‘Dealing with change in a volatile world’ was the title for our annual conference in Edinburgh. Back in the middle of 2007 when we started planning, I doubt any of us anticipated just how topical our content would be – and how appropriate would be the contribution of our keynote speakers.
We heard challenging addresses from Mervyn Davies (Chairman, Standard Chartered), James Smith (Chairman, Shell UK) and James Wolfensohn (Former President, World Bank). The persistent theme coming through from all of them was the extent to which there are “tectonic shifts” happening in the world around us. Each made a plea that in whatever roles we currently hold we should personally and organisationally recognise the social, political and indeed the financial consequences of the way the world is changing. I would suggest that all who heard the speeches were privileged to do so and I hope that all feel as challenged as I do by the implications of what we heard.
Angela Knight, the Chief Executive of the British Bankers’ Association, delivered a forthright and robust defence of the banking sector and then joined our other panellists for the Question Time session chaired by Andrew Neil. Inevitably much of the focus remained on banking and credit crunch issues but our excellent group of panellists had much to contribute across a range of issues. Martin McCourt (Chief Executive Officer, Dyson) described in his address the extraordinary story of Dyson’s growth into a global but still privately owned appliances business.
All of our discussions in Edinburgh were of course against the background of a financial and business environment that remains volatile and more uncertain than at any stage in my career. A prevailing view held by many is that we are now starting to see the economic consequences that have been well predicted to follow the initial series of credit crunch crises. That has obviously been signalled by some of the UK retail news emerging in the post Easter period. Closer to home for many of our members are of course the financing challenges that have developed in the new credit environment. The ACT has responded to this by producing a guidance note on ‘Contingency planning for a downturn in the economy’ – available now on our website. This has been produced by our Policy and Technical team and highlights the actions that we encourage treasurers to take in order to prepare for and work through a market in which access to funding has become substantially more difficult.
Against this rather gloomy external background the ACT now begins its new financial year. With much of our substantial programme of change in our qualifications either complete or underway we will look forward to further growth in the global take-up of these over the next twelve months. The activities that we provide for members and others are also becoming increasingly international and the links between these and our publishing work are close and will remain so. In order to reinforce this we have recently merged the two committees that separately helped us on events and publishing. The new combined committee is being chaired by one of our Council members, James Douglas, and we look forward to benefiting from the focus of the committee on the key issues impacting practitioners in treasury, risk and corporate finance.