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How can businesses prepare for Brexit?

At a glance

  • Formal negotiations have now begun to bring about the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union
  • Our latest roundtable event heard businesses’ concerns over Brexit and offered helpful guidance
  • We look at what the roundtable revealed about how you can prepare for the potential impacts of Brexit

On 19 June, formal talks began in Brussels to negotiate the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union. That same day, we hosted a Brexit roundtable event for staff, customers and brokers at our offices in London.

The event was led by Andrew Myhill, Zurich’s UK Corporate and Public Affairs Manager, and Theo Leonard, Head of Business Stakeholder Engagement at the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU).

Andrew opened the event, outlining how recent events, such as the surprise general election result, may have made the prospect of a “softer” Brexit more likely.

Theo then explained the important role of DExEU, which invites and encourages lobbying from businesses to help ensure their views are represented in Brexit negotiations.

Recruiting and retaining staff

Theo explained that, in DExEU’s discussions with businesses since its establishment last July, access to talent had been the issue raised most consistently.

“We have received a very clear message from businesses up and down the country that being able to access talent and attract skilled staff is a real concern,” he said.

“A very specific part of the early negotiations will focus on workforce issues, such as the future status of EU citizens already working here.”

Additional concerns regarding Brexit

While workforce issues were a clear priority for many, other common concerns included:

  • What transitional arrangements might exist after the UK exits the EU, and how long they would be in place for
  • How the current passporting system, which enables EU banks and financial services companies to trade freely in any other member state, will be affected
  • The dates at which key milestones in the negotiations are likely to be reached.

Uncertainty is an overarching issue

Lack of clarity over when key issues will be agreed is a major concern for many businesses, as it is making it harder for them to prepare for the big operational decisions they may need to take.

In a question-and-answer session, one attendee, a broker, said: “If we reach the stage where there’s only 12 months until we exit the EU and we still don’t have clarity, then it almost becomes a ‘hard Brexit’ by default.

“From our business’s point of view, the worst case scenario is that we execute our contingency plan too early and move hundreds of staff around the globe unnecessarily.”

Key actions for businesses

During the discussions, key themes emerged around what businesses can do to prepare for Brexit, and how they can ensure their concerns are heard.

1. Impact analysis – Businesses should ensure they have carried out a detailed Brexit impact analysis.

The roundtable heard how some firms, including multinationals, have not yet properly considered the potential impact on key aspects of their business, such as supply chains.

2. Engaging with others – Businesses should be proactive in engaging with government and other influential organisations. For example, by speaking with:

  • DExEU
  • Government departments most relevant to their sector
  • Trade associations.

Theo said: “Ministers listen to what the CBI, the FSB and other trade associations have to say. Businesses can either view that as a cause for concern – because it can make it harder for them to be heard individually – or a reason to engage with such bodies to help their messages get through to government.”

We have received a very clear message from businesses up and down the country that being able to access talent and attract skilled staff is a real concern.”
Theo Leonard, Head of Business Stakeholder Engagement at the Department for Exiting the European Union

3. Evidence-based approach – To succeed in influencing Brexit negotiations, businesses will need to evidence how they will be affected.

For example, details on the nationalities of your workforce and why it would be difficult to source the same skills from outside the EU, will aid discussions on the impact of changes in immigration policy.

Theo said: “One business we spoke to was able to provide compelling evidence about the reduction in the number of job applications due to uncertainty over the status of EU citizens in the UK. This kind of information is very helpful in our discussions with government.”

Our own approach to preparations

With negotiations underway, preparing for Brexit should be a priority for every business – and that includes Zurich.

Roundtable events such as this one help keep our staff, customers and brokers informed about the latest developments, and allow us to share potential ways to address our shared concerns.

Internally, we have also been conducting detailed scenario planning to ensure we are fully prepared for every eventuality when the UK exits the EU.

“Our priority is to ensure we maintain a strong presence in the UK market and continue to deliver for our customers,” said Andrew. “All our scenario planning has been focussed primarily on ensuring stability and a high quality service.”

For more information on how we can help you prepare for the UK’s exit from the EU, please speak with you local Zurich contact.

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