“There are decades where nothing happens and weeks where decades happen.” Lenin was indeed correct. The onslaught of critical events since 2020 has left us steeped in seriously volatile times and volatility no longer feels like a transient circumstance. From Brexit and the pandemic to the emergence of AI and inflationary pressures, as well as everything in between, it feels like we cannot stop to take a breath before being faced with yet another dimension of uncertainty.
The UK is two years into a cost of living crisis – and while inflation feels like it’s stabilising, households are still suffering. The same can be said about most national economies, as geopolitical tensions rise and we see the devastating impact of conflicts everyday. We’re also heading into a year where 40 countries, representing 41% of the world’s population, will undergo national elections – including the US and the very real possibility of a second Trump term. At home, we’re off the back of two landmark by-elections for the Labour Party, getting ready for a potential switch after 13 years of Tory leadership. And in the background, temperatures and extreme weather events continue to rise, and accelerating technological advancements lead us to wonder “I, Robot?”.
Looking ahead to 2024 through this lens tells us that outliers have become the norm and there’s no such thing as over preparing. For these, and many other, reasons, we were excited to partner with Vested to explore the impact of this ongoing volatility on the financial services industry in particular. The industry stands at a critical intersection, where the impact of exogenous events has far-reaching consequences for the economy and therefore much of our social fabric.
When looking at the biggest trends impacting the financial services industry in 2024, it’s important to remember that it’s not all doom and gloom – there are opportunities in this environment and we may well see upsides. Three themes stood out from the research, let’s have a look.
The cost of living crisis continues to hit households, and the lag of lasting inflation is being felt by the business community and consumers. Lag-flation impacts our purchasing power and while incomes fail to keep up with inflation, many businesses will likely be impacted by lower demand for services.
People are slightly less worried than they were a year ago, but they’re still very worried – 64% report being worried about the cost of living, with 46% concerned with inflation specifically. The pressure may have eased since salacious headlines about energy costs flooded news websites, but worry persists – and so will consumers’ decisions to curb costs where they can.
Economic power divide
Not all of us are affected equally. While we’re hearing lots about the cost of living crisis, and the impact is certainly felt for large swaths of the population, interest rates have been climbing and savings rates are at their highest in years, meaning that those who were able to accumulate savings during the pandemic are benefiting.
Optimism has crept in as inflationary pressures decrease with 44% of households expecting to save more each month in 2024 – and that figure nearly doubles (75%) when we look at higher-income households.
It’s been an interesting year for sustainability. We started the decade touting ESG as the next frontier, supported by record-breaking numbers of ESG fund launches and returns, but as we reach 2024, sentiment has changed. From record fund outflows to its denigration in the political sphere, the acronym no longer carries the weight it once did.
That said, consumers are still paying attention, especially when it comes to choosing their financial services providers, where sustainability is considered much more heavily compared to when making decisions about buying coffee, clothes, or groceries. With over 54% of high-earners agreeing that it’s important to consider ESG when choosing financial services providers, we may well see increased inflows next year.