As the CEO of an international network, I am fortunate enough to be able to witness the global economic landscape evolving first-hand through my travels. Since the beginning of the year, I have visited nine different countries and learnt first-hand from RSM firms how their clients are reacting and responding to these economic changes.
What has struck me most about the current state of business and economics is the pervasive sense of caution created by the US election and the UK’s vote to leave the EU. If there is anything we can learn from the political upheavals of 2016, it is that flexibility is an essential part of being a good partner to business. When the financial crisis struck, we adapted to it. Almost ten years later we are still adapting but this time the realities of the global economy are even harder to predict.
Speaking with our firms from around the world, the overwhelming trend with their clients at present is to be conservative and not to take any major action until a clearer scenario appears. Clients feel that it is too early to assess the effects of Brexit and Trump other than to say that it has heightened the world political and economic uncertainty and the knock on effect on business will only be able to be assessed in the fullness of time. The global picture seems very much to be a wait and watch approach.
Uncertainty itself brings many challenges however, many of our firms are looking to the opportunities instead. In Brazil for example, the economy in 2016 was terrible, with many investment projects suspended or cancelled altogether. However, our firm is investing time, effort and money, to help clients see this as a temporary situation and one they can overcome. They are helping clients to consolidate their local business while their competitors are walking away.
The business conditions in South Africa are still very challenging but it is predicted that economic growth in South Africa should rebound from almost no growth in 2016 to more than 1% this year which is a positive development. However, economic growth will remain well below population growth which implies that it will be difficult to alleviate poverty, create jobs, and reduce the government budget deficits.
Brexit is of course an issue. In Spain, the economy is growing well and as a result of Brexit our firm has seen an increase in queries from the UK asking to move from there or how to save their assets in the EU. They are also working more closely with Latin America for businesses preparing to move from the US or UK.
In France, growth is flat, however, again our firm has seen good growth figures. They have responded to the market by developing their activities in banking and insurance section and advisory services in healthcare. Brexit has brought our France and UK firms together even closer as they are working together to advise clients investing and doing business in both countries. The outlook is again uncertain though with a general election this year the next government may or may not be business friendly.
Other challenges that we see are linked to human resources. Business conditions in The Netherlands for example has improved significantly, but has led to work-place shortage, fuelling the war for talent especially for audit and tax professionals.
In Asia for example, our Hong Kong firm are reporting more reaction to the recent change of foreign currency policy in China and the RMB Depreciation rather than Brexit and Trump. Most of their clients have reduced their RMB exposure by moving funds from China or investing outside of China. This has resulted in an increase in assisting clients in the structuring and transaction support in their outbound investments. RSM firms are open and sensitive to the needs of their clients - this is one of our greatest assets and we are working to evolve client services to meet the demands of uncertain environments around the world.
However, it is important that we do not become a two-speed world were the healthy economies outpace the ailing. An imbalance in the world economy will result in worse situation for everyone. At RSM, we are dedicated to supporting the middle market companies which are the engines of the global economy. This commitment is reflected in our own growth which was 7.6%1 in 2016. Just as we must confront the challenges our clients are facing, so too must we appreciate the opportunities. Over recent years we have worked hard to help clients seize these opportunities and adapt to the economic environment by offering flexible and smart solutions which are tailored to current and future needs. This is how we will continue to grow together in an uncertain world.
(1) To take account of currency fluctuations, global fee income growth percentage figure is calculated using the average exchange rate between 29.11.15 and 28.11.16 (as supplied by the International Accounting Bulletin) and applied to both 2015 and 2016 fee income totals.