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Ties and high heels out as hybrid office return sparks casual comfy boom

Source: Reuters

MADRID, Oct 6 (Reuters) – Spanish fashionista Blanca Lorca once swore by high heels and fitted clothes for the office, but the COVID-19 lockdown has transformed her style sense and shopping habits.

After months working from her sleek Madrid flat, the 31-year-old pharmaceutical company employee is now dressing in neutral tones and slack fits for her three days a week in the office as a partial return gears up around the world.

Eighteen months in loungewear while remote working during the pandemic have left professionals all over Europe hankering for fresh wardrobes as they embrace hybrid working.

It is a boon for hard-hit retailers.

The focus on comfort may have banished ties, dress shoes and high heels, but it has spurred a new desire for versatile clothing: smart enough for the office, but relaxed enough for kitchen table teleconferences.

Personal apparel sales – including clothing, shoes and cosmetics – actually grew 8.5% in the 12 months leading to August, as increasing mobility and back-to-office mandates boosted shopping, according to official data.

In Britain, over a quarter of people surveyed by workplace consultancy Office Group said they would continue dressing less formally even when back in the office, while almost a third plan to experiment with different styles, according to a Bank of America note.

“After being at home for so long, you prefer comfort, but at the same time you want to be stylish enough to be able to go out,” Lorca said, wearing a light shirt and loose-cut trousers as she perused the racks in Zubi, a small boutique in Madrid.

“I look for clothes that will last over time, won’t go out of fashion (and) I can use for everything.”

PYJAMAS AND ZOOM

Big brands are paying attention.

Retailers such as Zara (ITX.MC), Mango and H&M (HMb.ST) are highlighting “smart casual” trousers, shirts and dresses on their websites, alongside the lounge- and sportswear which lockdowns made ubiquitous.

Many of the leading fashion brands have launched new collections for this unique back-to-work season, as easing restrictions and vaccination campaigns drive mobility.

Department store El Corte Ingles, a household name in Spain, said demand for comfortable officewear surged over the summer, accelerating in September as clients returned to offices and business meetings.

Shops successfully achieving pre-pandemic sales levels the fastest are those selling casual or hybrid workwear, according to analysts and fashion retail sources in London and Madrid, where Europe’s high vaccination rates have helped life recover.

Women whose employers mandated partial returns have kept the blouse they would sometimes have worn above pyjama bottoms for Zoom calls, but now pair it with easy trousers and flat shoes, Zubi owner Elena Zubizarreta told Reuters.

Over 78% of Spaniards are fully vaccinated and around 80% of all workers have returned at least part-time, according to a survey by CCOO, the country’s largest trade union.

Few, however, have missed the strictures of formal dressing.

Alberto Gavilan, talent director at staffing agency Addeco, said formal attire was now the exception. “Most people will prefer the business casual code, which has proved so effective and comfortable in recent months,” he said.

‘FASHION HAS CHANGED’

Over half of Spaniards who dressed formally for work pre-pandemic were enthusiastic about buying new clothes for an office return, a June survey by research company Dynata showed – the highest rate among 11 countries surveyed.

The British and Japanese were the least excited, at 19% and 21% each.

Spanish price comparison website Idealo.es said online searches for sport tracksuits dropped 96% from January to August as the vaccination rate increased.

“Fashion has changed and after almost two years away from the workplace you feel like having new things to go back,” said communications specialist Valme Pardo, laying boldly-printed dresses, ample tailored trousers and stretchy blazers on her bed at her Madrid home.

Men also crave comfort.

Lucia Danero, a shopping adviser at El Corte Ingles in Madrid, has noticed a stream of customers looking for a refresh: but the men never ask to try on ties anymore.

“Before, it was unthinkable for a man to go to the office with a sweatshirt … and now we’re seeing it,” she said, strolling through the aisles and pointing out the jeans businessmen now sought.

‘RELAXED CITY’

The trend is global.

