by Benny Higgins
As featured on Insider, Benny Higgins, Non-Executive Chairman of AAB Wealth discusses recent events, his role in the Scottish Government's Advisory Group on Economic Recovery post COVID-19, and why he thinks that the twin foundations for both economic recovery and financial planning are trust and truth.
Some words of the Danish existentialist philosopher Soren Kierkegaard have resonated very powerfully in my mind during this crisis. He said “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” We have all taken stock of our lives and surveyed our priorities. Like many I’m sure, I am determined to make sure that I do not leave what matters most at the mercy of what matters less. By every measure we are living through a great crisis, and there is a school of thought that what lies beyond the immediate crisis will be very different from the so-called old normal. Whilst that may be true on some levels, there is a strong likelihood that the emergency acts as a catalyst to accelerate the previous direction of travel rather create a definitive turning point.
We must hope that the enforced period of reflection provides renewed impetus in our desire to tackle the climate emergency and create a robust circular economy – one in which we reduce significantly our dependency on scarce or harmful natural resources. The scale of inequality in our society has been exposed and illuminated during these past few months. To stand back and do nothing is untenable for the wellbeing of our society. A more equal society will be a more resilient one, and the criticality of resilience has been emphasised by living with this impenetrable virus. We need to be ready for the next crisis not the last one. Next time it may be another pathogen, or be climate-related, or result from a cyber attack.
In setting out to create what is described as a wellbeing economy, it is imperative that we do not sacrifice economic growth. The Advisory Group on Economic Recovery which I chaired recently concluded that three themes dominate the outlook for Scotland; namely inequality, education, and unemployment. It is essential that we generate strong underlying economic growth to support the generation of desperately needed new jobs as the temporary financial support schemes run their course. Let us not forget that 80% of jobs in Scotland are in the private sector. Over 98% of private sector firms employ less than 50 employees. Education will be vital in our recovery. We must focus on developing the right skills for the 21st century, delivering apprenticeships, re-skilling, and pivoting to lifelong learning. Our university sector has been the envy of many around the world. Now is the time to redefine how world class research translates in to world class development and commercialisation. It can be argued that inequality arises in part from broad education competing ineffectively in a race with technology.
Last year I became Non-Executive Chairman of financial planning firm AAB Wealth, and I was attracted to the role for two very simple reasons; the integrity of the leadership at the firm, and their approach of focusing on clients’ personal goals and doing so from first principles. There has never been a more important time to take this surefooted approach. We face huge economic uncertainties with a background of great power discord, fragile international cooperation, and no clear end to the pandemic. The best leadership in this unimaginable health crisis has been characterised by its relationship to the truth. As we navigate the parlous economic path that lies ahead we must do so on the twin foundations of trust and truth.