Synergy London: An eye-opening day

Sophie Gane

30/06/2017
Categories: Industry, Tech, Wellbeing

On 29th June, Benefex attended Synergy London – a conference hosted by Solium and our partners at Barclays.

The day took place at the shabby-chic, I’m-not-cool-enough-to-be-here Carousel, just off Baker Street, which, in places looked like a rustic country kitchen, elsewhere looked like a progressive outsider art studio, and also sported a Game of Thrones-esque chair but with lightbulbs instead of swords. The aim of the day was to bring together a myriad of financial sector professionals to share their insights into various topical issues within the industry, but also to expand their learning into a few off-piste subjects as well. Personally, I was there to assist Gethin during his presentation, and also to enhance my understanding of an industry which is related to, but not entirely within, my HR-sector comfort blanket. Plus, the chocolate chip cakes were in the shape of clogs, which was greatly amusing.

The state of the nation

The day kicked off with a subject that affects us all, particularly at this moment: politics. Whatever your personal opinions of Brexit and of recent elections at home and abroad, there’s no doubt that we’ve all been “a bit of a politician” recently, which is great; it means we’re engaged in our current state of affairs. James Heal, Head of Government Relations at Barclays delivered an interesting, impartial, and – believe it or not – very funny presentation on the recent snap election, the “coalition that isn’t a coalition” between the Conservatives and the DUP, and, of course, Brexit. As well as being incredibly eye-opening (I didn’t know that the decision to call an election was made by just four people, two of whom have since lost their jobs, and the other two are the PM and her husband), it was refreshing to cut through the media frenzy and hear the plain facts (from someone who really is an expert) about what on earth is going on right now in the UK and EU. Unfortunately, the key takeaways were that, from an economic and reputational perspective, the UK is not particularly stable, the EU is holding most of the cards when it comes to negotiations, and a recession in the next few years is a strong possibility. However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom (remember when I said it was funny); James highlighted that there will be positives to being a free agent; for example, future negotiations will only concern the UK and will happen quicker. Plus, overall, young people are becoming interested in politics and are going out to vote, which is due, in large part, to Jeremy Corbyn and a great PR campaign.

Income inequality

Next up, we divided into two streams. As I’ve not (yet) mastered the art of being in two places at once, I went to ‘Financial inequality & how share plans can help’ with Gabbi Stopp from ProShare. Gabbi gave us some really quite shocking statistics on how the wealth of the UK is divided. For example; the richest 1000 people in the UK possess more wealth than the poorest 40% of households. One in 10 employees are so worried about money that it keeps them up at night. Electricity and gas prices have gone up 73% in the last 10 years; wages have not. And, most worryingly, 6.8 million of the UK’s households in poverty are, in fact, working households. Gabbi went on to explain how Save As You Earn and Share Incentive Plan schemes can help participants to improve their overall financial health, and, coupled with financial education programmes, can become more economically savvy. One interesting point she made was that so many people say they “can’t afford” to save, when actually they don’t have a full synopsis of where their money goes. Her figures showed that everyone – from your lowest paid employees, right up to your highest earners – can benefit from having a complete overview of their finances; what they’re spending, what they’re saving, and how much of an advantage SAYE or SIP can be. She closed with quoting Warren Buffet: “Do not save what is left after spending, but spend what is left after saving.

The employee experience

Then our own Gethin Nadin took to the stage to tell us all about the employee experience. Gethin explained how, although the HR industry often concentrates on employee engagement as though it’s a product, engagement is actually the outcome of a collection of meaningful, positive experiences at work. “Engagement initiatives” have amounted to nothing more than an adrenaline shot, to which employees are quickly becoming immune. So, Benefex is the first HR technology provider to focus on the employee experience. The way we see it, fixating solely on engagement is like hoping for a great football score before you’ve even decided which players are going to be on the pitch. Gethin went on to explain how the employee experience begins the moment your people start their recruiting process. He also discussed the role that technology plays. Employees are increasingly more efficient and productive when they are connected by technology, so if the technology we use at work is old or not fit for purpose, it can actually demoralise and frustrate employees. So, through technology, what Benefex hone in on is taking those small stresses out of every working life. People on average have to deal with 28 different systems at work; a huge chunk of which are HR systems. So, if you can simplify this and allow people to remember just one login and one password via which they can access everything they need in order to be productive at work, you’re giving your employees a great experience, and they’re more loyal, productive, and inspired because of it.

Surviving Artificial Intelligence

After a great lunch and a bit about Solium’s roadmap, we were treated to ‘Surviving Artificial Intelligence’ with author and AI thought-leader, Calum Chace. Honestly, this presentation was quite unsettling. Calum explained how we are beyond the point where we can stop AI developing faster than human intelligence; it has already overtaken us, and is developing its “brain” capacity at an accelerated rate to humans. What is to our advantage, however, is that it isn’t conscious. AI is not capable of “unfriendly” or unsafe without human influence in its design. Many people take a very ‘Doomsday’ view of AI; the robots are going to rise up and eliminate us, and, although he admits it’s a possibility, he concedes that this scenario isn’t likely. If we get AI right, it will serve to make humans almost godlike. He went on to explain how, yes, it will replace a lot of humans in the workforce. It’s cheaper, more efficient, and doesn’t need to eat or sleep in order to do a good job. Self-driving cars will, ultimately, cause fewer road accidents, and we will probably see them emerging on a large scale around the 2020-2022 mark. It was an incredibly interesting and insightful presentation. I would tell you all about his “Star Trek” theory of how to deal with employment replacement, but you’ll have to go and order one of his books, just like I did on the train home from London.

Overall, Synergy London was an informative and engaging day, and I came away with a sense that it was a day very well-spent. If you’d like to see more of what went on, take a look at our Twitter, or check out #SynergyLondon online.

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