International brands Vince,  Me+Em,  Uniqlo  and  The White Company, as well as U.S. and UK retailers such as  Nordstrom  and  John Lewis, are dedicating “site space to modern workwear staples, with a strong emphasis… on seasonless pieces to ensure versatility and longevity,” trend intelligence agency Stylus said in a recent report.

In fact, despite workplace mobility still sagging 30% below pre-pandemic rates, apparel sales are on average 5% higher in major Western markets, Jefferies bank said in a note to clients in September.

Both physical and online sales at fashion behemoth Inditex were even 9% higher in August and the first week of September than pre-pandemic.

The autumn/winter season has had a strong start, executive chairman of Inditex, Pablo Isla, told a conference, before announcing the next Massimo Dutti collection would be called “Relaxed City”.

Yet even as demand recovers, retailers are grappling with disruptions to global supply chains: sales at H&M grew less than expected in the third quarter, before being hampered in September by supply restrictions.

“There’s an urge to get ‘dressed up’ after spending so much time at home… but we’ve gotten used to being comfortable and we want… garments such as unlined blazers and jackets, wider trousers and intricate knitwear,” said Ann-Sofie Johansson, Creative Advisor at H&M.

Backstage at Madrid fashion week, designers bet on new beginnings – which seemed to include bright, non-restrictive dresses and colourful jumpers.

“Heels have been left for very specific moments … But day-to-day people have gotten rid of them, to be much more comfortable,” said Spanish designer Maite Casademunt, whose “Comfy Wild” collection was dominated by dresses, smart loungewear and sports shoes.

Reporting by Clara-Laeila Laudette and Corina Pons in Madrid; Additional reporting by Anna Ringstrom in Stockholm, Joyce Philippe and Arriana Mclymore in New York and Rocky Swift in Tokyo; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Business

Offering certainty to an uncertain PRS

By Paul Foy, CEO, RentGuarantor

The UK private rental sector is facing growing uncertainty. The number of landlords offering properties had already dropped considerably when the government imposed the Tenant Fees Act in 2019, and now, following the pandemic and amidst the current cost-of-living crisis, we are on the verge of a rental crisis – with the average lettings agent having just 11 properties available to rent in July per member branch, and 127 new prospective tenants on average being added to the books.

With the number of properties available already limited, and the recent government whitepaper, ‘A Fairer Private Rental Sector’, proposing drastic changes that are expected to drive more landlords out of the market, tenants looking to move need to make sure they are in a position to make an offer quickly, or else risk losing out on their dream home.  This includes having enough money to pay the deposit, and in most instances providing a guarantor, which is easier said than done in the current financial crisis.

For landlords, the need for a guarantor is becoming ever greater with so many facing financial insecurity. As rising energy bills and higher costs of living continue to put strain on the British public, 400,000 households are already expected to fall behind on their rent payments, meaning landlords need to find a way of ensuring they can still receive rent payments – so as to cover their own costs and income. The issue, however, is that the crisis is affecting us all, and a friend or family member acting as a guarantor may well find themselves in a position where they are unable to pay the rent themselves.

Evictions aren’t beneficial for either party and, despite how they can sometimes be presented in the media, most landlords care about the wellbeing of those renting their properties. But with rent arrears being a top concern for landlords, and 78% of tenants being worried about how they will pay rent, there is a clear need for additional support to be extended to all within the private rental sector.

Extra security for landlords

The last few years have seen landlords subjected to a great deal of uncertainty around their rental properties. Changing laws, the pandemic and the current cost-of-living crisis have all come together to spur an increase in due diligence when looking at prospective tenants and the security of the tenancy. This has in turn led to an increased demand for tenants to have a guarantor, rising by 36% over the past 4 years.

As financial pressure mounts for many in the country, that need for a guarantor is only expected to rise, but with the increased living costs hitting the majority of people it can dampen the stability granted by a personal guarantor.

Instead, many landlords are recommending tenants use a company guarantor, offering them a guarantee that is underwritten by an insurance company, and providing an additional level of security to both the landlord and tenant. On top of this a professional guarantor service grants the landlord with the peace of mind that any situation arising from a tenant falling into arrears would be managed on their behalf – including eviction in the rare circumstances where it should come to that.

