Sustainability trends and challenges in the finance industry through a global pandemic COMMENTARY May 11, 2020

Oak Group’s senior client relationship manager, James Christie, addresses the latest industry conference he attended before the world locked down and how monumental changes to our way of life have introduced challenges to overcome in a post-Coronavirus landscape.

It seems almost incomprehensible that I was representing Oak Group as a sponsor amongst some 3,000 attendees at SuperReturn Berlin only two short months ago. The new Coronavirus was in the public consciousness but, aside from more emphasis on hand washing and the use of hand sanitisers, the virus was still largely seen as someone else’s problem. Sitting at home now in isolation and thinking back to that week in late February, meeting and shaking hands with scores of friends, acquaintances and strangers, it is nigh on impossible to reconcile that world with the one which we now inhabit.

These circumstances have allowed time for reflection on some of the industry trends that were presented at the conference, including technology advances and climate change.

A key theme of the event was the so-called fourth industrial revolution and its accompanying swift developments in technology. It is fair to say that our industry has had to learn and adapt fast, becoming heavily reliant on remote information technology now that working from home has become the norm. A new world where Microsoft Teams and Zoom have all but replaced regular travel and face-to-face meetings.

Another monumental change over the last two months had been the effect of widespread lockdowns on the environment. The almost complete grounding of the world’s airline industry and severe restrictions on all other forms of transport have led to improved air quality and plummeting greenhouse gas emissions. A whole day of SuperReturn was dedicated to ESG best practice and how we, as industry professionals, could implement a framework for measuring and reporting standards, whilst adapting towards a future low carbon economy. Little did we know that Covid-19 would contribute as it has to lowering carbon emissions.

One of the great long-term challenges will be how we continue to utilise the new methods of communication and virtual meetings after the pandemic has receded, to continue the positive contribution to reducing greenhouse emission whilst allowing us still to satisfy requirements, such as the economic substance rules, a regime that has been driving a need for increasing rather than reducing our carbon footprints.

At Oak Group, a more immediate challenge will be how to contribute as a regular sponsor to industry during the lockdown, and how we can continue to work alongside peers and complementary service providers, together with Guernsey’s financial services promotional body, We Are Guernsey, without access to the traditional forums of conferences and seminars etc. It has never been more important to ensure that Guernsey remains in the forefront of industry minds whilst our borders are temporarily closed and our access to London and other capital cities remains off limits.