‘We too must keep transforming ourselves’

Louise Fletcher, Partner at PwC, describes 2015 as extremely positive. “We achieved around 20% revenue growth across the board, from financial services to the public sector.” Louise expects similar in 2016. “But that’s not a cause for complacency.”  With the economic outlook improving and many companies returning to growth, PwC is changing its offerings. “This isn’t just cyclical, with a shift from cost-cutting to supporting new propositions. Business is experiencing unprecedented change. So we too must keep transforming ourselves to meet the challenges of an evolving marketplace.”

PwC was a major contributor of insight and energy to the MCA’s Year of Digital. Louise affirms Digital’s role as a major driver of change. “Take data. Companies are starting to see it as an asset. But they need our help to interpret it. Data is central to understanding customer needs. Partly because of Digital and partly because of intense price competition in areas like retail, consumers are more empowered than ever. They want customised products and services. When they get that from one supplier, they want it everywhere. Companies need to anticipate customer needs, pre-empt them, and provide products and services specifically designed to enhance consumers’ lives.”

Renewed customer-centricity drives other changes. “Firms need to see consumers as partners, intimately involved in product development. This is about iterative testing and learning, and fluid feedback. Firms must also change how they create value. Consumer needs are complex, involving more than one part of an organisation, or even a value chain spread across a number of firms. Businesses must forge more dynamic partnerships and customer-focused ecosystems.” Louise suggests this consumer revolution is affecting even conservative sectors, such as banking. “We’ve helped financial services institutions cope with increased regulatory pressure since 2008. Now, more enlightened banks see compliance with regulatory requirements on openness as a differentiator to attract customers. Banks also have Digital opportunities. Since money is the most visible indicator of consumer behaviour and wishes, there’s no reason why banks should not be prominent players in (and even integrators of) service and product ecosystems.”

Consulting itself, Louise argues, must create advisory ecosystems, within and between firms, to meet client needs. And there are other challenges. “Many clients know what they want: high impact transformational change options with a balanced set of short and long term returns. They will enter into appropriate performance related agreements. But some client demands are at once more complex, more innovative, but also more vague. Faced with a foreshortened business cycle, fierce competition and the rise of Digital, they know they must innovate quickly. But that doesn’t mean they know precisely what they want. And what they want may not have been invented yet.” Consulting must move from providing clients with certainty into helping them live with uncertainty. “That requires new trust dynamics. Consulting firms used to be hired on track record. Now, clients must assess our effectiveness as evolving and adaptable collaborators across a range of projects.

“To do this well, we must raise our game. We must marshal insights from across our whole business more effectively. And we must renew our focus on outcomes. Of course, it’s easier to measure projects on inputs and outputs. But if we are to be risk-takers, engaged in novel partnerships, then our client relationships should be underpinned by innovative commercials and outcome measures that reward our contribution to core client goals, such as growth.”

In this innovative environment, Louise believes there will nevertheless be a role for longstanding consulting staples, such as a focus on quality deliverables. “Many clients are still looking at their governance, processes, and risk management. Clients prize innovation. That may mean that they do not always know immediately what they want to do. But once they have decided on a course of action, they will want ruthlessly speedy, accurate and high-quality execution. As an industry we will need to develop new skills. But we mustn’t lose sight of our traditional virtues.”

Louise Fletcher, Partner at PwC, was interviewed for the MCA End of Year Report 2015.