Additional support for tenants

As well as the benefits afforded to landlords, rent guarantor services also provide a much-needed lifeline for prospective tenants. With the private rental sector currently facing a major housing shortage, having the right provisions in place when making an offer could be the difference between securing or losing that dream home.

The service provided by a rent guarantor company means tenants can quickly provide a guarantor when needed, without having to negotiate any awkward or uncomfortable conversions with friends or family members, and can often have a completed application within minutes – only paying once the contract has been signed.

Additionally, the majority of these services offer the option to pay in instalments, taking away the pressure of paying a lump sum up front – which can be a daunting prospect in today’s financial climate. This can, through some companies, include an upfront deposit payment that can be added to the instalments, further reducing the cost burden tenants face and helping to streamline the moving process.

A necessary service in an uncertain sector

While relatively new to the UK, rent guarantor companies provide an important service, which guarantees landlords will receive their payments. In turn, this takes away the financial pressure and concerns of the tenant by granting them a reliable guarantor that will back them if they’re unable to afford rent. With many of these services underwritten by some of the UK’s largest insurance firms, they can provide an invaluable level of security during these difficult times.

While the future of the PRS is still uncertain, and there are likely to be many more hurdles to overcome in the near future, the services provided by rent guarantor companies can at least provide some respite during the current crisis we are facing – offering the extra support needed by both tenant and landlord.

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Business

How to prioritise your customers’ mental health by sharing vulnerability data

Source: Finance Derivative

Author: Tim Farmer, Co-founder and Clinical Director at Comentis

The Consumer Duty and its ramifications are certainly starting to permeate through the financial services sector as a whole. That being said, we still have a long way to go and for financial advisers to make truly informed decisions on the important topic of customer vulnerability, all parties involved in the distribution chain will need to work much more closely together.

Collaboration is key.

If all parties in the distribution chain start to share their vulnerability data more intelligently, and take a more joined-up approach, they will begin to offer a considerably improved customer experience. But most importantly, they will help to ensure that their customer feels truly safe when sharing their story. After all, having to go through the emotional turmoil of sharing their experiences again and again – to multiple different providers – is only going to cause the customer greater anxiety. In some cases, it may even lead to them feeling unsafe to share their story.

I believe safely sharing customer data around vulnerability can actually ease a customer’s anxiety, reduce their stress and help to engender long-term trust between customer and adviser. I would even go so far as to say that a lack of joined up thinking can, unfortunately, allow some incredibly vulnerable people to slip through the net. Ultimately, failing to share data that is this important will only be to the detriment of the individual.

Vulnerability assessments can vary.

When we look at a customer / adviser relationship, we will of course note that who the customer is speaking to and where that conversation takes place will affect the way they feel. For instance, they might open up during a vulnerability assessment because they feel like they’re in a safe space, but then may not in further vulnerability assessments because they don’t feel safe or simply don’t trust one of the other providers they’re engaging with.

Alternatively, the customer might believe that because they have already laid their vulnerabilities out to one provider, they shouldn’t need to do so again to someone else. After all, they might (understandably) assume that all salient information would be passed over.

The other concerning possibility is that when a person tells a difficult story again and again, they forget who they have told which detail to and leave certain elements out the next time they tell it, merely because that information has already been shared at another stage. You can begin to see, without a fully joined up approach, how much potential exists for important information to be dropped.

Why we need an industry standard.

So, what can be done? And upon whose shoulders should responsibility rest, to ensure that key details about a customer’s vulnerabilities aren’t missed?

What we need is an industry standard of information sharing, that works across all product providers. This not only needs joined up thinking, but smart ways of working from a technology point of view. Providers should be using the same platform for inputting key information, and indeed, for intelligently digesting the vulnerability data that comes out.

