Belfast Telegraph

Uncertainty is always there ... so let's get to grips with it

By Judith Totten, Upstream Managing Director

Uncertainty is an overused word at the moment and there's no doubt that this is a real challenge. It's what leads to people holding back from making decisions - on things like investment, capex and diversification.

We need to overcome that obstacle and get on with it. Upstream's advice to clients has always been to agree a plan and execute it.

You might look back and wish you had done things differently - but at least you tried.

NI needs combined thinking. If the executives at Stormont and Westminster could just work out their differences then businesses, funders, advisers, investors and the general population here can function together and collaborate in an atmosphere of respect and trust. We cannot operate in a vacuum with no leadership and no decisions on budgets and so forth.

Business has always got on with it and is still stepping up to fill the void, regardless of what happens "on the hill", but this extended log jam is exceptionally embarrassing - globally.

Companies here have started to overcome their natural conservatism regarding finance. Moving from one bank to four or five different funders has been a big step and it can be outside of old comfort zones.

But the advantages have far outweighed any discomforts. The corporate body has grown in sophistication but the advisory community probably still has a way to go.

Some smaller advisory firms are still stuck in the 'go to the bank' mentality. But even this is slowly changing - Upstream wouldn't exist if that evolution wasn't happening! But there are still more gaps to fill and a lot more education to offer. There is room for still more investment and more funding.

Trade and supply chain finance is one area that I'd highlight as a real gap that Upstream is actively looking to fill this year.

That kind of proactivity is so attractive to clients and their advisers. The message is that there is flexibility and that solutions can be found to match the need.

Looking at Brexit from a business owner's point of view, it might offer 'corporate' NI an opportunity to try and influence the Brexit roadmap in a way that benefits us.

Or, we can just be very compliant and follow suit with what Westminster decides is best for the UK as a whole. Wouldn't it be nice if we could do something different, something that would be tailored to Northern Ireland? If achievable, it could bring a lot of opportunities.

Brexit, in some ways, is an unfortunate distraction. But is there anyone out there who is honestly certain about everything else except Brexit? Is business not all about managing uncertainty? The market will adapt and if we can't overcome Brexit, there is something wrong.

And too much speculation really isn't good for us. NI is an easy sell in terms of cost of living, education and so on - so let's get selling it.

There are undoubted practical issues for us in NI.

A hard border will impact greatly on business and the freedom of movement of people. Currency volatility and the ability to export with confidence are all hot topics - but again, it is the 'not knowing' which is really the biggest challenge.

Clear direction from Westminster and Stormont is required and then we need to get on with it.

  • Judith Totten is managing director of finance business Upstream

Belfast Telegraph

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