It is time to focus on connecting with the local community rather than the global elite

Keith Skeoch is Chief Executive of Standard Life Aberdeen

While a coordinated global approach to tackling the virus is paramount, one clear trend coming out of this pandemic is ‘localism’ – a focus on local communities, local action and local support.

At Standard Life Aberdeen, we recently withdrew from the 2021 World Economic Forum at Davos and are instead dedicating these resources to high-impact causes closer to home. Our view is that with a significant global recession dawning and the virus creating real hardship in our local communities, we must redirect our time, effort and funds to those causes on our doorstep.

Like many Scottish Financial Enterprise members, we are supporting local charities which are helping people most in need during this difficult time. For example in Edinburgh, SLA’s Sustainability team have donated to Edinburgh Children’s Hospital Trust for emergency medical supplies and supported Edinburgh Cyrenians to enable them to deliver 40,000 meals to the most disadvantaged around the city. We have also placed supporting elderly and vulnerable people who are living alone or isolating at the centre of how we are engaging locally.

The vast majority of SLA colleagues are now in our fourth month of working remotely and without the usual buzz of our offices across Scotland. In being largely restricted to our homes, the social distancing policies to curb the spread of COVID-19 would have been expected to weaken social networks. However, as I have seen both internally and in the community, the opposite has happened. Video conferences, the inspiring and highly-publicised efforts of NHS fundraiser Captain Sir Tom Moore and small acts of neighbourly kindness have certainly encouraged this theme of localism.

The summer months are usually a window for work experience where young people join SLA to learn about the financial services industry. While our offices are closed, we’ve undertaken online workshops for students which will hopefully showcase how SLA is dedicated to investing for a better future. We recognise the importance of our role as a local employer and have committed to making hires in our early careers programmes to give certainty to those starting in the world of work. 

The role of investors like SLA also extends to offering a helping hand to those small and medium businesses currently being squeezed in a socially distanced world. For our fund managers running real estate mandates who have witnessed this squeeze first hand, they have, where appropriate, engaged with smaller occupiers on practical measures to support them through this difficult time. In Aberdeen and Edinburgh we have worked in partnership with some restaurants, kiosk occupiers, hairdressers and businesses in local commercial parks and trade centres, recognising their individual and collective value to the local economy. Offering breathing room where we can to such businesses will hopefully allow for the green shoots of recovery, however small, to show as economies reopen. 

It is a blend of these actions that I hope the financial services industry will take on to heal the economy from the scarring of COVID-19. We regrettably do not know how long the tunnel back to normality is, but it is the small community actions, generosity and greater sense of understanding which gives me optimism for the future.

Published 16 July 2020