portfolio finance solutions for investment managers, and Lionpoint Group, a global consulting firm for digital transformation in the alternative investments industry, have announced a strategic alliance. Working with Hazeltree, Lionpoint officially launched its Treasury Management practice, focusing on private capital markets, including private equity and debt, real estate, and infrastructure.

Lionpoint’s Treasury Management practice will advise clients on how to effectively reengineer their cash, treasury and operational processes to implement Hazeltree’s treasury solution. Partnering with Hazeltree, both firms bring together industry-specific treasury management technology with consulting and professional services expertise specifically designed for private capital market clients.

"By and large, the treasury management function at private capital market asset managers is still relegated to banking portal technology supported by any number of spreadsheet-based processes," said Jonathan Balkin, co-founder and executive director at Lionpoint. "The industry is just now turning to technology to support their cash and credit line processes, through workflow and data integration. The primary motivator of change is vastly improved internal controls and operational efficiencies."


Square launches suite of business banking products

Square has launched Square Banking, a suite of financial products designed to help small business owners more easily manage their cash flow. Coming on the heels of Square’s industrial bank, Square Financial Services, beginning operations in March, Square Banking represents a milestone in the firm's efforts to expand access to financial tools for underbanked populations and marks the beginnings of the company’s journey to provide more banking solutions to small businesses.

Square Banking consists of three core products designed to help small business owners manage cash flow stress: two new deposit accounts, Square Savings and Square Checking, join Square’s existing lending capability, now called Square Loans. By offering essential banking tools that work seamlessly with Square’s ecosystem of solutions like payments and Square Payroll, the firm says sellers now have a single home for their entire business, gaining a unified view of their payments, account balances, expenditures, and financing options.

"Small businesses are the heartbeat of our communities and our economy," said Christina Riechers, head of Product at Square Banking. "From our earliest days, Square has focused on building easy-to-use tools and services to empower entrepreneurs to succeed on their own terms. Historically, small businesses have had to contend with numerous hurdles while trying to access vital financial services that are often readily available to larger companies. With Square Banking, we’ve reimagined the financial system for small business owners with their cash flow needs at the centre."


Northern Trust Asset Management launches quality low volatility low carbon world strategy

Northern Trust Asset Management (NTAM) has announced the launch of the Quality Low Volatility Low Carbon World (QLV Low Carbon) Strategy, an actively managed quantitative strategy focusing on high-quality, low-volatility stocks while maintaining lower carbon footprint relative to the MSCI World Index (benchmark).

The QLV Low Carbon strategy aims to reduce a portfolio’s carbon footprint, seeking a reduction in the carbon intensity of the portfolio and potential emissions from fossil fuel reserves, relative to its benchmark. As of the inception date, the strategy achieved a 50% reduction in carbon intensity relative to the benchmark. Through tight risk controls, the strategy aims to limit sector and regional biases that can create unintended and/or uncompensated risks in a low volatility strategy.

"Many low volatility strategies tend to have high carbon intensity due to their overweight exposure to high carbon sectors that have lower volatility, notably utilities, which contributes to almost 50% of the carbon intensity of the MSCI World Index," said Michael Hunstad, head of quantitative strategies at NTAM. "With an increased investor focus on carbon reduction across portfolios, this leads many investors to forego using low volatility strategies. Designed to limit exposure to both volatility and carbon, while employing risk efficiently and without sacrificing performance, the strategy helps investors manage climate risk while achieving their investment objectives. This is aligned with NTAM’s fundamental investment tenet: investors should be compensated for the risks they take in all market environments and any investment strategy."

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