Consultants share their predictions for 2021

04 January 2021 6 min. read

As a new year brings an end to some long-running issues, while posing a whole new list of uncertainties, many firms still face countless challenges regarding digitalisation, workplace relations and new ways of working. To help clients prepare for the future, consultants from a range of different specialisms have offered their views on what the key trends for the coming 12 months may be.

A great deal of uncertainty surrounds the future of the consulting industry, the UK and the global economy in the coming year. With Brexit finally concluding, and British companies still battling to overcome a productivity crisis, the slow roll out of a vaccine and potentially dangerous new variants of Covid-19 could create a perfect storm. As well as challenges, there will be opportunities – and a number of leading consultants have recently published predictions for the key trends businesses will be tapping into in the coming months.

To that end, as Re_Set announced its expectations for the coming year, James Bidwell, co-founder of the consultancy, said, “As we near the end of one of the most disrupted and tumultuous years in living memory and face into Covid and Brexit, we look forward to 2021 with optimism. Ours is a perspective that encourages leaders across all walks of life to harness the emerging forces of disruption to create a better future.” 

“Our thesis is that disruption can be, and indeed is, a competitive advantage, whatever your trade. Understanding and responding in the right way to the major forces of disruption will also build resilience into your organisation, people and business model.”

Consultants predictions for 2021

Illustrating this further, throughout 2020, the coronavirus had a profound impact on independent consulting, leaving many freelance advisors with less income and delayed project work. The traditionally travel-intensive industry initially struggled to cope with the sudden shift to remote work. In spite of this, looking ahead, independent consulting network Comatch’s UK&I Managing Director Charlotte Gregson expects that following a period of adjustment, many independents will now be better to thrive in 2021.

“Being experts in adopting quickly, independent consultants have proven to be ideally equipped for the challenges and changes ahead,” Gregson expanded. “Consultants have traditionally worked long hours and travelled considerably as the job has demanded. The legacy of 2020… has not only challenged this established view but will lead to a rebuttal of the idea that the ideal consultant is necessarily the one that is present and available in-location.”

“There will always be a certain demand for travel – both from the business and consultant – but the image that this is the only way to go will hopefully change with the post-Covid consultant able to deliver the high-quality results of pre-pandemic, but in a different manner.”

A number of experts also issued forecasts relating specifically to certain industries. According to Kevin Westcott, Technology, Media & Telecom leader of Deloitte’s US wing, the global telecom sector’s adoption of technology will continue to accelerate in 2021, thanks to the boom in remote working seen during the lockdown months.

Westcott explained, "If we've learned anything during this challenging year, it's how critical technology, telecom, media, and entertainment innovation is for business continuity, keeping in touch with friends and family, appreciating new ways to entertain and learn, and taking care of our health. The pandemic will continue to shape business strategies in 2021, and consumers will expect faster, more reliable and safer user experiences. TMT companies that can address these customer needs, while rebuilding their industries for growth, will likely emerge as leaders next year and beyond."

Looking at the way the UK’s actuarial market has been impacted by the pandemic, meanwhile, consulting firm Mercer has forecast continued growth in risk transfers during 2021, with close to £60 billion of bulk annuities, longevity swaps and new risk transfer solutions projected.

Andrew Ward, UK Head of Risk Transfer and DB Journey Planning at Mercer, said that the increase is expected to be driven by a variety of factors, including better affordability as more schemes mature, increased demand from schemes and sponsors following the pandemic and innovation to meet the challenges faced by defined benefit pension schemes. 

Ward elaborated, “We predict that 2021 will be the busiest year on record with the return of ‘mega’ buy-in and buy-out deals and longevity swaps. Given the growing range of risk transfer solutions available to trustees and sponsors, it is more important than ever that advisers provide clear guidance to help them identify the right path to achieve the best outcomes for all stakeholders.” 

Human resources will arguably continue to see the biggest shift of any sector, however. Working from home, the possibility of economic fallout from both the pandemic and Brexit, and a whole host of other huge changes on the horizon mean that 2021 is guaranteed to be a year like no other. According to Roger Philby, Founder and CEO at talent consultancy The Chemistry Group, the workplace transformation already seen in 2020 looks set to continue deep into the next 12 months, with various questions still unanswered.

“By the time it’s safe to return to the office, it’s likely that many will have spent a year or even more working from home. Despite the challenges, and there have been a lot of challenges, employees are now aware of how possible it is to work effectively from home, adapting and learning new skills exceedingly well. This impressive resiliency is reflected in The Chemistry Group’s own research findings; 82.7% of workers stated that they have been able to successfully adapt their routine and 71% have been working effectively," Philby stated.  

He added, “As employees continue to successfully adapt and implement extra flexibility we could start to see the 9 to 5 working day become more fluid, with companies letting employees work from home two or more days per week; or employees choosing their own hours. This greater flexibility could also allow employees to take on caregiving responsibilities without having to give up work. Working parents, particularly single parents, who might have otherwise had to leave a role are able to stay in work. Such flexibility could even work to support more women in leadership positions, with neither women nor men needing to sacrifice the home or the work domain.”