It’s here that I believe a triage system would really benefit the financial services industry. Creating a triage system, much like you would experience when a patient physically attends an Accident and Emergency room at hospital, would allow all the right information to be gathered upfront and then shared safely and correctly down the distribution chain. This would ensure that the customer avoids needless repetition, continues to feel safe sharing their story in a different setting and won’t have to worry about missing out a key detail. It will also take the emphasis off the customer, who is going to be feeling very raw and exposed and puts it back onto the providers. After all, this is their responsibility.

Put the customer at the heart of all decisions.

The key here is transparency, detailed disclosure and ensuring all providers adhere to the same technology and ways of working. A practical and pragmatic guide or industry standard recognised by all would of course be very beneficial too. Until then however, a collaborative solution by all providers must be agreed – and it must prioritise the customer.

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Business

KICKSTART YOUR SAVINGS WITH THESE TIPS

Source: Finance Derivative

By Shelley van der Westhuizen, financial well-being strategy & applied research at Alexforbes

We often hear people talking about short-term, medium-term or long-term savings. But as an individual or family, it may be more useful to think about what your savings are for, like saving for a home, or a holiday, rather than time-based goals. This approach also helps you work out how much you need to invest for each goal you’re saving for.

Financial Planning Month in October reminds us of the need to have financial goals and to work towards achieving them over time. While many of us are battling to afford our expenses, it can seem quite daunting to also think about saving. The first challenge is making it through the month spending less than you earn.

Your three most important savings questions

To get started, there are three questions that help you work out how much to save regularly:

  • What do I want or need to save for? This is the goal.
  • How much does it cost?
  • How much time do I have until I need the money? For example, you might work out that you need R100 000 for your child’s studies when they finish school, seven years from now.

Considering your various goals and different time periods, which financial products to use and factoring in your expected investment returns, you may begin to feel overwhelmed. This is where a qualified financial adviser can help with a suitable financial plan that you can put into action.

Some savings come first

While we can work on saving for different goals at the same time, we also need to prioritise and manage debt. If you’re worrying about your debt or spending most of your money on debt repayments or have some overdue accounts, it’s time to get help. In the Alexforbes financial courage survey, over 80% of respondents said that they spent most of their time worrying while dealing with their finances. Almost 75% of people attribute their financial stress to debt worries. This means that money worries caused by being over-indebted often interfere with work and quality of life.

The value of protection

One of the ways to avoid becoming over-indebted is to prioritise emergency savings. Having emergency savings is an important part of achieving financial goals because, even if you’re not over-indebted, it means that any other savings you have can be used for their intended purpose.

Once you’ve considered your expenses, including your debt, and have built up your emergency savings buffer against unexpected things going wrong, it’s time to consider your other savings goals.

One of your financial goals is to have enough to live on one day when you can’t work any longer. When Alexforbes asked people if they knew how much of their salary they needed to save to have enough to live on when they got older, 94% didn’t know. Most people would be surprised to find out that they need to save around 17% of their income for 40 years, and always keep their retirement savings invested. In this way, they can enjoy a pension that is about three-quarters of the salary they were earning just before they stop working. How much you need to save for retirement and other goals is a very important personal question that needs an answer and depends on your circumstances.

Being realistic

By the beginning of 2021 the number of people contributing regularly to their own savings had fallen by 28%. Moreover, the average savings amount of those still contributing regularly had decreased by 23%according to Deloitte, The State of the South African Consumer Tracker. If you’re struggling to make good progress towards your financial goals now, you’re not alone. It may be a good idea to invest your energy in what you can manage while times are tough like reducing your spending wherever possible or growing your skills.

End financial anxiety

According to The State of the South African Consumer, our consumers are the fourth most financially anxious in the world. Over 33% of consumers spend more than they can afford.Combined with taking more control of our finances by following some of these suggestions, spending less on nice-to-have items may be a good way to reduce any financial anxiety you might have and have more financial success ahead.

Knowing how much you’ll need is a first step towards knowing how much to save each month. There are some fun tools to help you discover this information for yourself, like the Alexforbes My Retirement Picture(https://retirements.digital.alexanderforbes.co.za/), that’s available to everyone.

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